Our “Best-Dressed Rooms In TV And Film Awards” Shines A Light On The Art Of Ambiance


Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Lighting is essential for creating ambiance. We all know that. Just think about why candlelight continues to be a treasured ritual going back to prehistoric times around the campfire to our present day.

In the right hands, soft lighting can stir emotions of love or family life. Night lighting allows us to see in the dark, literally, and creates a mood of mystery and suspense as well as time for evening fun.

It is one of the few areas, say experts, where there is an infinite arrangement of set-ups. Experts say that the tools include a key light, the primary focal light, a fill light, which illuminates the shadows that are created by the key light, and the backlight which is raised higher than the primary light and has a way of improving everyone’s complexion.

In addition, set decorators cleverly disperse desk lamps, floor lights, overhead lights, dimmers, varying bulb wattage to create that spark.

In fact, although it almost made the nominations, because the lighting was indeed so seductive, Netflix’s Malcolm & Marie used the same lights and lampshades in both the living room and bedroom. It was that perfect balance of light and shade, a little less, a little more, and then the scene can take on a different personality and narrative. Clearly, the set decorator found that perfect pitch.

But others did too.


Photo courtesy of Starz.

Outlander was an obvious pick for the way it uses light to parachute into different eras as part of the plot.


Photo courtesy of Hulu.

Little Fires Everywhere was noted for the way it was suburban in feel but the lighting was not as much dimmed as pushed down a notch to show what is not being seen.


Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Babylon Berlin got a nod for its film-noir feel and coincidentally has the same set decorator, Sabine Schaaf, who did The Queen’s Gambit.


Photo courtesy of Phil Bray, Netflix.

Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit was very popular with judges because of the closeups and lighting of Anya Taylor-Joy’s Beth. So much of the plot was not only looking at her interior mind with her luminous eyes as she contemplated her next move, but the shadows of her bedroom were perfectly lit to see those chess pieces dance on the ceiling and move like movable jigsaw puzzle pieces. And then those gorgeous sets in Moscow and around Kentucky needed a different vibe. The locations were so varied that the lighting had to carry her from place to place.


Photo courtesy of Phil Bray, Netflix.

“In The Queen’s Gambit notice how it was different lighting when she was working, when she was competing, when she was having fun,” observes judge Cornelia Guest. “They understood that lighting set the mood and did it beautifully.”


Photo courtesy of Emmanuel Guimier /Netflix.

Lupin received a nomination because of the famous scene at the Louvre. Watching the main character dash and dart through the streets of France also revealed a technical skill to accommodate outside variables which is always difficult. Far bigger space to contend with than a small room.

“The lighting was dark and mysterious,” noted judge and film critic Roger Friedman. “Many shows are using film-noir since we are all feeling a little dark.”


Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Ratched was cited for creating lighting to create not as much an ominous mood but a period piece with a hint of menace. It wasn’t dark with lighting but the lighting had an outer-worldly cast simultaneously with brightness.

What were your favorites? Think about how soft and hard light is being used. A hard lighting aesthetic uses direct sunlight and other hot lights to summon up dramatic shadows and mystery. Soft lighting is when you want just that – and use silk lampshades and diffusion lamps – and even curtain like fabric – to lighten the mood.

Vote for your pick and the judges will pick theirs the week of April 22nd.

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