Lighting in Django Unchained

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Figure 1: The Positions and Types of Lights with Cameras Used in Creating the Scene

2. Assessment of the Scene by Each Shot

            The first shot of the scene involves Calvin captured standing behind a human skull. The camera runs close a close-up shot that moves from the face to the skull on the table.  The dreadfulness of the scene begins from the view of the head-bones (Tarantino, 2012). In fact, the cinematographer instils fear in the audience by covering the face of Calvin and the skull. In other words, hostility begins at this first shot.

            The second shot is the shortest and captures Calvin’s bodyguard entering with a gun pointed at Djengo and Schultz already. Calvin turns to look at him coming from the front door (Tarantino, 2012).  A normal shot enables a proper eye-view of the incoming character.

            The third shot involves Calvin yelling at the slave-buyers and warning them that they need to keep their hands on the table or get shot at by his aide. A close-up shot shows the horrific face of Calvin (Tarantino, 2012). Therefore, the audience’s fear intensifies from the previous shots (Ponech, 2013). Then, an eye-view shot helps in demonstrating Calvin’s gestures when he bangs the table and warns the slave-buyers against making any movement.

            The fourth shot shows Djengo and Schultz returning to their seats at gun-point. Again, eye-view or normal shot helps capture the facial expression on the slave-buyers’ (Ponech, 2013). It also shows the seriousness of Calvin’s guard standing behind them and pointing a gun at the duo. 

            The next shot is also of eye-view or normal and involves Calvin continuing with the expression of anger. Then, the sixth shot is also normal and covers the guard drawing a second gun and pointing it at Schultz with the initial one now on Djengo (Tarantino, 2012). This shot returns to the previous one, but another aide takes the guns of the slave-buyers in a normal shot. Thus, a viewer feels as though he or she is also part of the meeting. The subsequent shot is of normal human view and shows Calvin directing that the slave lady be brought to him.

            The eight shot is also of normal type taken at human eye-view and shows Stephen bring Broomhilda into the room from one of the front doors. A brief close-up shot helps demonstrates the fear in the lady’s face; then, the succeeding shot of normal nature involves her screaming as the slave master handles her roughly (Tarantino, 2012). The terror in Calvin and the fear in Broomhilda become apparent due to the normal shot that covers both subject matters at a go. Afterwards, close-up shots alternate between Djengo and Broomhilda with each showing worries in them.

            Then, the twelfth shot is normal and covers Stephen, Calvin and the slave lady as the master explains the next course of action in beginning to alter the negotiation. This shot seems to get interrupting counterparts as the worries in the faces of Schultz, Broomhilda, and Djengo show in successive close-up shots (Tarantino, 2012). Alternating normal shots occur showing the slave buyers’ anger and Calvin’s determination to hit Broomhilda’s head with a hammer. Then, close-up shots expose the danger in Calvin’s face as he holds the lady’s head onto the table ready to strike it with the weapon (Ponech, 2013).  Finally, a close-up shot followed by a human eye-view one involve Schultz paying for the slave lady and Stephen counting the money respectively. 

3. Lighting and Camera’s Style and Success in the Scene

i) Lighting

            The cinematographer of the scene uses a low-key lighting style to demonstrate the indoor nature of a room at night. This approach reduces both contrast and shadows; thus, the images on the scene appear vivid while dark places remain unanimous with the low-key lighting areas (Petrie, 2018). The key light provides the most intensive source as the fill diffuses shadows to lower contrasts. Then, Petrie (2018) show that backlight offers the lowest intensity light for the rear areas. As a result of the arrangement and qualities of light, the cinematographer achieves considerable success in low key effect required for night time indoors.

Furthermore, the cinematographer uses angles of 450 for the sources of light to achieve proper low-key tone that diffuses all shadows. This angle enables the light intensity to vary by the type of source as quality remains high (Petrie, 2018). For instance, the fill and back lights would have diffusion of shadows to enhance dimness as the key one provides the highest intensity for focusing on the main subject matters. Still, the angles avoid direct interference with the cameras as every space between any two sources of light on a line creates space for a photographer in between. 

ii) Camera

In addition to the sources of light, two cameras stood at 1800 - facing each other – as shown in Figure 1. Therefore, both the front view and the rear one became possible with zooming and refocusing of various types of shot used (Petrie, 2018). Using the table as the centre, the photographers succeeded in making the subject matters visible in high details by use of a close range between the cameras and the characters on the scene.

Besides, the predominant use of close-up and normal (human eye-view) shots helped the photographers demonstrate fine details, namely, gestures for the former and facial expressions for the latter. As a result, the cinematographer achieves adequate views to tell the story in nonverbal way.  Moreover, these two types of shots suit a room that cannot allow for a bird’s eye view ones (Petrie, 2018). Nevertheless, the long shots would have little use as they hardly show details of subject matter. Therefore, use of close-ups and normal shots enhanced the director of photography’s skills in telling the story through visuals. 

4. Director of Photography’s Lighting Philosophy

            From the scene, the cinematographer appears to follow the naturalism philosophy. The use of key light diffused by both fill and backlights make the intensity dim, tungsten colour, and softness that reinforce the feeling of a dark room with only candles as the sources of illumination. As a result, a low contrast ratio of light occurs of about 2:1; thus, a feeling of a truly natural lighting occurs (Shamir, 2016).  The director of photography also seems to follow the same philosophy of naturalism. Shamir (2016) indicates that as opposed to pictorialism, the conventional three sources of light apply diffusion to achieve low intensity dim light that is soft in quality and with a tungsten colour. Thus, the mix produces proper illumination for the right views. 


Petrie, D. 2018. A changing visual landscape: British cinematography in the 1960s. Journal of British Cinema and Television, 15(2), pp. 204-227.

Ponech, T. 2013. Cinema: Display, medium, work. Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia, 69(3), pp. 543-564.

Shamir, T. S. 2016. Cinematic philosophy – A new platform for philosophy. Cinematic Philosophy, 1(1), pp. 151-164.

Tarantino, Q. (dir.) 2012. Django Unchained [Motion picture]. Weinstein Company.

September 25, 2023




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