How to create a mood with lighting

You can create a mood for a movie with background music, by creatively framing, but first and foremost by using lighting. A scene lit with a greenish tinted light comes across very differently from that same scene lit with a reddish tinted filter.

Lighting and the mood that’s created with it is a DoP’s (Director of Photography) responsibility when the production we’re talking about is a movie or TV series. But what if you’re an independent videographer going it alone or with a very small group of people?

In that case, it’s up to you to decide what the video should look like and it will help if you have experience with – or a background in – photography. Photographers often use filters in front of their studio lights, strobes and camera flash to change the light characteristics. This sometimes is as simple as a filter to change colour temperature, but more often it will be a straight colour filter.

For example, if you want to shoot an image of red pepper and you want to create colour contrast with the background, you can use a camera flash with a snoot attached to it and a complementary colour filter at the end of it. The snoot will limit the coloured light to the spot where you want the complementary colour to appear. The red pepper will be of a deeper, stronger red than without the complementary patch.

With some images and certainly with movies, you’ll probably be more interested in changing the character of the whole scene. That’s possible too by just attaching a filter to your lights.

A Rotolight NEO 2 – a British-made LED-driven photo/video light that can be used an on-camera as well as an off-camera light – even has special colour filters that mount in front of the light with a clever and simple accessory. That way, Rotolight’s lamps allow you to change a shot of a squabble inside a pub from a boring scene into a dark, ominous one that makes viewers expect the worst.

All decent lighting that is made for studio work – whether it be photography or filmmaking – has the ability to change the colour temperature from neutral to warmer/colder. Even such subtle changes can change a mood. A scene shot at dusk can be made warmer by adding a lamp with the colour temperature set to less than 4000K, for example. The NEO 2 obviously has this capability, but an Akurat on-camera light has it too. And the advantage of both these lights is that you can mount them on the camera’s accessory shoe, but just as well on a Dinkum Systems clamping mount. All you need to take care of is that you position the light close enough for it throwing its maximum amount of light on your subject.

Creating a mood at movie production time has the advantage that you can light the scene exactly as you want, perhaps dividing a scene into differently lit parts. In post-production, that is harder to do unless you are a master at working with masks.

In post, you can easily change the mood of the whole scene with a plug-in like Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Looks, but regardless of whether you do it at production time or in post, you will need to have some knowledge of or a feeling for colour psychology. Lacking that, it’s a better idea to stick with neutral daylight colour.

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