When lighting a scene, you need to consider the emotional message that you wish to convey.
1. Color - Choose a white balance. This is key to both mood and helps clue the viewer to the time of day. The opportunity to experiment with saturated light can provide seemingly countless options to get creative with steering mood.
Do you want to have a realistic scene in an office or do you want to break reality with musical theatre? What about concert lighting?
Remember that some scenes benefit from deep saturation, while others require the realism of only minimal color correction. Either way, color is extremely important.
I typed it first, here because yes it can be key to setting the scene, but more so is the foundation of subject light:
2. Intensity - Light’s intensity denotes how subdued or blown out the light is. Intensity can denote such differences as mid-morning sunshine in a field or the mood under a street lamp in the middle of night time.
The later example not only would likely use significantly lower intensity to create the scene, but would likely use two colors, the cool blueish moonlight, and the warm sodium colored lamp light.
3. Angle - This refers to the direction of light and how it strikes your subject. There are many terms, both from theatre and cinematography (ex. three-point lighting, special pool, key light, fill light, back light, side light, shin-busters, footlight, hair light, rim light, etc.)
Many of us are familiar to such terms as Rembrandt lighting or a butterfly lighting setup - those simply are two common setups that photographers use when shooting portraits.
The unique mood of each scene is steered in dramatically different ways by the angle of the light source or sources on the subject.
4. Quality - The softness or hardness of the light plays another role in the mood. Do you want defined shadows or smooth even light that seems to wrap around your subject. A large source of light is soft. A small source of light is hard. A source of light far away from your subject will produce strong shadows—an example of hard light. The closer the source of light that to your subject, the less pronounced the shadows that are produced.
Imagine difference between a 5º spot light from the corner of a theatre’s catwalk vs. the look of a model posing next to french doors with sheer drapes.
In addition to hard or soft lighting, consider the mood enhancement that can happen when a breakup pattern is between the light source and the subject.
With breakups we return to the hard or soft lighting. Is there a defined shadow of a bare tree branch or is there soft texture from an abstract theatrical breakup? So much can be done with texture. Perhaps another post should be written about texture alone!