A conversation with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro by Ric Gentry was an interesting read this week. It ~illuminated~ for me the possibilities of lighting scenes as an art of ‘writing with light’. Considered a master of 'photography' – a term that literally translates to ‘writing with light’ - Storaro was a fully ranked cinematographer by the age of twenty-six in Italy, and went on to work with Bernardo Bertolucci many times.
The way he spoke of what he does was hearty; in such a way that demonstrated the depth of his intuition, and physical but also elemental connection to his life’s work. He talked of lighting in sensory terms and of ‘feelings’:
'I listen to what his [the directors] feelings are…then I suggest to him what can be done to augment his concepts in the photographic area, how the story can be represented in an emotional, symbolic, psychological and physical way.'
A focus for me this week centred on the more practical considerations to lighting a scene. A basic lighting set up, if this even exists, might consist of a key light, fill light and back light.
The key is the primary source of illumination in the shot, usually directional and corresponds to the direction of the ‘motivating light source’ eg. window, in quality and direction. Where this light is positioned will create a different effect, so placing it straight at an actor will flatten their features. It can also create dark shadows on the actors face if placed below their chin. It is suggested that the key light’s ideal position is 45 degrees up, and 45 degrees off the camera axis; keeping shadows down at a fairly natural angle. This is hardly practical for cinematography when subjects frequently move.
The fill light is often a diffused, soft light and placed on the side away form the key, but lower down at eye level as it may perform the task of reducing shadows under a subject’s brow.
Backlighting is usually located behind a subject where it will throw the front of the subject into shadow but emphasise its depth and shape.