Sunday, August 16, 2015

Painting with Light by John Alton

Painting with Light by John Alton, University of California Press, 1995.

I found this book rather off-putting as it feels so dated (originally published in 1949). I also thought this was an odd quotation, from the author, to start with: "Life is short, but long enough to get what's coming to you.".  

Page 110: "Colored girls want to be white, and work hours to eliminate the kink in their hair, while their sisters are slaves of the latest tan style, and spend fortunes for their permanent waves." and "There's hardly a film nowadays without the feminine bedroom..." 

Chapter 12 is called DAY AND NIGHT, LADIES, WATCH YOUR LIGHT. I begins: "Every woman has the right to be as beautiful as she possibly can."  John thinks we should think more about using light as a 'beautifier'.  "Ladies' light is men's delight" apparently.  "Better light would make the girls look prettier, consequently feel happier."

"There are people who after the first drink take on a tired, sleepy, old look; these people should not drink, not even beer."

OCA: seriously - has no one written a decent book on lighting since this dude?

To be fair: there is a lot of good information about lighting techniques, theories around illumination etc and some inspiring ideas for creative lighting. Alton talks of black and white being colours and claims he can see in the dark.

Some of the equipment is obsolete now but the principles of what and why to illuminate stay relevant.  There is lots of detail about how to set up specific scenes such as around a fireplace; how to create effects such as summer moonlight or Autumn fog; different lighting approaches for varying shapes of human face... etc

Plus some great - and extensive - advice for anyone going on an ocean voyage!

One chapter is dedicated to the idea of a concert of light - a 'symphony of visual music'. Alton says that blacks, grays and whites in different densities constitute a similar scale to the one in music.


The more surfaces of an object that are visible, the better will be the picture.

The illusion of depth can be enhanced by separating foreground and background by lighting.

The spot which should appear most distant should be the lightest and vice versa to allow a progression from dark to light.

Lighting for quantity: sufficient exposure

Lighting for quality: 

1) orientation (to allow the audience to see where the story is taking place)
2) mood or feeling (season or time of day)
3) pictorial beauty/aesthetic pleasure and depth, perspective, 3D illusion

Do not try to illuminate large surfaces with sun reflectors, they never look natural.

Some other possible reads that may be a little more, er, modern...

Lighting for Digital Video and Television by John Jackman

Reflections-Twenty-One-Cinematographers-at-Work (a tad pricey!)

Cinematography-Theory-Practice by Blain Brown

No comments:

Post a Comment