Emotional Response From Lighting
There are so many ways to light a scene that I won’t delve into them all for this post. What I will touch on however are the ways to create an emotional response when lighting a scene.
Let’s use this famous scene from True Grit (photographed by Roger Deakins, ASC and Directed by The Coen Brothers).
The master shot plays along w/ our heroine, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) walking behind a small crowd, attempting to get a good look at Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). Consider that in a previous scene Mattie was just asking around town for him and heard of his reputation, so she now has a predisposed notion of what kind of a great hunter he is. With that in mind, the master shot moves on into a slow reveal.
Deakins’ lighting setup for this scene is more than likely an HMI (possibly an 18k) blasted through a silk through the windows, into the interior of the set and some light smoke to diffuse the light further. The practical lamps are of a lower wattage (40w possibly) to give the scene “accents” rather than being a source of light itself.
The general idea behind all of this is that he is known (beforehand) as a grandiose character, and even being in court, he still has this aura about him. Which goes to explain the angelic-like lighting that blooms into the room, back lighting his character.
However, the more we get to know Cogburn and the case being discussed, the camera punches in further to reveal his expressions and less emphasis on the master shot’s lighting effect. This happens up until his final close up that fully realizes the details of his face, showing his flaws and her eventual realization that she, Mattie, will have her hands full.
All of this adds up to the emotional quotient that your lighting can have when it’s based on the story’s most intricate points and themes. If you use this theory as a basis for your setups, you’ll always touch the audience and make the experience that much more memorable.