The Revenant: Showing True Beauty with Natural Lighting

By: Jake Fallin


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My favorite film from 2015 would probably be The Revenant.  The film is directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu and stars Leonardo DiCaprio in first Oscar winning role as the frontiersman Hugh Glass.  It’s story, acting, and setting are all wonderfully explored in the 1823 story of survival.  But what stand out the most, are the jaw dropping visuals and cinematography.  There’s a catch, though:  There was absolutely zero use of artificial lighting.

Every single scene was shot with only natural light.  That means light from the sun and (sometimes) fire.  That is unheard of when it comes to big budget features.  Artificial Lighting gives the director and cinematographer complete control over how an image will look, and is what usually separates amateurs from professionals.  Film-makers need artificial lighting, so they can use any preference with camera settings and still produce a well-lit image.  The Revenant gave this power back to nature.


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Despite having way less control than a normal Hollywood big budget film, The Revenant is still gorgeous.  Inarritu used his talents to capture the perfect lighting of each day.  This meant that almost every single scene shot for this film, could only be shot at a certain time of day to get the absolute perfect lighting.

To go along with that struggle, many of the scenes that were shot are amazingly complex.  Inarritu loves the long, swooping take.  This in combination with giant intensely choreographed action sequences meant that actors, extras, camera men, and other workers on set had to practice and practice for hours or days on end.  And when it was time to shoot, there was no room for mistakes, because the perfect time for shooting would only last an hour or two during the day.


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The end result of all of this hard work is utterly breathtaking.  There is something special about only using natural lighting, especially for a movie that takes place in the 1800’s American wilderness.  It produces a kind kind of natural beauty, like nothing you’ve seen in a film before.  There is no artificial highlight on characters to make them stand out of the background, but just the cold, brutal, and haunting beauty of a wonderful story.

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4 Responses to The Revenant: Showing True Beauty with Natural Lighting

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I agree with you 100% about this. How good the lighting was without the use of a full set and how realistic the film was. Innaritu really was fantastic as a director in this film.
    -Jordan Hansgen

  2. mediaphiles says:

    Yes, you are so right. This film was my favorite from last year as well. I love Inarritu and it was so interesting to see only natural lighting. One of the most interesting scenes is near the end when we see DiCaprio being found in the woods by all the men with their torches. It is such a breathtaking scene.

    Russell Lawrence

  3. mediaphiles says:

    The plot of this movie was a bit much for me but the visual aesthetic was gorgeous! I loved the use of natural real landscapes and thought it added so much to the mood of the gloomy film.
    -Maddie Turner

  4. mediaphiles says:

    Just by looking at these screenshots from the film, I am blown away by the impeccably beautiful cinematography. The lighting in each shot casts a majestic and magical tone when paired with the bold blues and greens of nature. I think the first shot of Leonardo DiCaprio is especially powerful as he is looking straight into the sunlight like he is waiting for a new day, or something greater ahead of him. It is insane that this was shot just with natural lighting.

    -Sarah Holt

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