June 22, 2015

Stunning Photos Reveal How Lighting Can Vastly Change Our Perception of the Human Face

Light on Human Face (Drama)
Cinematographers can control what the audience thinks about a character based solely on how they light them.

For many up-and coming-cinematographers, it's difficult to grasp the ways in which variations in light can affect an audience, both from a storytelling perspective and from a psychological one. In fact, that right there is one of the deepest, most confounding questions in all of cinematography, and it's a question that can't be answered in any other way except through a lifetime of creating and studying images. However, every now and again, a visual example of the psychology of light comes along. This one is far too good not to share.

In an absolutely stunning series of photos, Sebastian Petrovski, a photographer based out of Melbourne, shares several pairs of closeup portraits. Each set features one image that has been lit with bright, soft light, and the other with sparse, hard light that creates a dramatic look. These images provide us with stark insight into just how powerful of a tool light can be, especially with regards to perceiving the human face.

Take a look at a few of my favorites from the series:

Sebastian Petrovski - Perception Is Reality
Sebastian Petrovski - Perception Is Reality
Sebastian Petrovski - Perception Is Reality
Sebastian Petrovski - Perception Is Reality
Sebastian Petrovski - Perception Is Reality
Sebastian Petrovski - Perception Is Reality

Of course, the before and after images look different, but more importantly, at least from a filmmaking perspective, each one conveys a vastly different tone and range of emotions. As an audience, we perceive the individuals in these photographs as two completely different people, each with differing psychologies and motivations. Despite the fact that we know nothing about them, it's easy for us to attribute characteristics to them based solely on the lighting. 

Take, for example, the bottom pair of photos. In the topmost of the two, the young man looks like your average teenager: bright-eyed and full of life. In the bottom photograph, however, something more sinister seems to be at play. It's the look of someone deeply troubled, tormented, and on the edge of doing something terrifying. That significant shift in perception comes as a result of the shift in lighting.

This photo set also reminds me of another article that I wrote a while back covering this same topic. In it, I shared a music video inspired by an unfinished Clouzot experimental film. That music video utilized a twirling light rig that created some mesmerizing facial shadows, and it proved to be an excellent exploration of how the angle of a key light can morph the human face in a number of ways.

Here are those two videos again, in case you didn't catch them the first time around:

https://vimeo.com/29693712

You can check out the rest of Petrovki's photos here.      

Your Comment

14 Comments

What about these are stunning? They are all toppy or blown out .. this looks like an exercise from a photo 101 course

June 22, 2015 at 5:49PM

0
Reply

You, sir, missed the point of this article entirely.

June 22, 2015 at 6:04PM

0
Reply
avatar
Robert Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker Freedom
4736

No, I haven't missed the point at all. There's only two light positions here. First set - sidey key with a low contrast ratio, and yes the skin detail is being lost. Lighting 101. Latter set - toppy key, high contrast ratio. Show one still from the Godfather and make the same point (people look evil / scary / whatever when the eye sockets go dark). I get the intention of showing various key positions but this is just a poor example of low quality work with you rattling off a lot of misplaced superlatives. Your analysis isn't even correct as the light quality is not hard in the bottom set of photos.

June 23, 2015 at 6:13PM, Edited June 23, 6:13PM

0
Reply

I'm with ya, good info in the post and some nice things in the videos/pics. With that being said though the click bait titling of posts is annoying.

June 22, 2015 at 6:20PM

0
Reply
Brian Anthony
Student
354

Do you understand that blown out means clipping or no detail. Not just bright. Download the jpg and check it out yourself. It's no where near clipping. Just because the face isn't lit to zone 5 doesn't make it "over exposed".

June 22, 2015 at 10:08PM

0
Reply
avatar
Zachary Will
Cinematographer
856

I downloaded and brought them into Lightroom. The highlights on the skin are around 90-96%. And blown out doesn't necessary mean clipping or no detail. It's just when the image has no perceptible detail in the highlights, which happens quite a ways before clipping. Most cameras don't have a pleasing highlight roll-off..It's just my opinion but I had an uncalibrated monitor and brought skins up that high before and everyone thought they looked terrible and ghostly. I know that sometimes having skin that bright can look good for effect, I just think in this case they didn't get the effect they were going for..

June 22, 2015 at 10:28PM

3
Reply
Jeremiah Kuehne
Filmmaker
823

If anybody's interested, I wrote an app that turns NFS English into normal English.

e.g. "Epic and amazingly stunning photos reveal incredibly and awesomely how light can change our perception of the human face in an absolutely unbelievable way--AND WILL BLOW YOUR BALLS OFF!!!!1!" --->

"Photos reveal how light can change our perception of the human face"

p.s. I still love it here xoxo

June 22, 2015 at 9:50PM, Edited June 22, 9:53PM

9
Reply

Oh man, I need to get my hands on that app! All I know how to speak anymore is NFS English. My friends are always like, "Wow, Rob, calm down man."

June 22, 2015 at 10:16PM

4
Reply
avatar
Robert Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker Freedom
4736

Personally I just thought they looked deathly ill in each photo. Green, pale skin, and desaturated. Proper exposure is very important to our perception as well. Doesn't matter if the light is soft and beautiful if the exposure makes the skin blown out. Just my .02

June 22, 2015 at 9:59PM

1
Reply
Jeremiah Kuehne
Filmmaker
823

Deathly ill? I think that's just teenage hormones ;-)

June 23, 2015 at 7:10AM, Edited June 23, 7:10AM

3
Reply
avatar
Matt Carter
VFX Artist / Director / DP / Writer / Composer / Alexa Owner
633

I get the point, but I feel to really drive the point home the artist should have kept the facial expression and hair styles exactly the same for each image set. Staying in the same vane as the Kuleshov Effect.

June 23, 2015 at 12:18AM

3
Reply

Theres alot going on here, the images are nice but stunning would be overstating.

Definitely a good exercise in light, but not something masterful.

The photo series is interesting, having the subject with the same background and control the light might have conveyed a stronger message of lighting someone as either villain or hero, antagonist or protagonist, etc.

June 24, 2015 at 4:21PM, Edited June 24, 4:21PM

0
Reply
avatar
Chris Hackett
Director, Director of Photography, Writer
1038

Why do people complain about all this 'click-bait' writing? You may not like it, but it's good marketing. At least NFS generally follow up the title with a decent article.

The purpose of this article is to show how different lighting can dramatically change our perception of a scene. Who cares what the title says if you learn something?

June 25, 2015 at 9:54AM, Edited June 25, 9:54AM

1
Reply

That would have been nice for comparaison to have link the Clouzot experimental film just for inspiration.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZ38CcJ-2vw

June 26, 2015 at 4:34AM, Edited June 26, 4:34AM

0
Reply
Pierre-Yves Toledano
Director of Photography
81