In the movie American Sniper there are a wide array of lighting techniques used in the film, but this is primarily comprised of low-key and natural lighting. The first thing the viewers will notice, is the majority of the film was produced outdoors. This factor, especially in regards to constant fluctuation in weather, greatly impacted the director and cinematographer’s ability to achieve the desired lighting effect. Some of the elements that had be considered when achieving lighting conditions were wind, clouds, rain, the position of the sun and moon, and also the phase of the moon for example. This technique of using natural light as a primary source helped to achieve an authentic feel of not only shooting and moving in the mean streets of Iraq, but also capture emotional scenes such as Chris Kyle’s wedding and first hunting experience.
An example of when the position of the sun was used to the advantage of the scene, is when the Marines and a SEAL are patrolling down the street. The colors of their uniforms would normally help them blend into a neutral colored background; but since the sun was slightly high on their back, it highlighted the shoulders and head of the SEAL creating a halo effect. This captures the audience’s attention just before the significant event of that scene took place. It also aided in allowing the audience to be surprised by the event by shifting the focus in a rapid, yet nonchalant fashion.
There is also one specific character who is introduced to the plot, moving through the shadows of the city to get to his position. In this scene the use of the low-key lighting, combined with stealth movement, aids in character development; this lighting also foreshadows how we might expect to the scene to develop and how we encounter him later in the movie. Here are some behind the scenes clips from Screen Slam (2014), showing the cinematographer capturing this effect at 0:16 into the Youtube video.
As previously stated, American Sniper uses a wide array of lighting due to its portrayal of not only the battlefield in Iraq, but also a bit of the home life from before and after Chris Kyle’s deployments. In a beginning scene where Chris Kyle first meets his wife, three point lighting is used to cautiously illuminate the bar, allowing the director and cinematographer to highlight facial features of the main characters as they interact. Here are some behind the scenes clips from Screen Slam (2014), starting at 3:19 you can see the use of a white screen to reflect the fill light.
In each of these scenes, if a different type of lighting had been used, the desired effect of authenticity could not have been achieved. For example, if a high-key lighting was used while Chris Kyle was on a rooftop, aiming in at his targets, the cinematographer might not have evoked the desired emotions since this type of lighting is normally used for “comedies, happy scenes, institutional and office scenes” (Goodykoontz, 2014, sec. 6.4). The same also applies for scenes such as the wedding, if a low key lighting had been used, it might have evoked some darker emotions or maybe even lead the audience to believe the marriage itself was part of the an internal or external conflict.
Eastwood C. (2014). American Sniper [Motion Picture]. United States: Warner Bros. Pictures (Original release date 2014)
Screen Slam (2014). American Sniper: Behind the Scenes Movie Broll 2- Bradley Cooper, Clint Eastwood, Sienna Miller. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/38u_E_epexo
Screen Slam (2014). American Sniper: Behind the Scenes Full Movie Broll – Bradley Cooper, Clint Eastwood, Sienna Miller. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/vpjsy5KADU8
Goodykoontz, B., & Jacobs, C. P. (2014). Film: From watching to seeing(2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc. This text is a Constellation™ course digital materials (CDM) title.