High-Key Narrative Lighting | Cinematography 101

High-Key Narrative Lighting | Cinematography 101

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Lighting narrative scenes is one of the most common situations you will find yourself in as a cinematographer. Some scripts call for dark, moody lighting, while others require a brighter overall frame. High-key refers to a scene that has very few shadows in the frame. Today, director of photography Austin Sabado teaches us three different ways to shoot high-key narrative scenes, using bounced light, practicals, and small accents to fill shadows.

In this video, Austin shows us three different methods for creating high-key narrative lighting. In our first setup, he creates a nighttime interior while still maintaining a high-key look. This is done using practicals in the frame and an overall warm color to the lighting. In our second setup, he uses the same setup but changes the scene to a day interior. He then supplements the available daylight to reduce the contrast of the scene. In the third and last setup, he creates another day interior using a large bounced light and overhead fill. In addition to large sources he uses practicals to add interest points to the frame.

The main techniques that we will be discussing today are 1) Pay attention to the small details.
2) Look for practicals. 3) Think about how your lights are being motivated. Paying attention to the small details means scanning the frame to look for dark spots or other distracting elements. Looking for practicals means seeing if there are any lights in-frame and how you can utilize them, or adding your own practicals. Motivating your lights means being intentional about where your light is coming from within the scene. This could be a lamp off screen or a large window.

As filmmakers we are always trying to tell stories better. That means using lighting to enhance the emotion of the script, and create a unique experience for our viewers. Different lighting styles will create different feelings and emotions. A dark scene will create one feeling while a brightly lit scene will create a completely different feeling. The most important thing is what works best for the story and what looks best in the space. That way your films will stand out not just visually but also thematically.

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