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Dark and Sombre Lighting

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I'm wondering whether someone could shed some light on this (pun intended). For some time I've noticed that so many movies, TV series, YouTube vlogs, example footage from cameras etc all seem to follow this similar path of lighting the scenes as if all that were available was a dim light bulb. Why is it that we've suddenly become fascinated by not lighting scenes so that everything doesn't look like a horror movie. I think the worst was what was reported as the last episode of Game of Thrones where barely anything could be seen by the average viewer.

I've been watching old movies, from the 50s/60s, and the only time this dim and dark lighting is used is when it's a night scene and/or it's depicting what would be natural lighting for the times or scene. Even the candle lit scene from Barry Lyndon is clear and bright so that you can see the actors, but what I come across on a daily basis nowadays in today's films etc is almost a complete lack of light. I find it even stranger that YouTubers are adopting this same lighting style. When I do a YouTube post, I'm basically inviting people into my home and the last thing I want to do is make it look like I live in a cave lit by a single candle.

I can understand that there's a place for such lighting, but what is this obsession with doing so just about everywhere?

 

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A number of things at play here.

One is just a trend in lighting. There's always trendsetters in any art form. Game of Thrones was certainly a trendsetter. I think after the first season, when they realized they had a hit on their hands they pushed for a more realistic lighting approach over what they did in the first season. That paired with the general trend in commercial of moviemaking lighting of the present day to have very gentle lighting gradations came full circle with the final season of GoT and the result is some very interesting images, for better or worse. I personally liked the "Dark Night" episode as a cinematic endeavor, but even I have to admit that streaming and broadcast compression ruined the overall experience. 

Secondly, there's a lot talent cross over these days with narrative and documentary. I think in decades past, docu images aligned with the visual style of a TV/primetime news interview, skin tones sitting at an appropriate IRE value, blurred background etc. Now some documentaries are pushing more into genre imagery. Good example is CNN's "The Impostor" or a bunch of the more notable Netflix/HBO shows that are going for a more cinematic approach.

But as documentaries become more cinematic with the use of lighting and cinema cameras/lenses, where do proper narratives have to go in terms of pushing the boundaries of images. I think that's a big part of what we're seeing at the upper level of our industry. Take something like the Revenant, where they went with ultra wide lenses and a verite style of shooting to create something entirely new.

As someone who shoots both narrative and documentary, I'm not upset by the adoption of more cinematic imagery. I think youtubers are typically just a reflection of what's "In" at the moment. 

 

 

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Yeah, it’s just a trend, and honestly, one I’m getting a little bored of!

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Posted (edited)

I hope this trend runs its course sooner, rather than later. It's not that having a moody image or a reflection of reality (not that everyone sees that in the same way) is necessarily bad, but when it impacts on the ability of the viewer to see anything other than maybe a face, then the entire point is lost.

I also don't believe that this sort of lighting is, or necessarily contributes towards, cinematic results. Perhaps that's why things have gone a little awry. Lighting is only a part of cinematic story telling, it should complement the story, not dominate it. Just consider the hey days of movie making when such things as westerns used blue filters to make things look like night (because of technical challenges I know), yet you could still see what was happening. Nowadays you'd be lucky to see anything more than the campfire.

Just as an example, many I time I've gone camping in our High Country and taken photos of the camp or a dingy hut with nothing but the fire lighting the scene or a small light to frame the subjects. A modern film maker would probably ensure that you saw nothing more than the face.

cruise-nov-2015-51.jpg

And I just wanted to add, not pointing this at anyone here, but when I hear or read about something being 'cinematic' all that comes to mind is that quote from The Princess Bride: 'You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means'.

Edited by Australian Image (Ray)
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Posted (edited)

This is a theory so come at me if you want, but I always thought "cinematic" lighting was a byproduct of budgets and time constratints.

In a movie, everything is rented, props, furniture, and of course lighting equipment. Setting lights also takes money, and time—the more lights you use the more time, more cables, more generators, and more crew the show requires.

In response to time and budget pressure, the industry has developed the technique of only lighting what is important to the story. The result is scenes usually have two or three pools of light—rest of the set has to make do with the base exposure which is the standard one or two stops down. 

The flipside is sitcom TV lighting with its wide banks of lights and reflectors that throw the same light level on everything. That's also a response to budget and time, because once a soundstage is lit, it's lit. 

 

Edited by RichardSwearinger
Taking out redundant words.

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You might be on to something. When you look back at the earlier days of film making, especially the block busters of the day such as Ben Hur etc, a lot of money was spent on all aspects of the film, especially lighting because of the constraints of film.

Perhaps also because so much is recorded on digital, which give more latitude, some film makers don't take lighting so seriously. Maybe it's also compensation for poor storylines etc, much like many Hollywood movies compensate for poor storylines with lots of explosions.

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I'm not so sure... if you look at BTS of the average big budget movie or TV drama there is generally plenty of lighting. This leads me to think it's just a creative trend.

On lower budget stuff however, this may be the case.

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Totally agree that big budget films will bring along everything including the kitchen sink and the smaller budget ones with have to make do with a bucket. Thought with the price of modern LED lights, even a modest production should be able to afford some pretty reasonable lighting.

If it is a trend, and I hesitate to call it creative (creativity isn't copying and repeating), then I do hope it quickly dies in a ditch where it belongs. I guess it's a bit like the orange and teal fad, it can look good in some situations, but when every movie is orange and teal (colours that you rarely see in real life, other than redheads in a light blue room), it becomes rather ordinary (not cinematic).

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A link here: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8622781/BBC-resorts-asking-viewers-monitor-light-TVs-complaints.html.

It goes on to cover poor audio as well, especially actors that mumble, something that I've noticed from time to time. The most irritating audio failure is when voices are often inaudible unless the volume is turned up and then other sounds (or shouting) shatter your eardrums and the same volume level.

 

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Posted (edited)

I feel like this conversation is a bit like this. 

To quote the end. What you got ain't nothing new. 

Edited by Guest

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It's a guy talking about how he doesn't understand the world any more. The other guy tells him a story from 60 years prior which is relatable to his current situation and says. "What you got ain't nothing new... you can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. Thats vanity."

Meaning the world has always been the way it is and to think you can change it is vanity. Dark films have always been around and always will be, the main change in cinematography recently has been the predominant use of soft light because of digital cameras being a harsher format than film but any era you can find dark imagery.

You see what you are looking for. There are numerous Hollywood films, TV shows, YouTube channels where you struggle to find a single shadow. People push things too far sometimes but it is better to push for something then try for nothing. 

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39 minutes ago, Michael said:

You see what you are looking for.

I have to be honest, it's not what I go looking for but what seems to be whacking me in the face with a 2"x4" all too often.

Yes, film makers have been experimenting with all manner of options since the first camera was invented but, at the end of the day, what is produced should still be able to be comprehended by the audience (especially when we are no longer restricted by technology and cost to the degree that we once were).

If you Google why are modern films so dark (or similar words), the resulting list is long. So I'm certainly not the only person who finds this trend quite perplexing, if not extremely annoying.

So what's next, once this has become passé?

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Posted (edited)

image.jpeg.3f7af2a25df6176940d183823c044209.jpeg
Richard Basrhart in “He Walked By Night.” 
 

That soft light comment is on target.
To me the difference seems to be that in film noir, even though the scenes tended toward dark, the  cinematographers included the full tonal range of the film in most shots. It’s harder to get that crisp look with LEDs bouncing off muslin. 

And yes, of course it’s all circular.

 

Edited by RichardSwearinger

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There's nothing remiss about soft light, it's the lack of light in many films etc that's disturbing. As I noted at the start, even with the Barry Lyndon scene, lit by nothing but candle light, it didn't depict an absence of light as tends to be the case today when filmmakers want to be 'moody'. I wish I could use light 1/10th as well as this guy can: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLP477iHqnAXK3mBywhEX9Q.

 

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