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.
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 from Arrival is a mix of emotions:
Mark Bone demonstrates backlighting, using only available light:
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.