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Horror film lighting: Techniques and tips for novice filmmakers

Horror film lighting plays a big role in creating an unsettling and eerie atmosphere that makes the audience feel frightened. It is capable of making or breaking a horror film. It involves using several lighting techniques to achieve different effects. If you are a novice filmmaker and want to learn some basics about lighting setup, you can read on to acquire the following information.

  1. Video example of how to light for a horror film.
  2. Five lighting techniques that are commonly used for shooting horror movies.
  3. Four filmmaking tips that help get the better outcomes.

Video: Example of setting up horror short film lighting

In this video, the YouTuber Sergio Mota | Academy gives a tutorial on how to set up lighting in horror films. He uses two filmmaking lights from COLBOR to illuminate the scene and subject. Check to see how he creates a horror scene where the subject is investigating the house and hears strange noises from somewhere.

Five horror film lighting techniques that are commonly used

Investing in film lighting equipment is the first step high quality films. It is also important to make use of the right lighting techniques. Here are five techniques that you use in horror filmmaking to make it truly hair-raising. Read on to see their effects and how to achieve them.

1. Uplighting: A type of horror film lighting that makes subject or object look menacing

You've engaged in uplighting if you've ever put a flashlight to your face while telling a terrifying story! It casts shadows on the face while also emphasizing specific features. To get this look in your horror scene, place a single light source beneath your subject. It is advised to have a reason for this type of illumination, something to justify it. A fire, a reflection, or even a flashlight can be used.

2. Backlighting: It adds a sense of mystique to the scene and mystifies the character

The backlighting, or silhouette lighting, may be used in a variety of ways to heighten the tension. It can give your set design an air of mystique or mystify the character. It's simple: position the light behind the subject. In films, have them approach the camera slowly or even stand motionless. Remember that adding fog makes the scene appear much more frightening and more mysterious.

3. Spotlighting: It guides the audience’s sight and develops tension

What is a horror film without someone using a flashlight to explore a dark room? This type of lighting gradually develops tension and guides the viewer's gaze through the horror scene. To accomplish this look, expose your frame such that everything outside of the circle of light is completely dark.

4. Saturated Red: It provides a sense of impending peril

This horror film lighting has been widely employed in horror films and video games. It provides a sense of impending peril, and it stands out even stronger when paired with another color. To obtain this look, use very saturated red gels on your lights. But keep in mind that they reduced the light output by 50%.

If you don’t want to sacrifice the output for color illumination, it is a good idea to use RGB LED light like COLBOR CL60R. This equipment offers a wide variety of colors and is adjustable at saturation and hue ratings. You can select different colors to create various moods for your horror films.

5. Elongating Shadow: It increases tension and immediate threat in horror films

Long and spooky shadows have long been employed in horror films, and they are indeed unsettling. They increase tension and immediate threat without exposing anything to the audience. You can achieve this effect in several ways. One of the recommended ways is to utilize a harsh light source that produces a crisp, high-contrast shadow.

horror scene before and after setting up horror film lighting

Four horror film lighting tips for novice to ensure better outcomes

The four tips stated below will serve as general rules for you to follow while shooting horror movies on set:

1. Shoot through things for voyeuristic and frightening feeling

While many filmmakers prefer close-up views, doing the exact opposite might provide better outcomes. Close-up shots may provide a more intense view, but shooting from a distance will provide a better shot. In this technique, you demonstrate the character's solitude as well as a voyeuristic and frightening feeling. Shooting through a window will also boost the intensity of the shot.

2. Underexpose for a more mysterious result

Underexposing can be particularly effective in a horror film since it creates extra space in the frame for a more mysterious result. Although you could potentially expose it normally and then color grade your film in the post to darken it, the ultimate result would not be the same. It is better to make use of horror film lighting to illuminate your scene in a way that feels genuinely underexposed, and then emphasize it in the grading.

3. Use haze for a distinct and enigmatic feel

A light layer of haze (or fog) may add a lot of texture to your scene. There's no alternative for the feel and look that haze can provide to your scene, and it's especially effective in the horror genre. Use a hazer or fog generator to give just a hint of haze to your scene, but don't overdo it. A little haze goes a long way, and it, like underexposing, may assist you in creating a distinct and enigmatic feel in your compositions.

4. Find unique angles for creating atmosphere that matches the scene

The tilt, often called as Dutch tilt, is the most typical example of a frightening angle. Choose the best angle for the shot by being imaginative and going with the one that best fits the situation. Other perspectives, like as bird's eye views and low angle shots, might help you create the atmosphere of a horror film.