Artificial Light: Photographers Research – Christopher Doyle

Daylight changes from moment to moment; the advantage of artificial light is that it stays the same. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle (b.1952) recommended studying the ‘beauty of artificial light’ on people’s faces and one way to do this is to watch his film In the Mood for Love (Dir. Wong Kar-Wai, 2000). Doyle, something of a legend in Asian cinema, dismisses the idea of natural talent behind his work, saying that everything he knows about light has been learned. This is an important point for the distance learning student who has to be the master or mistress of self-motivation. 


Christopher Doyle: ‘In the Mood for Love’ – lighting

In the film ‘In the Mood for Love’, two neighbours form a platonic relationship after they find out that their spouses are having an affair. The film is a dance of romance between the two and as a strong binding relationship is formed, they both agree not to be like their husband and wife who both had committed adultery.

I found the film fascinating, the script, the actors/ actresses, lighting and music were all so well interwoven with each other that it was like experiencing the romance first hand, I really became immersed in the characters experiences.

Looking for Christopher Doyle’s lighting techniques throughout the film was not difficult because the film depended on the artificial lighting to set the moods of scenes and to reflect the emotions of the characters. That which I remember the most were how dynamic the scenes were where the faces and bodies of the characters were lit from the front and they were surrounded by darkness of shade and shadows, which absorbs the light.

Fig. 1 Main character, Chow Mo-wan

The Renaissance lighting style called Chiaroscuro where light and dark are strongly contrasted can be seen in Doyle’s work throughout this film in the form of the low-key photography technique. This technique employs mostly dark tones which gives a moody dramatic look to a scene, which can be seen in the images above and also below.

We can see from the above comparison illustration how the lighting in the film still on the gentleman’s figure (right) mirrors the lighting on the figure of the girl in Vermeer’s painting.

Fig. 3 Explanation of lighting

The image above shows how the yellow light of the street lamp shines downwards onto the gentleman’s face. The light then begins to gradually fade away forming darker tones on the figure until finally it becomes lost in darkness. The right section of the image is completely black while the left hand side of the image, the wall, is lit subtly by the lamp showing textures and shadows.

In contrast to the softer, warm colour scenes are those within the office environment where the light is bright white and harsh in appearance on the figures.

As we can see in the above two film stills which show office scenes, the light is no longer warm hues but a harsh and cool white light. This light represents the harsh reality of life, the workplace where one is professional and focused and not oozing romantic emotions. The use of the light in these images still have the same technique where the characters are front lit and their background darker which draws the viewers eyes straight onto the figures and the objects on the desks.

The lighting within this film is striking and memorable in its own right and has opened my eyes to how spectacularly lighting techniques can be within films. I am in awe of the film in it’s entirety and will definitely be rewatching, analysing and taking notes on the lighting in each scene for my own learning in this area.


Fig. 1 Main character, Chow Mo-wan (2000) [Film still: online] In: In the Mood for Love. Block 2 Pictures. At: (Accessed 11.07.2021)

Fig. 2 Vermeer, J. (1665) The Girl With a Pearl Earring. [Oil painting] At: (Accessed 11.07.2021)

Fig. 3 Main character, Chow Mo-wan (2000) [Explanatory diagram] In: In the Mood for Love. Block 2 Pictures. At: (Accessed 11.07.2021)

Fig. 4 Office scene, Chow Mo-Wan (2000) [Film still: online] In: In the Mood for Love. Beijing: Block 2 Pictures. At: (Accessed 12.07.2021)

Fig. 5 Office scene, Mr Ho (2000) [Film still: online] In: In the Mood for Love. Beijing: Block 2 Pictures. At: (Accessed 12.07.2021)

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