Features and Columns · Movies

A Beginner’s Guide to Low Light Cinematography

It’s lights out for some cinematographers. No. Literally.
Barry Lyndon Candlelight
By  · Published on May 26th, 2023

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores how low light cinematography (including candlelight) works.

It’s something of an irony that fire-on-film looks as good as it does. Fire, only second to defunct distributors and studio meddling, is up there as one of the main antagonists of film preservation. This was (obviously) more of a problem when the silver screen was literally silver. Nitrate-based film stock looked incredible. But it was also one spark away from turning any given picture house into a tinder box.

Today, film’s ability to set warehouses ablaze is a thing of the past. But fire’s affinity for the moving image remains. And for certain cinematographers looking to achieve a certain look, fire is also a clever way to illuminate low light scenes.

The following video essay features Chilean director of photography Claudio Miranda unpacking the ins, outs, and fstops of low light cinematography. If Miranda’s name sounds familiar, don’t be surprised. The man has contributed his talents to the likes of The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonLife of Pi, and most recently, Top: Gun Maverick.

Whether you’ve been casually wondering about how cinematographers light entire scenes with one candle to how filmmakers simulate flickering flames on a closed indoor set, Miranda’s your guy.

Watch “Lighting with Candle Light — Low Light Cinematography Techniques from DP Claudio Miranda”

Who made this?

This video essay on how filmmakers light scenes with low light is by StudioBinder. This production management software creator also happens to produce wildly informative video essays. They tend to focus on the mechanics of filmmaking itself, from staging to pitches and directorial techniques. You can check out their YouTube account here.

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Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.