The current study examined the impact of three film lighting styles on participants’ emotional responses. The light styles - High Key, Low Key, and Available Light – were selected based on Film theory. Thus, this study combines Media Effects and Film literature to empirically study the impact of structural elements of film on media audiences.
An experiment was conducted manipulating three levels of lighting. The According to film theory, a film presented in high key will cause audiences to feel higher levels of uplifting emotions such as happiness, joy, or humor, a film in low key will cause more feelings of suspense, mystery, and intrigue, and a film presented in available light will illicit feelings of realness or grittiness. A total of 162 participants viewed the film, 54 people watched each stimulus piece.
Significant relationship between different lighting styles and the emotional response of viewers was found. Participants who viewed the film in Low-Key lighting reported significantly more feelings of mystery, suspense, malice, intrigue, and other uneasy feelings associated with Low Key lighting. Surprisingly, Low Key lighting also elicited higher levels of emotional response in more happy and positive emotions. .
Though this is just the first empirical study of emotional responses in relation to film lighting style, significant results were found. Further studies must be conducted to develop a database and to provide more support to the findings in this study as the results indicate a relationship between film lighting and emotional response that has been indicated in film literature. This relationship can be empirically tested with significant results.