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The Secret to Powerful Cinematography: Using Lighting to Create a Convincing Atmosphere



A flicker of light can dramatically alter the tone of a scene and cast characters in different ways. Photographers and movie graduates already understand the power of lighting but, for those who only have an unconscious appreciation of it, here are some basics:

  1. Lighting can illuminate a subject and bring it into focus.
  2. The colour of the lighting used can affect the mood of a scene.
  3. Brightness can affect how we perceive a subject or setting.
  4. Natural vs. artificial lighting can affect the tone of a scene.
  5. Shifts in lighting can create a sense of pace or change of direction.

That’s a general overview of some ways lighting can affect what we see, think, and feel. There are, of course, many more things light can do, and each movie is different. With this in mind, here are two examples of how lighting impacts the tone of a movie:


Drive is the story of a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver at night. The lighting in this movie is a mix of warm and cold colours. Scenes where Gosling lives his normal life away from a life of crime, are often bathed in warm colours and natural light. However, when he’s about to assume his alter ego, dark lighting and cold colours, such as blue tones, are used to create a sense of seriousness.


This Andrew Niccol-directed movie tells the story of a man considered to be genetically inferior, Vincent Freeman, who assumes the identity of a man with a higher standing in society, Jerome Morrow. The lighting in this movie is all about colour. Specifically, the scenes where Vincent assumes his new identity are often lit in green, which can signal a sense of hope as green is associated with positive emotions. In contrast, Jerome is cast in yellow, a colour often associated with jealousy.

Lighting Up Live Streams

The power of lighting isn’t confined to the big screen. TV shows also make use of lighting techniques and, perhaps more interestingly, so do live streams. Real-time table games, such as Auto Mega Roulette and Crazy Pachinko Live, use lighting in a variety of ways. Live dealer tables/games are designed to replicate the look and feel of games people find in a land-based casino. Therefore, the light needs to illuminate important aspects of the game.

For example, in Auto Mega Roulette, the two most important parts of the game are the betting board and the wheel. Shining light on these elements not only makes the game feel authentic, it helps create a sense of trust. Live dealer casino games also use coloured lighting to create a sense of levity. You’ll also see spotlights flicker, dim or move in different directions when a unique feature is triggered. These lighting techniques create a sense of drama that adds to the palpable excitement.

That’s why lighting has become an integral part of live streams. Game developers have taken their cues from cinematographers and that’s made the online gaming experience more entertaining. So, the next time you watch a movie or play games online, take a look at the lighting and think about what impact it’s having on your viewing experience.

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