28 Days of Cinematography Insights Redux – Day 16 – Rules of thumb for lighting

28daysredux425In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers along with some new questions and answers, so stay tuned for a few entries at the end of the series which will take us past 28 days. Use the hashtag #28daysofinsights or email us at if you want to help us build up some questions for a brand new series.

In terms of lighting, we all know that low contrast = happy; high contrast = more serious. Are there any other rules of thumb along these lines? Or is this all an oversimplification?

I’ve always been told that comedy is supposed to be lit brightly, but low contrast will kill a dark comedy faster than anything else. I think there’s room for flexibility in these rules. At a gut level these traditions work well, but one can take them to more sophisticated levels.

Jeff 0022 illus

LIGHTING STRATEGIES: Exploiting a Single Light Source

One sequence that comes to mind is the white void sequences in THX-1138. They are anything but pleasant and happy, and feel a bit more ominous for their minimalism. The same setting feels a lot less creepy in this Progressive Car Insurance commercial. Context is everything.

I love seeing more and more filmmakers turn these traditions on their heads. Creepy white limbo and funny dark and moody buck the stereotypes and also mess with the gut reactions that we should be feeling innately in response to those settings.

Every Frame a Painting has created a wonderful montage of Edgar Wright comedy techniques. None of these sequences are particularly bright and cheery, and I think they are funnier for it.

“Rules” exist for a reason: they work, at least some of the time. But… once you learn the rules it is often more powerful to break them if it works for the story.

Soft Key K

Hard lights are great for textures, but soft lights are great for defining spaces


Art Adams | Director of Photography

See all 28 Days of Cinematography Insights

Have your own insight about what I’ve mentioned here? Feel free to comment below or send in a question by using the hashtag #28daysofinsights or emailing


Was This Post Helpful:

0 votes, 0 avg. rating

Support ProVideo Coalition
Shop with Filmtools Logo

Share Our Article

Art Adams is a cinema lens specialist at ARRI, Inc. Before that, he was a freelance cinematographer for 26 years. You can see his work at Art has been published in HD Video Pro,…

Leave a Reply

Notify of