Barry’s view of Cinematography and Lighting

I have always been fascinated by how we as cinematographers create the illusion of reality on a motion picture screen. I used to tell my students in film school that if I hadn’t become a cinematographer, I would have become a magician and did have a magic set as a kid. Give me a location some lights and tell me what you want in the way of mood and I’m in Heaven.

I’ve had the pleasure of lighting some TV dramas many educational films and tons of corporate or promotional videos. I have never seen a film that could not benefit from good lighting. Even way back in my career when I was a TV news cameraman, I always took time in interviews to make the subject look good. Even in my own home, I set up track lights on some of the cross beams to that when you visited me, you looked your best with a key, film and backlight.

Peter Gibbons, my cinematography teacher in Hollywood would often remind me that the lighting should not draw attention to itself and take away the story from the viewer. That made a lot of sense to me. We are in essence painting with light and doing our best to make the picture look at though we did nothing. That is a real art.

Sometimes the lighting has contributed greatly to a scene’s emotional appeal to an audience. I’m thinking of Director of Photography Conrad Hall’s wonderful shot of actor Robert Blake in a prison cell next to a window where the rain reflects on his face and assumes to look of tears flowing from his eyes. As Conrad Hall explained, he didn’t know this was going to happen when he lit the scene but it has become a classic in how lighting can contribute so much to a motion picture film and in this case draw attention only to enhance the story.

There was once a party happening for cinematographers some years back. At the party was one gentleman who worked very hard lighting a very popular dramatic television drama. Another cinematographer approached him and stated he wished he had the job of working on that TV drama because he noted they didn’t have to do much lighting – the ultimate compliment any cinematographer could get.

Barry Casson csc