Lighting Like Vermeer: How to Create Cinematic Depth with Lighting
Even though we work in a 2-dimensional medium, there's nothing worse than having a 2-dimensional composition. Adding depth is crucial.
There are lots of ways you can add depth to your shot -- you can place objects in the foreground and background, use a shallow depth of field, or employ the parallax effect. But one technique you should know and use every time you shoot involves lighting -- particularly creating depth by using contrast.
This video by Jordy Vandeput explains the details of this lighting technique (it's more of a tenet really): how it works, how to light it, and how artists such as the great Vermeer used it in his own paintings.
In essence, this lighting technique seems simple enough -- use dimmer and brighter lights in opposing succession to create contrast (light/dark), however you'll soon find out, when handling such unwieldy things as lights, that it's true what they say: cinematography is basically painting with light -- and painting ain't no easy task.
And since we're on the topic of painting, the technique of using high contrast, or chiaroscuro lighting was very popular during the Baroque period (1600s) in which Vermeer, as well as my boy Caravaggio, were busy churning out the famed tronie Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Taking of Christ respectively. However, this type of lighting didn't have its day in film until the 40s with the rise of film noir. (Even though you could argue that it gained popularity in the 1920s during the German Expressionist movement.)
The reason I really enjoyed this video is because I'm a huge history nerd -- if you mix film techniques with any amount of art history, I'll go cuckoo bananas. (All Jordy had to do was mention Vermeer's name.) Yes, it's great to learn how to light a scene to create depth, but it's also interesting to learn where the technique came from and how it was used (and how it evolved) throughout history.
How do you create depth in your compositions? What's your favorite Vermeer/Caravaggio painting? Let us know in the comments below.