I will be exploring and contrasting how the lighting in the earlystages of cinematography was developed and how these changes in technology affectedtechniques and how cinematic styles have been born from these developments.Over this time cinematic lighting techniques advanced through the silent era,to the beginning of film noir. Throughout the 1890s to 1950s light roles infilm production transformed from just a way to light a shot, to a fundamentaltool for creatively though visual storytelling.Film makers in the late 1890s were confined bythe film camera technology of the time, the film was only fast enough to exposeat just a fraction of a second, so a strong light sauce was required, the brightsunlight was almost exclusively used to expose the cameras film, artificiallighting could not compete. Early films would be limited to outdoor sceneshowever filmmakers would make ways around their technological restrictions toexpand the narratives for indoor scenes, rooftop sets were build, followed bydedicated studios with our air or glass roofs.
Thomas Edison created the famousblack Maria studio (1892) this structure optimised shooting time with sunlight,it allowed the glass roof to be maneuverer to follow the direct sunlight andlarge black curtains would be open and closes with poles that had hooks on theends, there were called gaff poles and is the reason the people who light filmstoday are still called gaffers. The bright sunlight enabled shots to be litclearly however did not enable filmmakers to work the light to create mood,styles and dramatic effects are the rudiments of cinematic lighting currently. Artificiallighting was predicted to be first used in 1896 when the first indoor studiowas created, by Oskar Messter in Berlin.
Filmmakers knew the ideal would be forartificial lights to replace sunlight at exposing a clear shot, it would enablelonger shooting times and more freedom however it was not quite their yet. Inthe film The Mystic Swing (1900) natural light is complimented with artificiallighting as electricmovie lights were in use and although they were big and required a lot ofmanpower, electricity, and expertise to operate meant that indoor and outdoorshot shots could be clear lit. Although the technology was available it wasonly by 1905 that filmmakers started to utilise the creative possibilities ofartificial light.The two types of lights that where most commonly used were arclights and mercury vapor lights. Arc lights were powered by electric sparkjumping and gave off a very large and gave off a bright hard light source, thiswas the first use of directional lighting. This meant that the filmmakers couldvary and contrast the lighting of the shot.
Mercury vapour light working likemodern fluorescent tubes these were also used as direction lights as well as practicelight visual in the shot. Light changed from just a way to clearly light ashot, to a remarkable tool for visual storytelling. The aesthetic benefits oflighting were accepted worldwide and by 1907 the first dark studio was createdin Italy, this studio completely relied on artificial light, which is thestandard of studios today.In the 1910s productions started to use a range of new lightingtechniques, In D. W. Griffith film Enoch Arden (1911) the technique of using asoft lighting effect on faces by using reflectors to redirect strong backlight,this is similar to using a bounce board nowadays.
Another technique Griffithalso used was increasing the use of high contrast lighting, this would create adeep shadow across characters and sets, this is a very early version of what isnow called Rembrandt lighting. The last innovative technique was diffusion,these could transform hard light into soft light and softened the shadows, thisheavily beneficial lighting of subject and actors as it created a morecomplimentary effect.One ofthe best-known lighting effects was created around this time, the three-pointlighting system, as it became common to use a combination of several lights tocreate a more complex and visually appealing cinematic effect. This involvesthree separate lights, the first being the key light.
This is positioned to oneside of the camera and is usually the strongest light, this will have the mostinfluence on the look of the shot. Being positioned off to the side it createsone well-lit side of the subject and the other side is shadowed. The next lightis the fill light and this is positioned opposite the key light, this lightsjob is to fill in the side that is covered in shadow created by the key light,however this light will be softer and no as bright as the key this was achievedby moving the light further away or adding more diffusion however nowadays withmore modern lighting there is control over the brightness of lights. The lastlight to complete the three-point system is the back light, this is poisoned bebehind the subject and light it from behind, this creates a defined and suablehighlight around the subjects, this would help the filmmaker direct the viewerseye so that they focus more of the subject than the background. One of thefirst films to utilise this was Fred Niblo’s The Mark of Zorro in 1920.The introduction of a new film stock, panchromatic in 1926, alteredthe popularly of incandescent lights as the colour temperature matched thestocks. Studios quickly started using incandescent lights for this reason buttheir wide use used was owed to many other factors too.
These lights neededless electrical power as well as less manpower that the usual lights, they alsoreduced set up time and time it took to operate during shoots saving studio money.Another factor was that with the introduction of sound the arc light wastemporarily abandoned due to its loud humming sound that would be picked up byrecording equipment however by the 1930s arcs were reintroduced with alterationthat silenced the humming, replacing the incandescent as the standard for sometime. Around 1947 a response to the techniques used for shootingnewsreels during World War II create a new lighting look.
During these newsreels,the filmmakers could not logistically create complicated lighting setupsforcing them to rely on daylight or small powerful lights for generalillumination. This style started to be adopted to by some filmmakers as it gaveoff a rough and ready look, generating thrillers with documentary feels thesefilms would tend to be based on real events pushing this cinematic aestheticfurther, Call Northside 777 (1948) is an example of this. The 1950s saw thegrowing popularity of colour film, this altered the framework of lighting asthis new range, with different hues, meant that light was not need for the roleof differentiating between surfaces, this enable less lights to be used. Anotheralteration in lighting can be accredited to the rapid expansion of livetelevision production. These productions required the set and subjects to beclearly and equally lit, pushing the role of light away from a more cinematiclook to a style not dissimilar to the old 1890s sunlit films. This high-keystyle from live television was widely accepted as the norm however thecinematic visual storytelling power of lighting was not going anywhere, asaround this time film noir was just starting to be realised.