Stanley Kubrick: Practical Lighting

Stanley Kubrick: Practical Lighting


Fragment of
“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) Watching a Kubrick film is an experience unlike any other. As a director, Kubrick had an arsenal
of frequently used techniques and tools, that spanned his entire body of work,
including: symmetrical framing, tracking shots, zooms, and even a reoccurring character look,
aptly coined “the Kubrick Stare”. But in this video, I wanna explore a stylistic choice that isn’t always referenced, when considering Kubrick’s catalog of films: practical lighting. ‘Practical lights’ are light sources, visible within the frame, that also function in lighting the scene. They can include lamps, string lights,
candles, the headlights of a car… Pretty much any prop you can think of, that emits light. The options are endless. Now, Kubrick wasn’t the first director to utilize practical lights in his films. But I believe he helped popularize the aesthetic. Up until that point, the standard method of lighting
during the Golden Age of Hollywood, had been the three-point system, harking back to stage and photography techniques. In this system, the subject is surrounded by three off-camera lights. The Key Light is the principle, and often brightest light, shining directly on the subject. The Filler Light also shines on the subject, but from a side angle, in order to reduce harsh shadows created by the key light. And finally, the Back Light, which shines on the back of the subject, in order to separate the subject from the background. So, why was this lighting method the industry norm? Let’s take a look at a scene from George Cukor’s
“The Philadelphia Story”. Our stars Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart, are engulfed in a flattering, almost heavenly light, that accentuates their beauty, and also gets clarity to their surroundings. But if we look closer, we notice,
that nothing about this lighting is natural. There are zero shadows on our stars’ faces. Additional off-camera lights are used to make the actors’ eyes and wardrobe twinkle. But, where is the source of light within the story? From an audience perspective,
we see nothing in the wide shot. There are no visible lamps, or string lights.
It must be coming from the Moon up above. But that doesn’t explain, how both Hepburn and Stewart’s characters can be perfectly lit, when facing different directions. Something should be in the shadow. It doesn’t add up.
There’s a false perfection to the picture. In the early 1960s, the classic Hollywood Era was coming to an end – and in its place, a new generation of filmmakers were looking to step out of the studio sound stages, and inject a dose of realism into their films. Kubrick was famously known for his painstaking,
and often obsessive use of realism in his films. Let’s just disregard the fact, that near the end of his life,
Kubrick hated leaving his home in England so much, that he recreated Full Metal Jacket’s Vietnam, and Eyes Wide Shut’s New York City, in and outside of London. – No, no, but if you had a tea break at 4:00,
you don’t have to break for this team, right? – This must just be a, you know,
complimentary tea break. There are countless reasons to use practical lights. In the case of Barry Lyndon, lighting interiors with only candles is historically accurate, and helps the audience suspend their disbelief. If the lighting is unbelievable, it will distract
and take the audience out of the story. Here’s a scene from The Killing. The lighting is overtly different, from the previous brightly-lit scene from The Philadelphia Story. There’s nothing glamorous or romantic about this scene. Instead, it’s ominous and claustrophobic. Notice, how some of the actors even disappear into the background. With “Eyes Wide Shut”, Kubrick was able
to use scattered, practical lights, to establish our location,
and give spatial recognition to the scene, The lighting provides depth, separating the foreground from the background action. There’s clarity, which allows the audience
to soak in a lot of information instantly. The use of practical lights has become common practice, amongst working directors and cinematographers today. But that’s largely in thanks to directors like Stanley Kubrick; who rebelled against the romantic,
rose-colored lenses of classic Hollywood, that perhaps portrayed life, as we wish it were. And instead, captured life with all its darkness and shadows, as it actually is.


100 thoughts on “Stanley Kubrick: Practical Lighting

  1. Don't practice such cult of personality – He was just a director , like many others …. do everything your OWN way and learn from your mistakes, don't try to "learn" and copy from the most famous ones …. !

  2. thanks for this vid, so simple at first look yet informative and pleasere to watch. Must to watch Eyes Wide Shut again, right now.

  3. Actually, in classic Hollywood lighting, the fill light is placed closest to the camera (almost along the lens axis) It is not, as you say, "off to the side." The effect is to reduce the contrast from the key light without introducing a second shadow.

  4. This is great. You inspired me to watch more Kubrick films. Also, you are one of the few YouTube narrators whose voice does not make me sick.

  5. 'Hi, I'm an American millennial that knows everything about everything as I've done less than a year of film school. I'm just about to talk down to you for a little over 5 minutes and encapsulate absolutely everything you need to know about someone who spent more than twice my entire life honing his craft, so that other smart mouthed millennials like me can sit around in coffee shops and discuss how we're going to do it better with our 5D's.' Oh, just shut up, the lot of you. This isn't analysis, it's just mouth-flapping crap. Go away.

  6. Great work.There's so much to learn from Kubrick, glad that you guys covered a less talked about aspect of his work. Subscribed!

  7. Why even this 5 min video needs to have 40 sec ad??? What went so horribly wrong with youtube? Time is most expensive resource and you, Youtube, are wasting peoples time!!!

  8. Awesome edit, at first it made me watch becoz of stanley, later watched it multiple times only because of the edit, I loved it, informational video made awesome….

  9. I'm especially in love with Kubrick because he was a still photographer before he became a cinematographer. This means he understood lighting.

  10. What's happened to color rich variety in films. Most new films appear tinted to a color code or washed out somehow. Is it something to do with digital? is it artistic or is this a studio decision?

  11. Technical issues are ignored here. Film stock shown in the older clips was less sensitive than today, thus requiring stage lighting for proper exposure.

  12. I think starting filmmakers can take this on the wrong way. Just because something looks natural doesn't mean it looks good. Kubrick made practical lighting look good, that's what is appreciated about him.

  13. Love this, but we must try to remember that it's not the 'director's lighting', that's the work (and often the influence) of the cinematographer. John Alcott BSC was well known for his collaborations with Kubrick.

  14. What is interesting is that I have heard Practical Lighting being used this way as well as meaning a light in the background that does not really light anything, but is just there to give atmosphere. The light that seems to be lighting the subject, but really is not.
    Terminologies seem to change depending on old school vs new school. West coast vs East coast.

  15. All of your videos induce anxiety. Maybe it’s the music in the background but I honestly have to stop every minute or so to finish your videos. This one and the punch drunk love one kill me the most! But keep it up I like the content just not the music behind it.

  16. The key light in the 3 point set up is supposed to represent the main light source, whether it be a window or the sun, or any other major light source, the fill represents bounce light, or general ambient light to fill in details, and the back-light is really the only fake light, and it's only purpose is to separate the subject from the background with the rim of highlight around the subject's edge. It's not quite fair to say the old set up didn't represent or pay attention to light sources in the scene, sure it was idealized, but it was attempting to portray the light direction of the environment.

  17. It's very impressive to have natural lighting and still have the scene be lid enough to not let the suspects disappear

  18. What most people don't know was Stanley was ahead of his time, a genius trapped amongst the dummies, he was absolutely brilliant and because of that he was able to do things that most people could not get the chance to do, for example he was invited to the illuminate's castles and yachts for dinner or what have you. They thought he was so unique that they trusted him NOT to tell anyone what he saw and witnessed, well the movie EYES WIDE SHUT pretty much gave that part away without a mention of real people living to this day, if they were to be caught on camera doing despicable acts on camera there image would be tarnished forever and therefore would have to give up their seat like Senator Al Frankin had to because of a picture of him doing a shameful act on an innocent person sleeping, if he had not done that, wouldn't he still be in office answer, YES. Stanley was just showing us the way they did it, could you imagine going over to a giant house and as you stroll through it they are having orgy's and wearing mask so you can't know who anyone is, 2018 is the year of the 👺MASK👺so if your ever invited to one of these parties I highly recommend going, to have an invitation in the first place you would have to be special to THEM otherwise, CAN YOU PLEASE TELL US THE PASSWORD, "I'M sorry I don't know the password" "HOW UNFORTUNATE" "Now remove your clothes please". You know the rest.

  19. It's all fake lighting. There's nothing mysteriously genius about Practical Lighting. It just produces a different tone.

  20. Why does every creator on YT have the music waaaay louder than the narration? Learn to normalise audio before acting the know-all.

  21. 1:49 I don't remember that scene with Joaquin in The Master. Is it from an extended edition or did I just forget seeing it?

  22. what – no godard? i don't think it's possible to talk about kubrick and lighting techniques without first talking about cinema verite (?)

  23. Really enjoyed this, since most film analysis videos I watch don't touch directly on lighting, with examples. Concise and well done explanation of lighting basics like 3 point as well. Just subscribed and will take a look for more like this.

  24. I like your channel and this is a nice video (really well edited and narrated). But I think Kubrick's lightning is not always used to give a sense of realism. Practicals don't equal realism, even though that seams to be the video's point…

    (sorry for my english)

  25. i like the diffused auras around the light that give Stanley's movies a soft, dream like haziness (you can see it clearly around the floodlights around the moon monolith). It is a beautiful effect i haven't seen any other director really use.

  26. Glad to see that you've shined a LIGHT on one of Stanely Kubrick's important features.
    All jokes aside great video!

  27. Older films were not supposed to be real life, but "movie life" or bigger, better than real life. As film progressed, things got more real. As things got more realistic on film (due to cheaper filming techniques, etc), the older films just seemed corny. That said, sometimes I have to go back and watch a movie from Hollywood's Golden Era and get taken away for an hour and a half. That was the point. This was a great YouTube vid, by the way, concise, informative and thoughtful. Just subscribed. And after ALL THAT, have to admit, no one more fun to analyze than Kubrick, so many things going on in his scenes that require several viewings to process.

  28. OK, so as a recent example, when in MI6 Ethan Hunt has the opposing 'views' chat with Solomon in the underground of Paris, which eye-side represents the good and which the bad?

    It even changes on the same character.

  29. A new problem exists especially in the increasing amount of superhero movies, because all of the foreground in the Green-screen shots are so evenly lit, absolutely nothing looks even slightly natural, much less believable. Shadows are what I see in my reality, so shadows should be our friend in cinema. For me, this is one of the greatest problems in digital animations. Stop-Motion seems to have nailed it, especially Tim Burton, as the obviously loves the dark, as do I. Sometimes films are so evenly lit, they almost become theatre, and to quote one of my heroes Stewart Lee: "Nobody wants that". This is a great post thank you. I just tried filming a halloween short on my channel with solely candlelight. Lot of fun… Marvellous effect.

  30. I know this is an old video.. but you really learn a ton with these small visual essays. Thank you for making this and glad to have seen this TODAY!

  31. Actually that scene you showed of Eyes Wide Shut isn't London. It's New York projected on a rear screen behind Tom Cruise. But yes, otherwise the main set was built in London.

  32. I was about to watch the video but i heard the 9th symphony.. it is so beautiful that I think I don’t deserve to hear it.. so I didn’t go on

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