Sunday, June 10, 2018




Some more about what makes the fantasy film The Wizard of Oz so great (all because it's Judy Garland's birthday).

By the early 1930s, nearly all American film studios had developed something called "the Hollywood Style" of filmmaking. This is an easily recognized, highly distinctive film aesthetic which was used into the 1970s. Elements of the "Hollywood Style" can still be seen in film today, although a much wider range of stylistic elements are now used.


KEY KEY KEY to the Hollywood Style was the way scenes were lit. There are three ways to do it: (1)Three-point lighting, (2) high-key lighting, and (3) low-key lighting.


THREE-POINT LIGHTING uses three light sources. The goal is to create the appearance of great depth on screen (even when all you have is an actor standing five feet in front of a backdrop). The primary light is the "key light", a light source that shines directly on the subject. Whether it is up high, down low, far to the right or left, straight ahead, colored, or anything else: The "key light" determines the emotional feel of the shot and determines how other lights are used.


The secondary light is the "fill light". It also shines directly on the subject, but almost invariably is from a side (relative to the key light) and at a lower position. The goal of the "fill light" is to reduce or eliminate shadows on the face (particularly the shadow cast by the nose and eyebrows). The "fill light" is much softer than the key light (usually about half as bright), and has a diffuser in front of it to allow the light to "flood" the subject rather than "aim at" the subject. "Fill light" is sometimes bounced off a reflector, wall, or other surface, but this is much less common. (Sometimes, another fill light is used to actually bring out shadows on the subject to counteract a little bit the effect of the fill. This is known as a "kicker" or "kick light".)

The tertiary light is the "back light". The light is set behind the subject, usually directly behind but sometimes at an angle. The goal is to rim the subject with a halo of light, which helps to make the subject much more distinct from the background.

Although it is used very sparingly in The Wizard of Oz, there's a fourth light sometimes used. This is the "background light", and it does not illuminate the subject but the background. The "background light" is often placed high above, or very low to the ground. It is used to eliminate shadows cast by the subject, or to draw attention to something in the background.

A great example of three-point lighting is this image from the Tin Woodman scene. Dorothy, the Tin Woodman, and the Scarecrow are much more brightly lit than anything else in the scene. Almost no shadows are cast (except by the axe), and you can see the back light where it causes a halo-effect in Dorothy's hair.



HIGH-KEY LIGHTING uses multiple light sources. The goal here is to create a brightly lit scene where shadows are not noticeable or so soft as to be only barely visible. There should be little contrast between light and dark areas.


Key lights and fill lights in high-key lighting are almost equal in brightness, color, and so on. A lot of reflectors, bouncers, and other devices are used to "spread the light around" and create a scene that's sunny, bright, cheery, and happy. Light should be coming "from all directions".

High-key lighting was used a great deal in Hollywood because it didn't require adjustments. A film could shift actors, props, furniture, and scenery around and very little adjustment in the lighting would be needed. Scenes could be shot in hours, not days. High-key lighting was used whether a daytime or nighttime shot was needed; the lighting set-up was the same.

A great example of high-key lighting is this image of Dorothy about to meet the Scarecrow in the cornfield.



LOW-KEY LIGHTING uses one, maybe two light sources. The goal here is to create high contrast between the subject and the background, deep shadows, and low levels of light.


To create low-key lighting, usually just the key light is used. The background tends to sink into darkness, and any texture on the subject (a nose, the mouth, the eyebrows, a hat, an object held in their hands, the torso turned partially away from the camera) throws a deep and distinct shadow. In some cases, the key light is diffused or even bounced to control the strength and direction of shadows. Sometimes, a very diffuse or bounced fill light is used for this purpose. While the ratio between a key and fill light in high-key lighting is 1:1 and in three-point lighting may be 2:1, the ratio between the two in low-key lighting is 8:1.

Low-key lighting is used to create a sense of fear or alienation.

A great example of low-key lighting is this image of the Tin Woodman about to meet the Wizard.

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