As cinematographers we strive to seek inspiration in any and everything we can. Walking into a room or staring outside can inspire you by simply observing how the light falls. However, if there is one form of inspiration that can benefit almost any aspiring cinematographer it’s paintings.
Paintings is the father of cinematography and photography. Examining paintings can straighten the way we see light. From Rembrandt to Da Vinci you can find something that will help you become a better cinematographer.
Chiaroscuro is a term coined heavily in relation to Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s paintings. It refers to the relationship between light and dark. In cinematography we refer to this concept as contrast. Look at some examples of Caravaggio’s work and notice the relationship between light and dark.
Caravaggio’s use of light and dark is remarkable and is incredibly beautiful. He highlights what is important in each painting by making it lighter than everything else. The result of this technique is the eye is directed to where the artist wants us to look, a common technique used in cinema. Another important aspect to notices is the wonderful use of shaft light. One source shafting through the darkness to reveal something beautiful or one light coming from a single direction creating a beautiful falloff.
Rembrandt’s paintings is one of the most studied for the way he painted portraits. It’s the hallmark for dramatic lighting in cinema. The ever so familiar triangle on a person’s face as a result of Rembrandt lighting. Here are some examples.
As you can see the way he painted portraits is one of the ways many cinematographers light portraits. Visit the nearest art museum near you and be inspired by the cinematography masters of yesteryear.