Spooky Lighting Techniques You Can Use in Your Horror Film
What makes horror movies so scary? Well, a lot of it has to do with lighting.
With the end of summer, comes as well the end of the light season and abundance and arrives autumn, the period of darkness and scarcity. At this time of year, close to All Hallows Eve, in Zeferino we’d like to take a look at the lightning secrets beyond horror movies.
If you’re on your way to making a horror film, you might want to learn a bit about how great filmmakers of the genre used lighting to create creepy atmosphere and characters. In the following video by ScreenPrism, you not only get to learn about lighting techniques that are commonly used in horror, but you get to find out how one technique in particular, uplighting, affects audiences psychologically.
Distorting through lighting
The common theme among all different lighting methods is that they all obscure or distort reality in some way. Uplighting, silhouettes, and prominent shadows produce a complete distortion of the real world. Uplighting creates weird shadows around the eyes and distorts faces. Light from below looks unnatural because it never occurs in the natural world, it reminds us of it coming from the depths of the hell, so it creates “immediate alarm”. It is hard to escape the instinctive visual recognition that this traditional use of symbolic light has deeply entrenched in our minds.
Silhouettes add a bit more to this distortion, because they don’t give us enough of the information we’re looking for, like facial features, attire, etc. This distortion is even more intense when it comes to casting prominent shadows, because it plays upon the human fear of the unknown.
Obscuring through lighting
Unlike the other techniques, spotlighting, underexposing, hard light, and shooting through objects and elements don’t distort or hide subjects in your image, they obscure or conceal them. This creates mystery, tension, and suspense, because though you can see some of what’s on screen, you can’t see all of it. Your eye is trying to fill in the gaps of what it’s missing and usually what you fill them in with is much scarier than what’s actually there. This is the magic of horror in practice.
At the end of the day, all of these lighting techniques are just a way of manipulating shadows, filmmakers frequently use shadows because the human imagination conjures up what is most terrifying to each person. This is an intelligent method because if they had to create a monster, they would be isolating the audience that isn’t scared by that monster. It is a simple, yet highly effective way to evoke fear.