I get my lighting inspiration from movies. I love the impact lighting can have on a mood, or in fashion lighting, a person. I learnt this at a young age through studying cinematography. I found the cinema before I found the camera, and from a young age, I was completely hooked. The movies I have watched inspire me as a photographer.
Movies have had massive impact on my appreciation for lighting, my awareness and my eye... Some of them have even motivated me to change the way I shoot!
I used sit with Granddad Jack as a child when we used to visit him in Birmingham- UK. Some of my favourites that we used to watch were Greta Garbo – Joyless street (1929), Frank Sinatra films like- High Society (1956), His girl Friday - Cary Grant 1940, (amazing lighting!) and Marilyn Monroe - Some like it hot 1959.
Black and white films had the hindrance of no colour, and it was harder to imply moods. Instead, they relied upon the lighting of sets and characters to translate these moods and feelings to the audience. Lighting remedied the difficulty of expression for black and white directors.
Here is a list of films that I both love and respect, they motivate me to keep learning about light, and the way a shadow can fall. I catch myself sometimes looking at where the sun is hitting a building, the silhouettes and shadows that light creates in a city landscape, it can be both interesting and wonderful!
Pandora's Box (1928) This German silent classic was so erotic it was banned for many years. The beautiful Louise Brooks stars in director G.W. Pabst's expressionistic tale of an openly sexual woman. This movie is second to none when it comes to expressing emotion in a silent movie through light and shadows. Melodramatic moods were created by lighting to enhance certain elements which were considered ground-breaking at the time, The lighting used made it even more scandalous as it highlighted insatiable lust between two women and at the time this was an outrage, hence why it was banned.
Top Hat (1935) Grace, elegance and talent are key features of one of the greatest musicals ever made. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance to the music of Irving Berlin. Directed by Mark Sandrich, this film provided a sense of escapism for a depression-era audience.
Sullivan's Travels (1941) Writer Preston Sturges was determined to create cinematic art. Sturges' profound conclusion reveals a surprising emotional truth about filmmaking art. Lighting contrast was used in myriad of ways; scenes with stark lighting intensified areas of conflict portraying melancholy and greed. Similar lighting techniques were also used in ‘His Girl Friday’, and the 1940’s sparked a range of new lighting techniques for film.
The Big Sleep (1946) Film noir at its finest is guided by the great director Howard Hawks. The suggestive low-key lighting with dark tones and shadows became synonymous with film noir. The use of lighting is the most important attribute in revealing unknown truths to the audience, distinct style created by lighting for photography include a combination key light, fill light and back light. The effects created an extreme difference in the light and dark areas on screen, which evokes a tone of mystery and obscurity that would be difficult to create without using low-key lighting. This technique is used generously in The Big Sleep, the constant shadows throughout the film, create tones of uneasiness, mystery and even paranoia.
Strangers on a train (1951) – Hitchcock is the God of horror. I listed Stranger’s on a Train here but Robert Burks, Hitchcock’s premier cinematographer was also the cinematographer on Vertigo, Birds,, North by Northwest, and To catch a thief,. There is much to learn from all of these films. I studied these in-depth when I was going to Art Center and learning about lighting for the first time.
Night of the Hunter (1955) A grim masterpiece - the only movie directed by actor Charles Laughton - mixes German expressionism, religion and fantasy in an intensely furious brew. The director plays with lighting angles throughout this film creating a haunting, influential work of art.
Psycho (1960) No film has ever really matched the impact of Alfred Hitchcock's most horrifyingly famous Psycho. .. More than just shock value, this film used lighting to pull in the viewer, the stark lighting against a white bathroom contrasts sterility with deadly deeds that occur as light is filtered through the shower curtain. The close ups, freeze frames, and panning techniques were meticulously planned to penetrate our emotions through the combination of nudity and stabbing. Deliberate lighting angles were used to create this master piece.
The Haunting (1963) Robert Wise's moody film is based on Shirley Jackson's brilliant novel. A repressed woman must deal with the ghosts of Hill House, and like her, viewers are terrified by dark whispering shadows in the dark. Fear is built throughout with sound effects, lighting, and a “breathing door." This intense terror is aided by eerie black-and-white photography.
The God Father (1972) Francis Ford Coppola’s epic film was created four years before I was born and it will remain one of the top films ever made. The story, the actors, the art direction and the lighting were all amazing. The highly-skilled cinematographer Gordon Willis, who lit this film, also lit one of my all-time favorite movies ever: Klute.
Barry Lyndon (1975) is my favourite Stanley Kubrick movie. This is certainly the most authentic period piece in cinema history and was adapted from the 19th-century novel by William Thackeray about an 18th-century Irish rogue who, through luck and skill, rises from a modest farmer to a wealthy noble - only to lose it all.
Shooting on location in England, Ireland, and Germany, the meticulous Kubrick made sure every detail was accurate. Extensive use of natural lighting makes each scene the visual equivalent of paintings from that period. Several sequences were shot exclusively by candlelight. And chandeliers were used to light glorious, palatial rooms..
To accomplish this visual virtuosity, Kubrick overdeveloped the film stock and employed specially adapted low-light lenses originally developed by NASA. These lenses had such a shallow focus range that, according to Marisa Berenson (above), the actors often couldn't move forward or backward at all during certain close-ups, or they would go out of focus! This cinematic masterpiece may be long and deliberately paced, but it is never boring. In fact, it contains many lurid elements: a sword fight, three pistol duels, two brawls, two epic combat sequences, armed robbery, stealing, looting, and a couple of nude scenes. It won Oscars for art direction, photography, sets, costumes, and music.
La Luna (1979)- Bernardo Bertolucci. The story line was racy: a mother and son’s “distorted” relationship involving heroin and opera! It is one of few films that can be enjoyed without sound because the visual imagery was so moving. Vittorio Storaro was the cinematographer on La Luna and his work is captivating. He’s lit such other epic films as Reds, The Conformist,, Last Tango in Paris and Apocalypse Now.
Rage Bull (1980) Martin Scorsese's fierce biography of self-destructive boxer Jake LaMotta is filmmaking at its best. Robert De Niro plays LaMotta, a man tormented by demons both in and out of the ring. The fight scenes are brutal black-and-white ballets. This film boasts extremely sophisticated knowledge of lighting techniques, the film’s visual style was influenced by Wee gee’s (Arthur Fellig) photography - The Weegee visual style combined with Scorsese’s abstraction in the film; disorienting camera movements, extremes in light and dark, visual abstractions from fog, mirrors, glass and heat, and of course the relationship between images and sound made this one of the best films of its time with regards to visual output.
The Last Emperor (1987) I was in my teenage years and this film mesmerised me with its colours. Bernardo Bertolucci took on an enormous challenge when he decided to tackle the true story of Pu Yi, the last ruler of the 300 year old Chinese Ching Dynasty. Bertolucci and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro manipulated specific colour palettes to reinforce different moods.. This film won several awards, mainly because using colours to portray moods is extremely difficult to get right, and Bertolucci succeeded with flying colours (no pun intended!).
Photographers can benefit from this movie as it is a reminder that colour is rarely incidental in an image.
Schindler's List (1993) Filmed in Poland, Steven Spielberg's masterpiece ranks among the greatest films ever made about the Holocaust portraying both heroism and despair. Spielberg uses colour sparingly to highlight key scenes and signal shifts in time. This works well because it captures the way many people visualize World War II. The lighting and contrast in the film noir style enhance the brutality of each violent scene and the stark differences between good and evil.
Se7en (1995) When I was in my twenties, Darius Khondji’s created flawless lighting in Se7en. Darius’s lighting dominated the film industry in the 90’s and in my opinion is one of the best films that came out of the nineties. Not only did is have a powerful impact, but it was expertly executed. The lighting influences emotions in conjunction with t pauses in the film’s dialogue. Stark and startling visuals help to develop the story line.
The Piano (1993) – Jane Campion – a true genius! The lighting did its job: it made me cry, and drew me in with phenomenal impact. The lighting informs us that we want to have sympathy for Ada, it was used to highlight the astonishment of supporting characters who were disturbed by the brutality this woman suffered from her husband before and after infidelity, and the grief endured when she was away from her real love.
I tried to have to keep this list short! But I love film, and I love photography and the best of both is often determined by great lighting which can be applied to fashion photography too!