A precise description of a shot has to take into account two essential plastic elements: light and colour.
Like composition, light and colour bring the filmmaker’s work close to that of a painter. The means differ, but the effects are comparable.
To describe a lighting set-up, we can draw on three key criteria : intensity, contrast and the direction of lighting.
Lighting influences the composition of the image.
Classical Hollywood cinema introduced a lighting system dubbed "three-point lighting". Three light sources complement each other: the key light, the fill light and the backlight.
If the amount of fill light and backlight is reduced, this creates a more highly contrasted directional lighting, as in German Expressionist cinema.
Modern cinema often uses uniform ambient lighting, and variations of natural lighting.
In cinema, colours play an expressive role.
We can describe a chromatic style by referring to the tones of the colours used, their variety, their level of saturation.
A film can exploit the symbolic connotations traditionally linked to the different colours, or create new associations.