When designing a lighting setup for a romantic scene, there are particular elements to it that you might think of as being a given. First, of course, the lights should be warm. And an overall pink/red/orange tone to the scene will help. The shadows should be soft. And you definitely will want to make use of practicals. All of these points do indeed come together to help you establish romantic lighting. But you have a lot more creative options than you think you might.
So let’s take a deeper look.
Adjusting the color temperature of your lights is a simple but effective means of adding a romantic feel to your films. The warmer orangey-yellow look of tungsten lights–around 3,000K–will instantly help give your video a romantic feel. It’s the lighting equivalent of the warm, blushed, fuzzy feeling that you get when you’re in love.
This scene from Love Actually is filled with warm light:
If shooting using tungsten lights is too hot, you have some options. You can always apply a color temperature orange (CTO) gel to your lights. Or you can use a variable LED light that allows you to select a warmer look.
Giving your romantic movie scenes an overall red, pink, orange or deep yellow look can be an instant indicator of love. You can do this first by using colored gels on your lights to turn them redder, but also by using warmer props, accessories and wardrobe.
You can see how well the red=romance look comes over in this Artgrid clip:
However, you do not always need to play on the red=romance theme. The fish tank meet-cute in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, and the swimming pool scenes are both overwhelmingly blue, although with distinct pink undertones, too.
The final scene, in the swimming pool, of Iain Softley’s Hackers is largely blue-green.
This swimming pool clip on Artgrid is blue-green in tone, and all of these scenes ooze romance.
Low key or high key
Both high key and low key lighting setups can be used to suggest romance in a film. With their bright, airy feel, high-key looks can easily mean joy, hope and positivity. There is often an element of fun to high-key romantic scenes, although wistfulness can play a part, too.
While it’s easy to think of low-key lighting as macabre, menacing or downbeat, those aren’t its only qualities. A lower-key look, where the scenes are much darker, can signify something much more intimate or even sexy. Low key can offer you enormous subtlety and gentleness and leave something to your viewers’ imaginations.
Romantic scenes should have soft, gentle shadows coming from diffuse light, yes? Sometimes, absolutely, yes, it is all about the soft lighting in films. This kiss on Artgrid is a beautiful example of that:
But sometimes, shadow really helps tell the story in a love scene. This is true in the classic film Casablanca, where the complicated World War II love story of Ilsa, Rick and Victor is played out in the city of Casablanca, full of darkness and harsh shadows.
The halo effect from backlighting can add a delicious romantic effect to a scene, making your characters glow. You can achieve this look using video lights, practical lights, or natural lighting. If you don’t want your characters’ faces to be too dark, remember that you can always use a reflector to bounce some light back onto them. These are some great examples of using backlighting to emphasize the romance of a scene from Artgrid, such as this one:
And this scene, from Pretty Woman
Practicals, for example, fairy lights, street and city lights from afar, candles, or the backlight from TVs, phone screens or computers, really help to add to the romantic lighting look of movies. They add the necessary sparkle and glow that goes so far as to suggest romance through fun and intimacy.
You can see in this Artgrid clip how there is practical lighting that’s backlighting the scene, while the beam of light from the projector is adding an intimate glow to it all:
The candlelight effect from Portrait of a Lady on Fire brings a soft, warm effect to the movie:
And the city lights in this scene, twinkling in the background, help elevate the romance of the story.
Get unlimited royalty-free 4K footage
Natural light and lens flare
The warm, glowing light around sunrise and sunset is excellent for suggesting a romantic feel in a film, and it works well as a backlight, too. But sometimes, romance can be suggested by the use of lens flare, too, which you can see in this Artgrid clip:
Don’t forget the music!
Finally, do not forget that your background music is a significant contributor to romantic movie scenes. So if you’re looking for the perfect romantic soundtrack, do have a look at Artlist’s Valentine’s Day collection.
There isn’t one right or wrong way to create a romantic mood in a film. But, sometimes, when you diverge from the norm, you can really surprise yourself as to what works and find a fresh and exciting way of storytelling. And, of course, so many of these elements can work in harmony to create a romantic look, too.
And if you’re looking for one film that covers many different lighting choices to tell a love story, have a look at Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise. It does warm, it does soft, it does low key and shadowy, there are practicals, and there’s sunrise, too. It’s also a great story, which is the basis of every movie.