Horrify Me - Photography Lighting
Techniques and Influences

Makeup is only one part of the creative process at Horrify Me. Of equal importance is the creative choices in lighting, which results in the dramatic, creepy, and atmospheric photographic portraits that people know and love.

My horror makeup is all inspired by the horror films that I have watched and loved for decades. This is fairly obvious. What is perhaps a little less obvious is the creative choices that I make when lighting my subjects. This, too, all comes from horror films, although some of the techniques are actually very old and originate in Renaissance art.


Over the years, I've developed a specific style of lighting concept for my portrait subjects. There are two important techniques that guide my creative choices, around which I have developed my style. One technique is called Chiaroscuro, which is a very old and well-established technique in art, and the other technique is heavily inspired by old Italian cinema, known as Giallo. The Horrify Me aesthetic is deeply influenced by these methods, both of which I will discuss in more details.


(from Wikipedia)

(Italian for 'light-dark'), in art, dates back to the Renaissance and is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition. It is also a technical term used by artists and art historians for the use of contrasts of light to achieve a sense of volume in modelling three-dimensional objects and figures. Similar effects in cinema, and black and white and low-key photography, are also called chiaroscuro.

The technique was refined in the Middle Ages to become standard by the early fifteenth-century in painting and manuscript illumination in Italy and Flanders, and then spread to all Western art. Chiaroscuro is used in cinematography for extreme low key and high-contrast lighting to create distinct areas of light and darkness in films, especially in black and white films.


I personally love the dramatic high contrast lighting of old film noir, and, naturally, the use of Chiaroscuro in horror films is excellent for crafting atmospheric lighting. By throwing stark contrasts of light and shadow into an image you can focus the eye to specific areas of the composition, such as a character's eyes, or hide details of the face in shadow to make them look more scary or mysterious. I make use of this technique all the time in my portraiture, using carefully crafted light techniques to create these atmospheric visual effects on faces.

Lighting Lighting Lighting

Chiaroscuro also lends itself perfectly to creating stunning black and white images, and, for me, is one of my favourite visual styles. I don't create as much black and white imagery as I'd like because, quite simply, it isn't as popular as full colour is with most people. You can generate a real sense of mystery, or menace, as well as creating a sense of the classic film noir style. One of the oldest tricks in the book for creating solid noir style visuals is to use horizontal shadows, usually from window blinds. These shadows can cut through the scene and add drama and tension, or can simply be used to break up the lighting for a more visually interesting effect.

Lighting Lighting Lighting


(from Wikipedia)

In Italian cinema, Giallo, (Italian for yellow) is a genre of mystery fiction and thrillers and often contains slasher, crime fiction, psychological thriller, psychological horror, sexploitation, and, less frequently, supernatural horror elements. This particular style of Italian-produced murder mystery horror-thriller film usually blends the atmosphere and suspense of thriller fiction with elements of horror fiction (such as slasher violence) and eroticism (similar to the French fantastique genre), and often involves a mysterious killer whose identity is not revealed until the final act of the film. The name comes from a series of old Italian crime fiction books which often had yellow covers.

The genre developed in the mid-to-late 1960s, peaked in popularity during the 1970s, and subsequently declined in commercial mainstream filmmaking over the next few decades, though examples continue to be produced. It was a predecessor to, and had significant influence on, the later American slasher film genre.


One of the things I love about Giallo films, is their use of striking, colourful, otherworldly lighting, which creates exotic and dream-like visuals. The Italian director Dario Argento is well known for using this type of stylish lighting in many of his films, which has the unusual effect of looking both beautiful and haunting. More recently, Edgar Wright paid homage to the style in his movie Last Night in Soho, which features some truly hypnotic Giallo style lighting in certain scenes. The Nicolas Winding Refn film Neon Demon also employs this lighting technique to create some truly breathtaking visual styles.

Lighting Lighting Lighting

In my portraits, I tend to light the backdrops / environments more than the subjects when bringing the Giallo influence into my work, although I do have my "famous blue light" which quite often illuminates one side of the subject's face. I just love the strong colours, often mixing and matching them to create some unusual portrait effects. Giallo styles tend to encourage experimentation too, which has resulted in some fascinating images and discoveries over the years.


Obviously variety is the spice of life and my work contains all kinds of different lighting styles and techniques, but the two techniques I've talked about here sit heavily in my creative brain all the time. They tend to be the styles that now define my work. When I first started the Horrify Me studio back in 2014, I knew instantly that I wanted to create creepy, dark, shadowy portraits and so the Chiaroscuro style was just an obvious form to adopt. However, the Giallo style was never a conscious choice. The use of the strong colours and blue rim lights feel like they just sort of happened naturally, without me actually deciding it, almost like my chocies were guided by some outside force. Of course, my choices were guided by an outside force: horror films. Having watched so many horror films over so many years, my brain is not only full of zombies, vampires, and scary makeups and characters, but it's also full of stylish visuals from horror films too. Adopting all the colours of Giallo was more instinctive than deliberate. It was only during a screening of the original Suspiria movie that it dawned on me, I was looking right at the source of my influence right there. I suddenly realised: "Oh my god! So that's where my lighting comes from!" It was an important moment for me as it made me understand my own work a little better, and of course I now have a deeper appreciation for my influences and inspirations.


Terms and conditions of service
                   Horrify Me - the UK's premier horror portrait photography studio
Twitter Instagram YouTube Follow Us