Doug Slocombe, Raiders, and Hard Lighting

Hard lighting is interesting. Almost no one (except perhaps me) uses it to any great extent anymore because soft lighting rulz! Hard lighting drulz! seems to be the catch phrase of the day. Seems everyone wants “natural, soft” light sources – except nature doesn’t provide that. NATURE provides a giant billion candle power flood source of full range color temperature, and also provides for natural filters! Awesome! Now lets chuck all that and just use what we like to look at.

Doug Slocumbe is reputed to be the last master of hard lighting. I’d like to take some time to look at his work in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Images taken from my blue-ray copy of Raiders.

Even with the introduction of the title character, Slocombe makes hard lighting look soft somehow. It’s not out of place, and perfectly fits the mood.

In the second shot, out of the sun we see lights literally everywhere. Light plays a big part in this film both literally and metaphorically. Here we have a bit of eye light for face beauty, but we have a lot of side light coming from some unknown source. Still, it’s not out of place. There’s not a lot of hard edge light, and the background is still interesting. The “danger” light is not actually illuminating anything in particular, but it is blowing out his hand which is a nice effect.

Next, coming into the viewing chamber of the idol we have a lot of subdued high angle back light, maybe off axis to the side, maybe overhead. The thing that gives this scene its beauty is the contrast built into the lighting of the background. Notice the green moss, flanked by totally shadowed areas – again not out of place. The light is coming from somewhere, but to me personally, I’m not interested in believing that there is a hole in the cave wall or ceiling letting “natrual” light through. The lighting serves the story, and the story is good! It’s also almost totally silent.

Indy approaches the idol, and is somehow magically lit from beneath! We just saw the front of the idol platform, no lights. The wide shot shows some interesting lights giving texture to the walls, the floor, and the idol. The background is well lit, but not distracting. Color gels likely help give the excellent set dressing some character, and the floor acts as a natural bounce in this case, warming the tone. Notice that there are STILL deliberate shadows placed high on the walls. This again creates texture.

Then we come to it, Indy faces the golden Idol, and is fully lit from below with a very warm golden light. Perhaps this is suppose to be some sort of reflectence from the idol, BUT that’s not realistic. The shadows give it away. Indy smiles, the other guy smiles.

Now notice the final snap – WHERE is that guy lit from? The previously established wide shot shows him leaning up against the far wall, no light. The shot from when they enter does not show him lit from that side. But in his close up, he’s lit from that side! Now look behind him to the big gold disk on the wooden frame. Wood texture is lovely, creates interesting shadows, and is lit from down the hallway. Looking back up through the snaps reveals this light never moves. I assume it’s suppose to be the big open ceiling where they use the whip to swing across proving some type of illumination for that.

But no matter how the adventures are lit, it never seems out of place. The hard sources always provide interesting shadows, and the color temperature of the lamps change significantly throughout even a single scene. Yet again, it helps sell the fantasy, the story.

Next time, we’ll look at the middle of the film’s interiors and set pieces where even more interesting lighting choices were made!

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