Love is in the air, which has gotten me to thinking about lighting. (Come to think of it, what time of year doesn’t do that?) If Valentine’s Day always gives you a hankering to pop Gone With the Wind or your favorite rom-com into the DVD player, have you ever thought about what goes into making those romantic films?
I’d say lighting plays a big part in inspiring emotional reactions from film viewers, and is especially important in romantic movies.
Imagine a scene. A man and a woman are sitting at a table. In the first take, the lights are bright, and the whole room looks cheery. In the second, the lights are dim and the couple is ensconced in shadow. The entire feel of the scene is altered by one simple lighting change.
So, how do you create the right lighting for a romantic scene? Here are some guidelines:
1. Color Temperature.
Color temperature is one of the first things to note when studying the lighting in a romantic scene. Is it orange? Bluish? White? Most often, warm colors add to an inviting, romantic atmosphere. For example, the warm light in this sunset scene in Titanic draws the audience in, unlike the cold, blue lighting later in the movie, after things get dire.
2. Brightness (and Shadow)
Brightly lit or “High-Key” scenes tend to be more cheerful and upbeat, while darker “Low-Key” scenes hold more intrigue. Shadows in film can easily make a scene feel more sensual. This famous still of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music, demonstrates how shadows can transform an encounter in a glass gazebo into an intimate, life-altering moment.
You can judge the quality of light in a film scene through the hardness or softness of its shadows. Hard quality light has dark shadows with sharp edges, and often feels more raw than soft quality light. Soft lighting, often used in older films, has lighter, diffused shadows and tends to feel more sentimental. If you’ve seen Casablanca, you know what I mean.
Of course, there are always exceptions to these rules.
Cool lighting can still be quite romantic in the right setting. Like in this still from The Notebook:
Bright lighting can be romantic, like in the picnic scene from Out of Africa:
And with advances in film technology, sharp shadows can also be quite romantic. Case in point, this still from the end of the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice:
Do you have a favorite romantic film you like to watch this time of year? Not your cup of tea? What kind of film lighting to you like best?