So THAT's Why Movies And TV Shows Look So Dark Nowadays

Don't worry, it's not just you.
Warner Bros.

We’ve written before at HuffPost UK about how Netflix’s sound can run a little heavy on the music and a little light on the dialogue if you haven’t checked your settings correctly.

But there’s one issue adjusting your set won’t fix, and it’s nothing to do with one streamer in particular ― movies, generally, have been getting darker.

If, like me, you find yourself squinting to see the screen both at-home and in the cinema, you might be wondering why movie studios make that call.

Luckily, cinematographer, director, and colourist Devan Scott has answers ― and apparently it’s got nothing to do with how well-lit the set is.

What’s going on?

First off, Scott explains that we have to define “dark”. He explains that each pixel in an image has a luminance value that can be expressed as an IRE level ― “0 is black, 50 is middle grey, and 100 is white”

Then, there’s exposure, which measures “how much light is getting to your camera’s sensor.” This, he says, is often blamed for “dark” movies.

You can fiddle with both these values in post-production if you like, he says ― meaning an “under-exposed” shot can still look bright if you want it to. Instead, he says colour grading has more of an effect of the perceived brightness of an image.

He adds that the amount of light on set has next to nothing to do with how dark something appears ― it’s more how the light is used and what editors do with the footage after shooting it.

So why choose darkness?

Well, partly just because we can, Scott explains.

Newer tech means we can highlight and shade and grade shades of white and black in ways we couldn’t before ― a fun opportunity for people like cinematographer Fabian Wagner, who said of his notoriously dark Game Of Thrones battle episode: “Everything we wanted people to see is there.”

It could just be a director or cinematographer’s aesthetic preference ― and trends run in movies just as they do in fashion.

But on top of that, we increasingly watch movies and TV on our phones and TVs, in brightly-lit rooms and on screens not designed for optimum TV and movie watching. Even the best cinematography is “no match for the sun,” Scott shared.

So what was meant to be a moody scene in the cinema might look completely unintelligible on a phone screen, for instance. This doesn’t necessarily mean the director or cinematographer was in the wrong ― it’s more that the tech has grown massively on the creating end, but not so much on the end of the casual consumer.

Until artists’ visions can be displayed in a better way on a real-world level, it seems we might have to squint on...


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