Film School: Lighting ‘Annihilation’

Annihilation Cinematography Breakdown | Indy Mogul Annihilation Cinematography Breakdown | Indy Mogul

The film’s lighting technician talks concept and creation in this detailed breakdown.

Indy Mogul‘s Ted chats with gaffer Andy Lowe about how he implemented the looks in director Alex Garland‘s Annihilation (2018), as designed by director of photography Rob Hardy.

Lowe reveals Hardy’s strict preference for traditional tungsten lights, as opposed to newer LED lights. While tungsten lights consume more power, get hotter with use, and are more expensive than their increasingly popular LED, fluorescent or HMI alternatives, Lowe points out that with tungsten, “there’s no spikes, there’s no colours missing”:

Annihilation Cinematography Breakdown | Indy Mogul

Annihilation is a unique horror film in that much of it is set during the day. Lowe explains that the daylight looks, usually lit from above or behind, were achieved through a combination of large “Wendy” lights, artificial haze, and natural sunlight (“the most important thing… was for us to just get out of the way while the sun is in the right place”):

Annihilation Cinematography Breakdown | Indy Mogul

Interestingly, the opposite of getting out of the way happened a lot too – using balloons and screens to block the actual sun, while using lights to artificially create sunlight:

Lowe also talks about the role of lighting in orientating the viewer – whether it’s maintaining the quality of light established in an opening shot across all subsequent shots in that scene…

'Annihilation' Cinematography Breakdown | Indy Mogul

… or the continuity of the angle of light between shot / reverse-shot – for example, by lighting from one side:

'Annihilation' Cinematography Breakdown | Indy Mogul

Further Viewing

Documentarian Mark Bone offers a bunch of helpful tips and approaches to working with only available, natural daylight:

Aputure takes a quick look at one of the lighting techniques Lowe mentions, haze:

In another video, Indy Mogul advises “light wide”: lighting for the widest possible shot, rather than for the close-up. In a narrative situation like Annihilation, this helps with continuity; in the music video example discussed here, director Justin Jones uses this approach to make the most of limited shooting time (from 7:34):