Lighting styles

A 3-dimensional world is how humans perceive facts. What people really see is the light reflecting off objects.

Our world is made of light waves carrying visual data, which we transform into interpretations and emotions. The eye is equivalent to the models of the camera obscura: it uses the effect of light passing through a small gap or iris and forming an image, so the light beams are now able to be viewed as the truth. While the light passing through the human eyes will be translated by our brain into 3-dimensional, the image perceived from the retina or camera is simply 2-dimensional.

eye light

It took years to cinematographers and film makers to aquire the ability and the technology to manipulate lighting for 3-dimensional images. The human skill to manage light started with fire: initially, the fire was correlated with protection and heat with its glowing and warm light providing a place to convey and to tell stories. Individuals would gather around it, together with firelight as the only resource for staying awake and sharing tales before it runs out. But firelight wasn’t enough to illuminate theatres, shows and concerts. All these events depended form the natural available light.

lighting for theatre

In 1781 Laviosier, a French chemist, designed manageable lights by putting mirrors on oil lanterns. Some theaters started to light their sets under these lanterns, however it was only when the gas lantern was developed that theatres and music halls could have indoor stages. In these years the limelight was invented and used on theater stages, inventing the sentence “step in the limelight”. The development of light technology improved the people’s involvement in theatre; however, when motion-picture creation started in 1888, cameras could get an adequate exposure only when using outdoor light.

The firsts movie sets, like Thomas Edison’s Black Maria for example, had retractable roofs to light the film set with natural light. Interior lighting wasn’t enough until white flame carbon arc lights were used for the first time, in 1912. Unfortunately, these fixtures were very unsafe to use. In 1927 the tungsten lights, more reliable than white flame carbon arcs, became the new lighting technology for movies and theatres. Filmmaking, cameras, electronic technologies and lighting fixtures have largely progressed during these years. In parallel, lighting engineering and cinematographic models have mutually changed: humor, drama, love, mystery today are expressed by filmmakers and DoP with different use of illumination and lighting effects.

Talking about cinema lights, we report a significant sentence of Gianfranco Bettetini (director, semiologist, television critic, film critic and screenwriter): “one could say that the technical ability and the expressive effectiveness of a director’s or of a cameraman’s work is revealed above all in the lighting”.

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