Film School: Nicholas Sparks-style Lighting

The Last Song (2010) The Last Song (2010)

A breakdown of what gives the romance films based on the writer’s work their distinctive style – and how to achieve it.

Films such as The Notebook, The Longest Ride, The Best of Me, The Choice and A Walk to Remember share two things: they’re romance films based on the work of author Nicholas Sparks; and the look of each film is based on shooting against one particular backdrop – magic hour.

Magic hour (or golden hour, i.e. sunset) is that brief time of day, right at sunset or sunrise, where the sun is just low enough in the sky to side-light your subject, and the sky is subdued, but not yet dark. These films use magic hour as a giant backlight – this creates a diffuse, golden halo around subjects, and lends visuals that familiar gentle, romantic look.

The Last Song (2010)
The Last Song (2010)
The Longest Ride (2015)
The Longest Ride (2015)
The Best of Me (2014)
The Best of Me (2014)
Safe Haven (2013)
Safe Haven (2013)
The Best of Me (2014)
The Best of Me (2014)
The Choice (2016)
The Choice (2016)
A Walk To Remember (2002)
A Walk To Remember (2002)
The Notebook (2004)
The Notebook (2004)
The Best of Me (2014)
The Best of Me (2014)
The Choice (2016)
The Choice (2016)

Of course, this lighting style is not exclusively romantic or even particularly genre-specific. DOP Bradford Young‘s subdued tones on films like Arrival and Solo: A Star Wars Story are built on overhead- and back-lighting: the opening montage in Arrival is a mix of emotions:

Tutorial

Documentarian and cinematographer Mark Bone demonstrates backlighting, using only available light:

Cinematographer WanderingDP breaks down commercial examples of backlighting, which he refers to as “The Framework”:

Further Viewing

Still not sure what’s meant by terms like “low-key” or “backlighting”? Check out our look at Media Division’s handy breakdown of Cinematic Lighting: