Production: How To Use Shadows to Evoke Mood

Shadows are an excellent way to create a mood in a production. The most famous examples of this are the black and white crime films of the 1940s and 50s. These films are called film noir, which is French for black film. They often dealt with a dark subject matter such as crime and they used shadows in the cinematography to create a dark mood.

Shadows with Black and White

Shadows look more distinct in black and white than they do in color. When shooting a dark story that is going to get a lot of its mood from shadows you should consider shooting in black and white to achieve the feelings you wish to evoke. A great recent example of this is the movie "Sin City." This film dealt with dark subject matter and made great use of shadows to show us a dark underworld.

If you're not shooting in black and white then you can still use shadows to create a dark mood.

Shadows and Exposure

A key factor in making your shadows more pronounced and darker is to make sure that the area covered by the shadow is significantly less exposed than the area that is lit. This can be done by shooting with very bright lights. If there is not a significant difference between the exposure of the set and the shadow that your shadow is just going to look like a slightly darker area. Remember, the more contrast, the more dramatic impact.

Shaping Shadows

Of course, a large part in creating your shadows is shaping them. The most basic film tool used for this are black flags, also known as cutters. They come in the shapes of rectangles and square. The typical sizes are 18" by 24", 24" x 36", and 4' by 4'. There are also flags that are more pronounced in their rectangle shapes that are called meant axes. A typical size for a meat axe is 2' by 4'.

Flags are placed in front of lights and are attached to c-stands via the gobo head clamp. If you want a soft cut with your flag where the shadow's line is barely recognizable then you place the flag close to the light. If you want a hard and distinct cut then you move the flag away from the light.

Cucoloris and Other Shapes

Flags are not the only tool we have available to shape out shadows. You can rent cucoloris, also called cookies, to create some shapes with shadows. A cookie is just a piece of wood with a design cut into it. When a light is shinned through the cookie the other light that escapes comes out in the shape that was cut into the cookie.

You can use other devices too to make shadows work. Pretty much any object will work as long at it can block light. The other limit is your imagination.

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