Great cinematography is all about preparation, and few aspects of the craft require as much preparation as lighting.
Not only is lighting an incredibly technical process with a host of unique and complex technical obstacles that must be overcome in order to craft great looking images, but lighting is also a critically important aspect of how the audience interprets your scene on an emotional level. As we've seen, light can make all the difference in how your scene feels, particularly when it comes to our perception of the human face. All of this is to say that you should be spending a good deal of time planning out your lighting decisions.
If you're wondering how exactly you should go about this extensive preparation phase, Ryan E. Walters over at Indie Cinema Academy just released a video that should make the process much more straightforward. In it, he shares 12 simple questions that cinematographers should ask themselves before lighting any scene. Each question is designed to coax out key pieces of information that will inform each and every lighting decision that you make.
In case you're not able to watch the video, or you just want to copy the list so that you can refer back to it later, here are each of the 12 questions written out:
- What is the mood and tone of the scene?
- Does the time of day affect the scene?
- Are you establishing your lighting style, or are you matching other content?
- How many people are in the scene?
- Where does the action happen in the scene?
- Do people move around in the scene?
- Will we see the floor or the ceiling?
- Are there any practical effects in the shot?
- Do we need to balance the light levels of the interior to the exterior?
- What ISO will we be shooting at?
- What is the slowest lens we'll be shooting with?
- Will we be doing any high speed or macro work?
Like Ryan mentions in the video, that first question really is the most important because your answer to it will inform how you answer every other question on the list. Unfortunately, this question is also the most complex of the bunch. While questions 2-12 have relatively easy answers that largely deal with hammering out the technical details of your lighting plan, that first question inherently deals with the emotional content and subtext of the scene. For that reason, getting the best answer requires really delving into and understanding your script and characters.
What questions do you ask yourselves before lighting a scene, and how do you use your answers to those questions to make informed lighting decisions? Let us know down in the comments!