Chiaroscuro is an artistic lighting choice used in comics and film in which the focus point or subject of a scene is brightly colored and/or contrasted with a dark background. The purpose of chiaroscuro is to increase the scene’s dramatic tension by exaggerating the subject’s importance using color contrast.
In the comic book world, chiaroscuro is centered around creating sensational effect. In Figure 1, chiaroscuro is used to “trick your brain into feeling more emotion” (Riojas.) The dark shading around the man’s eye allows it to stand out and gives it a dramatic aura. Chiaroscuro is also used to draw the eye in an intense way. An example of this type of use is in shown in Figure 2; the Bat Symbol is clearly illuminated against the background, making a clear visual aid for the action.
Chiaroscuro is not only used for drama, however. It can also give the impression of realistic features to the scene or characters (Sauvaget & Boyer). In addition, it can be used to “enhance visual contrasts between objects in a scene” (Sauvaget &Boyer). The effect can be used to outline a shadow in a frame, a knife in a kitchen, or an important person in a room full of people. The technique of chiaroscuro is used in expressionism to “achieve a heightened illusion of depth” (Njuguna).
This use is also apparent in Figure 3. The moon is illuminated by the dark sky and the shading contributes to the high contrast between the two objects.
Njuguna, Y. (n.d.). THE USE OF CHIAROSCURO LIGHTING IN FILM (Noir). (with images, tweets) Â· YvonneNjuguna. Retrieved December 6, 2015, Storify.com
Riojas, E. (n.d.). Film from a clearer world. Retrieved December 6, 2015, from FilmFAC.com
Sauvaget, C., & Boyer, V. (2010). Stylization of Lighting Effects for Images. Retrieved September 30, 2015. IEEE Xplore Digital Library.