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The Lighting Tells The Story, and The Story Tells The Lighting

Those who have studied lighting - especially for theater or motion pictures, know well the mantra that "The lighting tells the story." Simply put: No matter what kind of camera or lens is used, who the actors are, or who wrote the script, it is the light that ultimately creates what we see. That is the cutting edge of the knife. However, the more I think about this, the more I would change it a bit...
"The lighting tells the story - and the story tells the lighting."

It is a reciprocal thing. The way something is lit does create emotion, and makes the viewer feel the story through their eyes. We draw conclusions and fill in details based on the way what we see is illuminated. But that moment itself must also dictate the lighting: What quality of light is needed to do the telling? Where would it be coming from? What color is this light? Is it one solid wash, or should it be broken up in mottled shadows?  All of these things are going to be determined by what story that shot is supposed to tell the viewer's eyes. The two concepts work in tandem.
      Interestingly, one of those questions; 'where is the light coming from?' can sometimes be more vexing than needs be. In truth, we probably don't need to get too carried away with the idea that a compelling image is contingent on the lighting always having a logical source. After all, in real life, things are not lit like they are in movies, or on stage. I remember reading of how a Director of Photography on a Hollywood film was once asked where the light he planned on using in a shot would be coming from in real life. He replied, "The same place the music comes from." Exactly. We know there is no light in the middle of a forest at night, just as we know that sharks aren't really out there swimming around the ocean while playing recordings of the John Williams orchestra. We accept that this is all part of storytelling. 

One last thought that comes in - for photographers especially - is the question of color vs black and white. I would argue that it might be best to always shoot the image in color so as to have that information there. But sometimes a shot can become much more powerful in black and white. Here is another example, taken from that earlier photo-shoot seen in my post about creating believable sodium light color gels:

So where is that light inside the car coming from?    Does it really matter...?


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