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Ecological Approach to Cinematographic Lighting of the Human Face – A Pilot Study



One key aspect of cinematographic lighting – and lighting in general – is its direction and how the lighting illuminates people and other objects of attention. In a natural setting, the light reaching the target usually has at least some level of directionality instead of being just ambient overall light. In cinematography directionality is used, among other things, to enhance the lit object’s three-dimensionality in an otherwise two-dimensional medium by bringing out its shape and texture and separating it from the background. While lighting has typically been studied based on its physical qualities that render for quantitative measures, such as intensity or color spectrum, less is known about how cinematographic lighting gives rise to the spectator’s emotive-cognitive experiences. Overall, film lighting has been studied surprisingly little, although both practical and academic literature emphasize its important role in cinematic expression. This paper presents a pilot study that examines viewers’ emotional reactions to photographs of an expressionless human face under lighting from different directions. The initial results indicate that lighting that obscures, hides, or distorts facial features creates stronger emotional reactions in the viewer than lighting that reveals them, contributing to the scientific understanding of the audience’s reactions and the filmmaker’s creative decisions.