September 19, 2019

Learn Spooky Lighting Techniques Just In Time for Halloween

Aputure - How to Create Suspense with Lighting
If you're shooting a horror movie, you'll need these tips to create a perfect spooky atmosphere.

Horror is a fun genre to play in, for a lot of different reasons. Not only is it a genre that allows for a great deal of stylized filmmaking techniques, it also requires teams to get creative to figure out how much or how little they share with their viewers.

Lighting and set design can work together to create tension. Darkness can be used to hide information from the viewer so that the imagination fills in the rest, and makes it even scarier.

Director of photography Jon Salmon teamed up with Aputure to offer his take on lighting a scene in a horror movie, which used shadow, fog, and motivated lighting to help create an immersive feel.

Watch their video below.

The wide-shot lighting

Since this example features an exterior pool shot, most of the lighting is motivated by the pool itself. But the flexibility of horror movie settings means you could be in a dark basement with a lone TV screen, outside under moonlight, or even in a low-lit spaceship.

As the video points out, you don't even necessarily need motivated lighting in horror. You could throw in some otherworldly or atmospheric light sources, too.

In this case, the team used a 300D II as an edge light to backlight the scene. They used another 300D II bounced off the water in the pool as a key light, to fill in the frame.

Aputure - Suspense Lighting
Credit: Aputure

Since the far background of this shot seemed to get lost in shadow, another 300D II was added to fill that darkness and throw light on the gazebo. Then the talent turned on her phone, and that light was used practically to illuminate her face.

The team also added some fog in the background to add to the atmosphere.

The close-up shot lighting

For the close-up shot, a 4x4 opal diffusion was added to the left of the actor to soften the light. Salmon notes that they allowed some of a foreground element to remain in the shot -- in this case, a bush.

This is another simple element that can increase suspense. If you can create a sense of voyeurism and it works, go for it!

The reverse shot lighting

When the shot reverses and enters the character's point of view, her attacker is totally backlit, his face in shadow. Fog is used in this shot, as well.

Aputure - Suspense Lighting
Credit: Aputure

The lighting was achieved with just one 300D II, placed behind the actor and shining down into the pool.

This is a great example of less being more. Initially, Salmon tried to have another light under the actor in the foreground, but this revealed too much and actually made him look more attractive than scary.

What's next? We've got more scary techniques to try!

Before you throw fog into your shots, know the differences between fog, haze, and steam. We've also got tutorials for other horror lighting set-ups requiring one light or simple uplighting.

You can also get inspired by checking out more than 80 horror screenplays, which you can download for free!

What's your favorite atmospheric shot from a horror movie? Let us know in the comments!     

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