Year 1 Module BACM101

Lighting and Composition

The task set out was to do some research into the areas of ‘lighting’ and ‘composition’, particularly in relation to story, and then pick two images (one for each topic) that demonstrate the use of both.

Barry Lyndon

For lighting, a film that came to mind after some thinking was Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Barry Lyndon’. The use of lighting, or lack of, during most of the scenes in the film has been described as some of the most ‘evocative’ in movie history, and there’s a reason for that: Stanley Kubrick wanted to use as much natural lighting as possible. For this film, Kubrick got much of his inspiration from English and European paintings from the late 1700s, where he noticed that many of the people in the paintings were lit by natural light. Being the perfectionist he was he wanted to create “a moving 18th century painting”, meaning that not only was there a lot of time invested into creating authentic costumes, but there was a lot of time invested into creating authentic lighting as well.

Lady Lyndon Scene

This scene is entirely lit by candle light. To film it, they had to use Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/0.7 lenses, used by NASA for the Apollo moon landings, to be able to capture the low level of light. How does this relate to the story? It adds authenticity. The film is telling a story from a certain period of history, the 18th century; it is obvious, but there was no artificial lighting during the 18th century. Life would have looked EXACTLY like the above image. Barry Lyndon is marvellous in terms of lighting alone because it is true to reality, it’s realistic, it’s authentic, it transports you to another time and place; something every film should do. Moreover, some of the scenes in this film do actually look like 18th century paintings adding to the realism.


Road to Perdition

I talked about this film in terms of lighting the other day in class, but I couldn’t help but bring it up again in terms of composition, as it is excellent in that department too. One of the most striking scenes from this film is this one:

Road to Perdition - Window scene

The context of the film may help a little bit here. “Mike Sullivan is an enforcer for powerful Depression-era Midwestern mobster John Rooney. Rooney’s son, Connor, is jealous of the close bond they share, and when Mike’s eldest son, Michael, witnesses a hit, Connor uses the incident as an excuse to murder Sullivan’s wife and youngest son. Forced to flee, Sullivan and Michael set out on a journey of revenge and self-discovery”. *SPOILER ALERT* He did get revenge, he did rediscover himself and he did rediscover is bond with his remaining son. The image above is at the end of that journey.

So, what does it tell us? The scene is lighter, after much of the darkness of the film. Mike Sullivan (Tom Hanks) is looking out towards his son who’s playing on the beach. The beach, ocean and the beautiful horizon, with the setting sun, looks heavenly. Earlier in the film, John Rooney said “none of us will see heaven”. Mike Sullivan has found his peace, he’s made it to his heaven, he’s come out from the dark undergrowth of the gangster world and everything is much lighter now. This one image from this scene tells us this.

A little bit more about Road to Perdition:

I love this film because it is also a perfect example of how lighting can tell a story.  After the son witnesses the ‘hit’, much of the film is filmed in a dark light.

 The film starts out reasonbaly light:


After Mike’s eldest son witnesses a ‘hit’, most of the rest of the film is shot with dark or natural lighting, with the colours appearing washed out:


After Mike gets his revenge, everything is light again:


Mike enters a room that appears very light and white, similar to heaven?


Here’s the link to the cinematography of Road to Perdition.

Also, how good is this for framing!?


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