• Josh Mason

How Light Tells A Story

What do you feel when you see this image?

The Seventh Seal

What about this one?

2001: A Space Odyssey

And this one?


When you look at the first image do you see internal conflict, or imprisonment? In the second; wonder, or maybe fear of the unknown? And the third one, probably something more floaty or simple.

Of all the principles of film-making or photography light is why we are able to create the images we see; and how we use that light is going to captivate the tone our audience feels.

Light can express a characters emotion like what we see in the first image from Seventh Seal. By choosing to put bars in front of the light, and cast its shadow on the wall we feel what the character feels. In this scene our character is discussing his frustration with God and inability to communicate with the supernatural. Is God real? Is he silent for a reason? These thoughts imprison him. Ingmar Bergman knew the best way to show this was right in the shot itself, and this film has been revered as one of the most popular classics in the art house genre.

You can use two different lighting styles to express the same feeling. The second shot is from 2001: A space Odyssey. Stanley Kubrick used high key, and low key lighting. These two types are exact opposites if you cannot already tell by their names. Yet Kubrick uses both to share a perspective of the unknown, the ability of man kind to grow and explore. Most of the high end technology is expressed in high key environments, while all the things that express a near and unknown beyond are done with low key elements until the final sequence.

Light can also be used to express hardly anything at all and simply light a scene like in the TV series Friends. Most sitcoms don't have much to say with light other than to express the values of our performers and the jokes they tell. Light can say scary, warm, cold, mysterious, and a wide variety of other things. It can be placed underneath a subject, to the side, above, behind... Virtually anywhere; and if you know how to use it, it can make your project stand apart from the rest of the competition.

Thank you for reading this article, if you need any help creating visual content, you can reach me at Josh@exclusivemediallc.com Below are some of my favorite shots using light in film. Enjoy!

Schindler's List

007: Skyfall

La Jetee