Cinematography: Activity 2

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Lighting the Scene

There are various styles of lighting that a cinematographer can use. Lighting style is generally determined in consultation with the director (and often the production designer), and depends on the setting, mood and character of the story or the scene. Three basic styles of lighting are high-key, low-key and graduated tonality.

A high-key scene appears bright. The cinematographer uses soft, diffused lighting and there are few shadows. In a low-key scene, the lighting is defined by lights that cast sharper shadows. Graduated tonality is often achieved by using soft light to light the scene and create soft shadows, often from a single source. (It is important to note that other factors also can enhance the effects of the lighting. Costumes and scenery can be intentionally dark, for example, and sometimes tonal gradations are painted onto the sets or the costumes or even included in the actors' makeup.)

While there are no hard-and-fast rules about lighting, drama generally is done in a low-key style and comedy generally is done in a high-key style of lighting. Graduated tonality is used in all kinds of situations. Lighting also is used to create the illusion of depth and dimension, and to illuminate different contours and textures. Depth can be emphasized by back- and side-lighting the actors to create highlights on prominent features and leave the background in shadow. Sometimes color gels are used over lights to enhance the depth of a scene (warm tones might be used to light the actors, while cooler colors might be used for the background lights, for example). How the lights are positioned to create shadows controls how textures are viewed. The human face, with its changing contours, provides the greatest lighting challenge of all!

Note: If your students have access to instant cameras, you may want to have them take photographs of the setting they observe in the first part of
this activity.

Supplementary Activity:

Have your students work in pairs to create photographic studies of various landmarks in your community under different lighting conditions (weather conditions, time of day, etc.). One student in each pair should use black-and-white film and the other should use color film. Create a class display. Discuss the differences between the black-and-white and color images. For example, how does the lack of color affect the mood and tone of the photographs?

Animation: Creating Movement Frame by Frame

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Complete Cinematography Activities Guide (PDF)

Activity 1: Angling the Camera

Activity 2: Lighting the Scene

Activity 3: Framing the Shot

Activity 4: Learning from the Best

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