Friday, 15 January 2010

Painting With Light

With all the talk about still and video convergence now is probably a good time to put up a review of this book by John Alton. Written in 1949 its was one of the first books about cinematic lighting and made Alton a few enemies at the time for having the hubris to write it. John Alton filmed some of the classic film noirs of the period and they say that his blacks were blacker than anyone else dared show at the time. His best films were made on very tight timescales as little as ten days and he was known by his directors for being willing to try things that other cinematographers were unwilling to try.

The book is a fascinating if quirky read. He starts of explaining the roll of various people within the film industry and then quickly moves on to equipment. If you ever wanted to know what a solid overhead teaser was, then this is the book for you. My favourite piece is the chin scrim, which is specially designed to cut down the glare coming off a white shirt collar. Its amazing to think that he was sculpting with light in this way for moving pictures. Many still photographers wouldn't go to those lengths. The section on lights is obviously a touch out of date however the lights are recognisable in shape an form and you would need to understand the terminology to make sense of latter sections on lighting.

There is a neat little section on the theory of lighting which discusses how to create shape, form and depth and this then goes nicely into the sections on the different styles of lighting for creating different moods. You can see where the cinematic style has influenced the likes of Michael Grecco or Joe McNally and the book has some beautiful stills illustrating the lighting that John Alton is best known for. You'll see lots of motivated light and an eight light system.

John Alton's writing style can be quite poetic and on occasion descends into flights of fancy. He had a vision of flattering light being used in everyday life. If only his vision had come true.

In conclusion its an interesting read. It may seem that it couldn't possibly be of relevance to film or still photographers today, but I think there is still plenty of relevance. You can also see some of his films for free on the internet. Here is a link to T-Men

No comments:

Post a Comment