Light is essential to any film-making endeavor. For anyone wanting to explore the challenging realm of film-making, it is important to first know the basics of how lighting works in relation to how the camera captures images. For any camera, light is needed to expose, process, and record an image. Without light, no filmmaker can produce any footage.
Light, a transverse, electromagnetic wave, travels in a straight line. However, there are external factors that may affect the movement and behavior of light. In simple terms, when light waves encounter or hit an object, they can act in one or more of the following ways: the light waves may be reflected like in a mirror; the light waves may be absorbed like in any opaque object; or the light waves may be transmitted or pass through the object like in a piece of glass.
When reflected, the material where the light originally strikes may perfectly bounce the light in the opposite direction. However, depending on the kind of material and its shape, the reflection may bounce the light in a particular angle, not exactly the opposite of the original direction of the light when it struck the material. In opaque materials, the strike of light results to a shadow. The length, shape, and darkness of the shadow mainly depend on the brightness and intensity of light and the angle and direction where it falls onto the material. When the light strikes through materials like glass, it passes through the translucent material. Depending on the kind of material, its thickness, and its shape, the material may cause the light waves to pass through it with altered directions.
In film-making, it is important to know how light would behave when it strikes specific materials. Technically and aesthetically, shadows, highlights, light reflections and transmissions all affect the overall look of a shot. Whether using natural light sources like the sun during the day and the moon and stars during the night, or using artificial light sources like production lights and practical lights (light sources typically seen in any location such as lampshades, fluorescent lights, gas lamps, and candles), the type, direction, brightness, intensity, and other properties of light can significantly affect how the light falls onto the subject.
Understanding the properties of light helps any filmmaker when lighting the scene to be shot. Technically, the light’s intensity is the absolute measure of a light wave’s power density. Meanwhile, brightness is the relative intensity of light as perceived by the average human eye. These properties greatly affect a filmmaker’s lighting design when preparing to shoot a scene. Although the human eyes can relatively judge how strong or weak a light is for a particular shot, cinematographers and lighting directors use a light meter to provide more objective calculations when determining how much light should be used and how the camera must utilize its settings for proper exposure of the image.
Available light is effectively measured by the light meter, which can be a hand-held/external device or a built-in device already incorporated in the camera. For a simple light meter, it gives a simple indication of the correctness of the exposure. For a more advance light meter, it typically provides information on the actual camera settings that can be best used as a benchmark for proper exposure of the subject. The light meter determines how properly exposed, overexposed, or underexposed the subject is, in relation to its light source(s).
*Note: This was written by an Associated Content contributor. Sign up here to start publishing your own movie articles.