If there's anything that up-and-coming filmmakers struggle with more than anything else, it's lighting. Even though most of us can pull off a basic three-point lighting setup with a key, fill, and backlight, dramatic narrative lighting is often far more complex and multi-faceted than any simple setup can provide. Unfortunately, we all don't have the budget for highly complex lighting setups with a multitude of lights and modifiers. Most of us are stuck with a few lights (at best) and a few small or DIY modifiers. Luckily, this is 2014, and literally anything can be learned on YouTube, even dramatic lighting for narrative films with a minimal budget. Neil Oseman, who shot a fantasy/action feature in 2005 called Soul Searcher, recently uploaded a 10-minute masterclass on how he lit the film, and it is delectably educational.
First of all, it's important to note that Soul Searcher was shot on mini-DV cameras in 2005, so the images themselves aren't up to the standards of today's digital cameras. With that said, Oseman's lighting in this film, while not perfect, is very moody and atmospheric, which does a great deal of good for the overall look and feeling of the film.
With that out of the way, here's the Soul Searcher 10 minute lighting masterclass!
What Oseman does really well with his lighting in this film is create stylized contrast, both on his characters' faces and in the scenes in general. He uses very little fill (if any) when lighting his male characters, then combines that look with strong, hard back-lighting , which creates an incredibly moody look reminiscent of film noir, but with a contemporary twist. Oseman also does some unique things with practicals and smoke, which can be two of a cinematographer's most valuable assets when it comes to dramatic lighting.
Even though I'm pretty fond of his lighting in this film, it's my opinion that the light in many of his examples is just a bit too hard, with unattractive, well-defined nose shadows that draw attention to themselves. Diffusion is always your friend when lighting the human face. Always.
With that said, Oseman did something in this film that we don't talk about nearly enough on this site, and that's creating a well-informed strategy for your lighting. I've talked about creating a camera strategy, but having a well-defined and well implemented lighting strategy can help you achieve stylistic consistency throughout a project. The lighting strategy is simply a matter of analyzing your script, then figuring out not only how you're going to light certain characters, situations, and emotional peaks, but why you're going to light them that way. It's about creating a strategy to make your lighting reflect the emotionality of the script and its characters. It's not an easy task, but it's one at which exceptional cinematographers excel.
If you're interested in watching Soul Searcher in its entirety, just click here. Oseman also has a feature-length documentary about the making of the film, which is a pretty informative watch for low-budget filmmakers.
I'd love to hear what you guys think about the lighting in this film and the techniques used to create that lighting. Just leave your thoughts down in the comments!