Lighting Up Our Emotions


When I first think of lighting, I think of light and dark and that's it. I was surprised to see just how much goes into lighting for media production.

I chose to share another clip from Francis Ford Coppolla's Apocalypse Now for this post that has some very interesting lighting schemes (I'm in love with that movie so I think I'll be doing that a lot). Here the protagonist (Martin Sheen) listens to the antagonist (the legendary Marlon Brando) for a philosophical lecture on war.

Several lighting techniques are used in the clip. The clip begins with Brando entering the room under Silhouette lighting with a very dim background. Coppola then transitions to Rembrandt lighting for the duration of the conversation, showing only portions of the two main characters' faces with very fast falloff. The writing is low-key and below-the-eye, providing the viewer with that emotional thrill/horror that is so very appropriate for this film.

Two other minor characters are shown in the clip. He uses flat lighting with slow falloff for them, illuminating all of their faces/bodies. I think he did this because the Rembrandt lighting leaves a certain aura and mystery around the main characters and he wanted to reserve that purely for them. The last several seconds take place outdoors at night, where Coppola uses light from the fires with fast falloff to show the viewer they are now outside of Brando's temple for nighttime ceremony.

The lighting in this clip speaks wonders for the very dark, disturbing plot of the film. To put it all in context, the scene takes place deep in Cambodia where Brando's character has established himself as a god over the local natives and is leading them in a very bloody ritualistic lifestyle similar to that of ancient societies that have performed human sacrifice. Sheen's character, who was sent to kill Brando, becomes captivated with some of Brando's more questionable philosophies (including his gut-wrenching rant in this clip). Regardless, viewers don't really need any of this context or dialogue. They can watch this clip and sense something very unsettling is going on simply because of the lighting.


I agree with you on the idea that I didn’t really think there was this much that goes into lighting, I also looked at it as just light and dark. I feel like your video did an excellent job of showing faster fall off with all the contrasts and shadows that were created. It really helped to set the mood of the whole scene as very dark and intense and I agree that you didn’t really need to know any background of the movie to know that something unsettling was going on.

I though your clip was a really good example of fast fall off vs. slow fall off. It is obvious that great directs like Coppola understand how the lighting in a scene can add so much to its effectiveness. Imagine if he hadn't used fast fall off, I wonder how the scene would have played out.

I personally always though that when you talk about lighting, its mostly floor lights and some hanging ones. But learning about the different things that go into it and your clip used lighting to create a great effect and add to the scene.

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This page contains a single entry by swan1703 published on January 29, 2013 6:00 PM.

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