Light always tells us unconsciously something, as an abstract language, with various cultural and historical varieties of interpretations. This essential language of the sun and fire has been manipulated from the origin of humanity through the arts of painting and sculpture, and deeply explored since the advent of artificial lighting by photography, cinema and performance arts. Artists know how to convey the dramatic power of the light to tell their story, to guide the interpretation of a scene, and to increase the meaning and emotions.

Prehistoric painting used the shaking of fire light to simulate the animals ‘movements, playing with shadows and overlapping images.

 La grotte Chauvet, about 30 000 years old, France


The term of dramatic lighting to convey a meaning, a mood and as well as atmosphere, is an artistic affair when it comes to architectural or landscape lighting design.

At SLA designers we always start designing our projects from this point of view. As people from the theatre world we believe in the power of creating emotions with light also with architecture and landscape.  

Dramatic lighting applied for architectural and landscape projects. This project has been thoroughly elaborated from photography and cinema references, following the architect’s surreal world. The techniques and equipment are also quite similar to the one applied for a photo-shoot or movie scene, by staging the position of each light, carefully choosing the color palette, and light direction :

Contre – Plongee lighting in movie scenes – Crazy House project by SLA designers, 2018.

  • Contrast and eye direction

Painting is one of the oldest mediums which uses dramatic lighting. Light and Shadow – Good and evil, chaos and control, controlling these two elements is one the most important tasks to achieve dramatic lighting. It is a so-called shading technique, in order to create volume and space, volume can be accentuated using back and side lighting, by highlighting prominent features, and leaving the rest in shadow.

Night Watch, Rembrandt – Lai restaurant, SLA designers, 2019.


Rembrandt is a legendary painter from Netherlands who is famous for creating extraordinary lighting techniques at that time in his art, like his masterpiece: A Night Watch. By using the dramatic lighting, the keystone, the part of painting that holds everything in place are the dual figures of the captain and his lieutenant in the middle and the rest of the portrait moves away from them diagonally which makes them extremely highlighted. The dramatic lighting can single out two key figures and create an optical phenomenon called “Depth of field”. Ultimately, Rembrandt used this lighting method to point out for the viewer what detail to look at.

  • Enhancing mood and atmosphere

The scene from Suspiria (1977) has been fairly simply lit with one big heavily diffuse backlight and a piece of poly at the right to bounce the light back in – That it’s! Simple. But the cool touch is from the lighting on the eyes of the protagonist which holds the reflection from a 45 degree teleprompter, so no post, all done in camera. In contrast with the scenes from Suspiria (1977) , the dramatic lighting sources are very complex, the use of Technicolor are in harmony in order to create a surreal world that the protagonist is placed in. But in total, however the simplicity and complexity are, lit effects were used to enhance the mood and atmosphere.

Suspiria (1977) – Crazy House project by SLA Designers 2018

Color and emotion are bonding closely with each other, it is associated with the narrating and immersive experiences of the scene. To give the clue for the viewer or the visitor to help them understand the story more quickly or completely, getting them emotion involved with the scene or architecture. By choosing a color palette according to theory of color and emotion, or using gobo, glowing light technique, we can reveal the characteristic area of the lighting design.


  • Spectacular and Storytelling

Lighting is a powerful material to produce spectacular effects; and as this ultimate encounter between show and architecture, lighting installation applied to façade or interior, turns the architecture into a set design object, and the visitors into an audience. The dramatic aspects of light are emphasis by a scenario, often completed by sound and music and other media, to tell a story, to tell its history, to immersive viewers into the creator’s perspective. This is the art of using the right angle, the art of fine tuning intensity and colors, balancing between light and shadow, revealing characteristics, bringing movement to the light, adjusting the composition, to enhance the authenticity of the architecture, make uniqueness, and expand the boundaries of the space. The art of the creative lighting designer combined with a scenography vision.




Plaisir D’Hiver – Grand Place ( ACTLD) and Light Moves ( ACTLD)

Writer: Hao – Motion Designer
Credit: Crazy House by SLA,