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We are governed by lighting—it acts as the backbone of every film, TV series, photograph and theatre production ever created, and plays an even more important role in our everyday lives. Light is the fundamental driver of human vision and how we experience the world. And even before electricity sparked a revolution and brought light to modern society, it proved pivotal across all forms of entertainment
Our understanding of lighting in photography, film, and later, VFX and animation, has become increasingly advanced over time.

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In recent years, technology pursuits have developed quickly to meet the needs and demands of the film and TV production industry. However, this wasn’t always the case. 

In fact, film production lighting in the late 1800s was rather primitive in comparison to the techniques being used in photography at that time. Filmmakers relied heavily on daylight, rather than adopting the use of artificial lighting used in photography to enhance the aesthetic appearance of a shot. The lighting techniques used in the early cinema of the late 1890s and the first years of the twentieth century were astonishingly primitive in comparison with those used in still photography.

Filmmakers of that era did not adopt the range of artificial lighting that was already standard equipment in photographic studios and widely used by photographers to enhance the aesthetic appearance of their work. Instead, filmmakers relied almost entirely on bright daylight. For this reason, when films were not shot on location they were filmed on rooftop sets, or else in studios built with either an open air design or a glass roof. Thomas Edison’s famous Black Maria studio, built in 1892, was based on a rotating structure that allowed its glass roof to be maneuvered to follow the direct sunlight.

A greenhouse-like studio built by the French filmmaker Georges Méliès (1861–1938) in 1897 that featured both glazed roof and walls and a series of retractable blinds proved to be an influential model for the design of later studios. The availability of many hours of bright sunlight was so important to early filmmakers that it has often been cited as one of the reasons that the American film industry shifted its base from New York to California (although other reasons, such as the wide range of landscapes California could offer for location shooting, also were important).

The 1950s saw a further erosion of the dominance of the lighting techniques that had characterized films of the 1930s and 1940s. One reason for this was the growing popularity of colour filmmaking. The range of different hues meant that fewer lights were needed to differentiate between one surface and another. The backlight, which had been used to separate figures from the background plane, passed into near redundancy for a time. It still had other uses, though, one of which was to illuminate rainfall, far more visible when lit from the rear than when lit frontally. Some of the other changes in lighting technique during the 1950s can be attributed to the rapid expansion of television production.

Television relied heavily on the use of live, multi-camera shooting on a studio stage. The lighting style that best suited this mode of production was one that offered a bright, even illumination of the whole set. Even though theatrical films continued to light shots with greater individual care than did TV productions, the high-key style associated with television became a widely accepted norm.

Motivated lighting is that which imitates a natural source within a scene but provides more illumination than that which comes from the natural, or practical, light source.
Bounce lighting is where illumination from a strong light source is redirected by ‘bouncing’ it off a reflector or shiny board to create fill lighting or otherwise soften and spread the light in a scene. Besides the preceding lighting techniques which involve the placement of the lighting equipment, cinematographic lighting requires an extensive knowledge of lighting instruments themselves (HMI, LED, Tungsten, Halogen-Quartz, and Fluorescent) as well as the power requirements and rigging configurations of each.

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