Last night I watched Hitchcock’s 1959 thriller North by Northwest with Cary Grant. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable movie that feels much fresher and modern than I expected anything from 1959 to feel. The only thing that distracted me from the engrossing story line, though, was the wonderful photography and lighting in the film. I thought I’d discuss a couple of scenes here, because I found them quite inspiring. They feature a lot of hard light, which is what I primary use myself, and the colour palettes in many shots are so beautifully chosen that the stills are as good as photographs in their own right.
↑ First of all, I like the cleanness and neatness of the composition of this scene in a train compartment. The warm hair-light complements the colour of the seat and the skin tones, and in the next scene we’ll see the sunset out the window so the warm light makes sense. Notice how there’s just a little more light on Eva Marie Saint’s character’s face than on her legs, which subtly draws your attention up to her face.
↑ Just look how beautifully the ambient twilight has been balanced with the lights at the front of the hotel here. This is the kind of fine balance that lasts for about three minutes before it gets too dark. You can see a little kiss of rim light on Grant’s right side too, just subtly picking him out of the scene.
↑ I chose this scene because of the lovely palette of muted light greys in the room. Grant’s suit is darker than the rest of the room and so stands out, but not as much as Maire Saint’s dress which is allowed to steal the show (with a little cameo from the bottle of red Campari for good measure). Short of building a set from scratch for every shot, like Wired, it’s tricky to achieve this, but it’s certainly worth paying this much attention to the objects in the room.
↑ This very high contrast scene is all about the details. Notice the diagonal line of medium tones on the curtains to the left of the lamp, and on the check pattern material to the left of those. Both areas of illumination could believably be coming from the lamp (though they definitely aren’t — if they were, the lamp itself would be completely blown out). Notice the highlight on the railing in the foreground, showing us that we are outside, looking in. Again, this light could conceivably be coming from the room itself. Finally notice how again Maire Saint’s clothes stand out in the strongest colour in the scene, while the more muted warm tones in the room around her support the overall palette.
↑ I think this is pretty close to perfection. I count a possible total of five lights: (1) the main light on Grant’s eyes; (2) the frontal fill, just as dark as it can be while retaining detail; (3) a blue-gelled rim light on the lower left, giving us the impression of nighttime; (4) an ungelled rim light above the blue one and possibly (5) another one above Grant’s head, pointing downwards. There’s a geometric form created by Grant’s shadow on the wall too which provides pleasing contrast. The pole in the top right is a bit distracting though.
↑ Another good example of a single light doing double duty; providing the suitably suspenseful rim light on Grant while also creating the silhouette behind him. Again this light could believably be coming from the lamp on the right. Note also the subtle gradient on the back wall on the right, leading your attention (and Grant’s) downwards. There’s also a subtle light on the floor of the walkway in front of Grant, just giving you a little more of an idea of where he is in relation to the room he’s watching.
↑ Here again it’s easy to imagine a single ceiling light in this train compartment lighting this whole scene, from the well-centered rim lights on the two characters to the pleasing gradient on the back wall.
↑ Another beautiful colour palette. Everything in the scene is some variation on cool greys. Notice how even the people in the train are dressed in blueish tones.
↑ This appears to be a relatively simple scene and set up but if you look more closely you can see how finely balanced the lighting is. Again, it looks like all the light is coming from the ceiling light but of course that’s not the case. Notice the gradients on the desk and walls at the back, all guiding our attention into the centre of the frame. Each character’s face is lit by the main lights, but notice how perfect the fill on the policeman’s body in the foreground is. Easy to make out details, just dark enough that you aren’t distracted by them. Perfect.
Taking a quick first glance at the files from yesterday’s shoot with Helen. I used the €1,500 17-55mm f/2.8 Nikon lens instead of my usual lens since that is being repaired. I don’t understand how people carry around equipment as heavy as this. Sure, it’s nice and sharp, but I don’t think that justifies its expense and weight. Still, it’ll be interesting to compare the two when I get back home and can access my old files.
I’m back in Ireland after three weeks’ travel doing the day job. My iPhone has died so you get a screenshot of Bridge this time instead. Having a look at today’s shoot with Erwin, who is moving to Madrid very soon.
I’m going to Sweden again this weekend, where I’ll shoot Siri and Helen. Two one-time Dubliners, Gearoid and Catriona, will now be photographed in their new homes in London and Cambridge, respectively. Already the project is more international than it was at the beginning.