Make a Movie with Stunning Silhouettes
This project is a great, creative look at how you can use lighting in your film projects to create mood, atmosphere and impressive visual storytelling. Dramatic lighting can really help to grab attention and create strong impressions on your audience.
In these activities, we’ll try out ‘chiascuro’ techniques – this is a technical term that means to contrast light and shadow within the same image. You can use it in visual art or photography, as well as in your filmmaking.
- A camera – either a smartphone, a tablet or a camcorder/DSLR etc
- A tripod is handy, but not essential
- 1-2 lamps, ideally ones you can point at your subjects or move the heads in different directions
- An outdoor location, such as a garden or a park (during the day)
Create a Backlit Image
Firstly, try to create an image that produces a strong silhouette by ‘back lighting’ the subject.
Position your subject (this can be a friend, or a sibling, or even yourself, or it can be an item you have at home) in front of your light source, so that the light comes from behind them in the frame.
Try shooting against a window, with the sun coming in, or try setting up your own light source with a lamp.
The more you can limit the other light sources in the room, the stronger you’re silhouette will be. Experiment with turning off the main lights, drawing the curtains or the blinds.
Also work with your subject so that you capture an interesting image. Try filming your actor in profile (from the side of their face) or in an interesting position. If you’re using an item, try to choose something with a distinctive shape.
Always refer back to your camera and see which options give you the best image. This will be down to your personal preference as a director, you might prefer softer silhouettes to stark, bold contrasts. See what works best for your vision and capture a few takes.
Create an Outdoor Landscape Silhouette
For this activity, you’ll need an outdoor location, such as a garden, a balcony, or a park, but you can also try to use any other outdoor space to create some different styles.
Set up your camera to shoot an image of your setting, using the sunlight to ‘backlight’ your location to create a silhouette. To do this, you’ll need to film against the light, so it’s a good idea to check the position of the sun before you choose where to set up your camera.
Both sunrise and sunset are great times for shooting powerful silhouettes, but you can also get interesting shots during the day, when the sun is high, especially if you’re in a location that has tall features, such as trees or skyscrapers.
Collect a few shots of your location. If you have time, space these out so you collect shots filmed at different times of the day, which you can compare. You can also visit different locations to collect a variety of different landscapes.
These types of shots can work really well as dramatic establishing shots in a film sequence, so have a think what kind of stories or shots might follow these landscape shots in one of your movies.
Create a ‘Half Shadow’ Shot
This is where you can start to get really creative with the ‘chiascuro’ technique. It’s not about creating strong silhouettes, it’s about mixing the silhouettes with deliberate areas of purposeful lighting.
Choose a subject to shoot and position your camera, ready to film.
Now, take your lamps and position them, so that they light up approximately half of your subject, whilst keeping the rest of your subject in shadow.
You might need to close off other light sources in the room to achieve the effect you want. Refer back to your camera each time you move your subject or your lamps, until you get your ideal image.
Shoot this take, retrying until you’re happy with the outcome. You can try this technique in different settings to practise it and build up a collection of your own ‘chiascuro’ shots.
Use this Technique in a Film or a Sequence
Now you’ve got to grips with this style of lighting in moving images, use these shots as the inspiration for a short film or a sequence.
What kind of story includes these images? What happens next?
You can either build up a sequence around the shots you already have, or start from scratch with a new story idea. You can create something artistic and atmospheric, where the focus is on the visuals without the need for a linear story, or you can tell a dramatic story with characters.
We’d love to see your work. If you share it online (with a parent’s permission), use the hashtag #sparksmoviemaking and we’ll be able to find it. Or, you can also send it in to us here.
Good luck and happy movie making! 🙂