I m p o r t a n c e   o f   l i g h t -  a r t i f i c i a l

“No lights, Camera, Action!” Why doesn’t anyone use lights when making web videos? When he started shooting “Barry Lyndon” back in 1970, the great director Stanley Kubrick had a problem. It was a historical drama and he wanted all of the night time interiors to look totally natural, as if in an oil painting. Of course, in 18th Century England, the only form of lighting was candles, which are entirely unsuitable to light a feature film. Everyone who has ever seen pictures of a film set will know it is always surrounded by a forest of lights. That’s because film is not very sensitive to light and since every frame only has 1/25th of a second to get exposed, a lot of light is needed to capture all of the detail. Kubrick solved his problem by borrowing lenses from NASA that had been specially made to work in the very low light conditions of space – nothing else existed at the time, and the result is staggeringly beautiful.
Nowadays, the technology behind electronic camera chips has advanced beyond all recognition, driven by the need to put cameras into phones that anyone can use, even while waiting at a bus stop after a night’s clubbing. DSLR cameras, in particular, have allowed the most cumbersome amateurs to take professional-looking shots in very low light conditions. These chip-based cameras are now replacing even feature film cameras: the night time shots in “Skyfall” barely had any artificial light added to boost the ambient levels. All of which begs the question, why use lights any more? Most videos shot for the web certainly don’t use artificial lights. DSLR cameras are so sensitive, why bother?
The simple answer is that everything looks better when it’s lit properly. That means shot deliberately with appropriate lighting. Models look beautiful because they are lit. The clothes they are wearing look beautiful because they are lit. The close-up shot of a fountain pen nib in a TV commercial looks beautiful because it’s been lit. Lighting allows you to paint perfect highlights and shadows. You can control how everything looks, and whether your audience will desire what it is you are showing them. Retailers know this: they go to great efforts to make sure everything in their shops are lit to perfection. What all the makers of cheap web videos forget is that they are making TV ads. Just because their film is appearing in someone’s website, it doesn’t mean they are not trying to sell something. The viewer is still being asked to do something, whether it’s to buy a product, make a donation to charity, or alter their behaviour in some way. Having complete control over how something looks is essential to whether the viewer responds in the desired way.
No one chooses to watch a TV ad, so they are made to look as beautiful as possible. A camera that can shoot images in near-darkness is very clever. Producing a dull and muddy video is not.

< Ordinary objects on a desk can suddenly look exciting with just one light in the right place. (film by chrismugford.com)


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