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Lighting: Illuminating Choices

The lighting fixtures shooters select for tabletop, underwater, TV programming and HDSLRs

By Christine Bunish

Howard Hall used tungsten sealed-beam  movie lights to film the 70mm IMAX 3D feature, Under the Sea 3D.
Howard Hall used tungsten sealed-beam movie lights to film the 70mm IMAX 3D feature, Under the Sea 3D.
Michele Hall - Photgrapher/Creator/Copyright holder

New lighting fixtures continually come on the market offering shooters and lighting designers new creative options and greater efficiencies. But adding these revolutionary or evolutionary new products to their lighting kits doesn't mean discounting the instruments they've come to depend on job after job. A noted tabletop director, a leading advocate of HDSLR video, a distinguished underwater cinematographer and an in-demand lighting designer share the contents of their lighting kits today.

Tried-and-True Delivers Appetite Appeal
For tabletop commercial director Tom Ryan, with Dallas-based Directorz (www.directorz.net), there are no formulas for lighting food spots. "It's all about appetite appeal," he says. "I try to give every client I work with their own look."

Ryan primarily shoots film, although he has switched to the Phantom camera for high-speed photography, and uses a tight-grain slow film stock that demands "a certain amount of wattage" from his lighting package. He typically uses Mole-Richardson tungsten 20K, 10K and 5K fixtures for interiors and HMIs for exteriors supplemented with focusable spot sources, lekos and dedo kits.

Ryan has experimented a bit with LEDs "but for the amount of light we use, they're not always practical," he points out. "The beauty of LEDs is that they don't take a lot of power, they don't put out a lot of heat and they're great on location."

Tom Ryan relied on tungsten sources for
Tom Ryan relied on tungsten sources for "ultra-macro" shots of a luscious lime wedge in Taco Bell's
"Cantina Tacos."

Ryan's tried-and-true lighting approach with conventional fixtures gives him a lot of latitude to create the different looks and moods his spot clients require.

In Taco Bell's "Cantina Tacos" with lime commercial, "conceptually the lime was a character and we wanted it to really pop," he explains. Ryan shot the tacos bursting with filling, their shiny aluminum foil and a drop of juice clinging to a luscious lime wedge, with a pair of ARRI 35mm cameras. The exterior patio was lit with HMIs; for "ultra-macro" shots of the food he blacked out daylight and went back to tungsten sources.

Ryan's stylish "Whole Meals" spot for Whole Foods was "influenced by old-school Irving Penn photos with clean white backgrounds," he notes. "The challenge was not to let the background overpower what I was shooting" — simple, fresh ingredients, white table linens, butcher paper and brown bags. "It would have been easy to wash out what the focal point of the pictures should be, and if you went too much the other way things would have become muddy and gray. So it was pretty critical to keep the balances consistent." Ryan took light-meter readings of the backgrounds and foregrounds and aimed for 2.5 stops difference; once that was established he kept the balance consistent across the board with his usual complement of tungsten fixtures.

He even kept the white-on-white place settings "in the same range as if they were ingredients" making "some creative decisions" as he went along about how much fill to add to separate the tone on tone.

Tom Ryan of Directorz puts the finishing touches on some limes for a Taco Bell spot.
Tom Ryan of Directorz puts the finishing touches on some limes for a Taco Bell spot.

Taco Cabana's evocative spot showing Lenore Segura in her kitchen assembling the ingredients for a brisket taco features "Rembrandt-style" lighting that "lets the shadows go and the highlights be simple and single source," says Ryan. "Where there were shadows on her we let them go dark, but we softly illuminated the walls behind her so the highlights separate the shadow."

movie industry news Tom Ryan was influenced by Irving Penn photos when he lit
  Tom Ryan was influenced by Irving Penn photos when he lit
"Whole Meals," a classic of appetite appeal for Whole Foods.

Ryan initially lit the spot with overhead Kino Flo sources then "backed away and decided it needed a more painterly feel," and turned instead to his trusty tungstens.

Slow liquid pours are part of a tabletop director's repertoire and Ryan's "Once a Day" spot for the Florida Department of Citrus showcases the appeal of a simple glass of orange juice against white limbo. Ryan shot the entire spot with a Phantom using a lighting scheme similar to what he would have used with a Photosonics high-speed film camera.

"It took a lot of light — 20Ks with dimmers," he recalls. "With the white background we needed twice as much light on the background as on the juice. When I'm shooting video I'd rather shoot it a bit wider aperture so you get a bit of fall off for a more filmic look." A broad source gave shape and highlights to the slow pours that wash up against the glass like waves in extreme close ups. Delicious!

Rembrandt-style lighting illuminates a Taco Cabana spot directed by Tom Ryan.
Rembrandt-style lighting illuminates a Taco Cabana spot directed by Tom Ryan.

Thinking Out of the Box with HDSLRs
An early proponent of Canon's EOS 5D Mark II HD-video enabled DSLR (HDSLR), Shane Hurlbut, A.S.C. (www.hurlbutvisuals.com) has used the camera to shoot features (Act of Valor), webisodes (Terminator Salvation) and commercials. He also hosts the Hurlbut Visuals Bootcamp to share his HDSLR knowledge.

movie industry news Key grip John Brunold rigs Shane Hurlbut's eight-foot custom baton light in a spa cabana in Cancun.
  Key grip John Brunold rigs Shane Hurlbut's eight-foot
custom baton light in a spa cabana in Cancun.

A longtime film cinematographer, Hurlbut reschooled himself on lighting when he moved to the 5D. "With HD lighting is king — it's the key element," he says. "You need to use light to create a depth and dimension."

He notes that, "with film you use your light meter as a tool to gauge exposure. But with HDSLRs the light meter is only used to match lighting from set up to set up, not as a gauge. I light to eye first then off my HP 2480 DreamColor monitor that becomes my viewfinder. Its color rendition and contrast are spot on."

Although every project has different lighting requirements Hurlbut always has Kino Flos and ETC Source Four PAR cans in his kit. "I love putting Kino Flos in the background or hiding them behind objects to bring things up, and I even key with them once and a while," he says. "The PAR cans are very high output, but very green-technology halogen lights. I can bounce them or color them. They're very efficient little lights to move around all the time."

Hurlbut's "go-to light" is one he built himself. The Baton comes in four- and eight-foot lengths and features 85w R30 spotlights whose bulbs touch so the fixture appears to be a line of light. "I put it on the floor, streak walls, key people," he explains. "It's the most beautiful hard soft light: It's creamy but controllable. I used it every day on We Are Marshall."

If he's shooting day interiors he may turn to 18Ks, 6K PARs and 4K PAR HMIs. "A lot of people who gravitate to HDSLRs don't use 18Ks, but these units are familiar to me as a cinematographer that shoots features."

Shane Hurlbut balanced the interior lighting to hold the beautiful aquamarine ocean in the distance at Dreams Resort in Cancun.
Shane Hurlbut balanced the interior lighting to hold the beautiful aquamarine ocean in the distance at Dreams
Resort in Cancun.

He tapped 18Ks for a recent combo ARRI 35mm film and Canon 5D commercial shoot for the AM Resorts chain in Cancun, Mexico where "a lot of what we were doing was selling the palatial room interior and beautiful exterior location" of one of the resorts. "The 18Ks blew into the windows to mimic sun shafts."

Then Hurlbut and his Elite Team members, a group of lighting and camera technicians he calls "the cream of the crop with emerging HDSLR technology," positioned 4K, 6K and 1200 PARs in the interior to assist in bringing up the ambient light "so that we could expose for the room interior and hold the beautiful aquamarine color of the ocean."

Hurlbut also likes Chimera Pancakes and china balls for night interiors. "I don't use a lot of tungsten studio fixtures," he reports. "I do a lot of bounce lighting and book lighting where you diffuse the bounce. I like using 12-light Maxi Brutes to bounce into sources." He has used Litepanel LEDs for effects lighting and looks forward to using "eco-friendly" LEDs more often as the technology's price point drops.

Shane Hurlbut diffused two ARRI 18K fresnels for a Cancun AM Resorts shoot.
Shane Hurlbut diffused two ARRI 18K fresnels for a Cancun AM Resorts shoot.

Hurlbut advises shooters migrating to HDSLRs to "get a small lighting kit and monitor together and start experimenting: Think out of the box. I threw out the rulebook and started fresh. The Elite Team and I are relying on our collective experience to take this platform to a new level."

He firmly believes that "lighting separates the men from the boys" in cinematography. "If you can light you can race far ahead of those who cannot. Lighting is such a powerful tool whether you're shooting with an HDSLR, film camera, RED or the Sony F35. It's mood, ambiance, vibe, style — it's artistry!"

Shane Hurlbut (white hat) sets up a shot with Elite Team member Marc Margulies in Cancun with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Panavision Primo 11-1 zoom lens.
Shane Hurlbut (white hat) sets up a shot with Elite Team member Marc Margulies in Cancun with the Canon
EOS 5D Mark II and Panavision Primo 11-1 zoom lens.

LEDs Go Underwater
The distinguished DGA-member director/cinematographer Howard Hall, of Howard Hall Productions in Del Mar, California (www.howardhall.com), has dozens of films and TV programs to his credit, including several episodes of Nature, a special for National Geographic, films for PBS and BBC and four IMAX features, including his latest, Under The Sea 3D. He says the advent of LEDs that are "brighter and powerful enough" for underwater film shoots constitute "something of a revolution" in underwater lighting.

movie industry news Howard Hall chose Light & Motion LEDs for the RED One camera.
  Howard Hall chose Light & Motion LEDs for the
RED One camera.

"In the past, most of my work was done with tungsten lights which are not very efficient and must be powered with generators and cables from the surface," he points out. "Most LEDs can be battery operated because they require less power. This gives us greater mobility and cuts crew size."

Hall has used Light & Motion Sunray 2000x LEDs underwater but hasn't tried Gates Underwater's new LED fixtures yet. As the state of the art evolves he plans to customize his own LEDs, too.

"Since they require less power, battery operation works for us. And battery technology is also getting better so you can get more power out of a small pack," he reports.

Light & Motion LEDs are optimized for underwater cinematography. The company bills its compact SOLA600 LED as half the weight and size of its nearest competitor with better run time, beam pattern and power.

Howard Hall shooting with a Sony 900 camera and Light & Motion LEDs.
Howard Hall shooting with a Sony 900 camera and Light & Motion LEDs.

Light & Motion also offers the Sunray series of LEDs: the Sunray 600, 1200 and Hall's favored 2000x, a 16-LED array delivering 2000 lumens per head and up to 240 minutes run time.

movie industry news When Howard Hall was shooting the 70mm IMAX 3D feature, Under The Sea 3D, he deployed tungsten sealed-beam movie lights.
  When Howard Hall was shooting the 70mm IMAX 3D feature,
Under The Sea 3D, he deployed tungsten sealed-beam
movie lights.
Michele Hall - Photgrapher/Creator/Copyright holder

Gates Underwater Products recently debuted its new underwater LED lighting developed in collaboration with Subaqua Imaging Systems Inc. Suitable for broadcast/cinema use, the VL24 features 7000-lumen per LED manufacturer-rated output and one hour run time at full power.

This year Hall spent three weeks in the Maldive Islands and three weeks in Costa Rica shooting stock footage with his RED Digital Cinema RED One camera and battery-operated Light & Motion Sunray 2000x LEDs. "I generally use very wide-angle lenses underwater, and two or more lamps will give me enough beam angle to cover them," he explains. "RED's C-MOS sensor seems to like the bluer light produced by LEDs."

He still finds it necessary, however, to deploy tungsten instruments to get the wattage he often needs in the depths. Hall's tungsten kit features his own customized sealed-beam lamps housed in custom underwater enclosures and bracketry. "Most of our IMAX 70mm film work is lit with tungsten fixtures because it's a tungsten-balanced film stock," he notes. "Our Sony HDCAM shoots for broadcast are tungsten-balanced as well."

Howard Hall teamed sealed-beam movie lights with the Sony 900 camera.
Howard Hall teamed sealed-beam movie lights with the Sony 900 camera.

Moving Lights Cross Over to Broadcast
Lighting designer Christopher Landy of Brooklyn-based Vibrant Design LLC (www.vibrantdesign.tv) hails from theater and live staging but has a considerable roster of broadcast credits, too. He's seen the lines blur in lighting for these markets and has watched what used to be specialty lighting instruments adapted for TV and film.

"Today a designer has to have all the tools in his pocket to cross over and do many things," he reports. "Turn on most late-night shows or talent competitions and you'll see a huge set filled with moving lights, LEDs and video content" — the kind of "glitz and technology" once reserved for rock 'n roll concerts.

When Landy started to work for MTV's Total Request Live in 1999, "moving lights were still not very common in most TV studios; they were still a specialty item," he recalls. "If you say 'MTV' people think production value and excitement, but their signature Times Square studio was all about the relationship between the artist and the studio and the kids on the street. The kids needed to see the artist [through the studio's glass walls], so ND'ing the windows [with Neutral Density filters] was never an option. Instead, we had to raise the light levels in the studio to incredibly high levels to compete with the daylight, thus making it difficult to incorporate color.

"So, when I came in, that was my challenge: How do we raise the bar and add excitement to the show through lighting? I kept their HMI daylight units so you could see the kids on the street and the performers, and I added color backlight on my first day. Then I added High End Studio Beams, the smallest, brightest moving lights I could get to compete with daylight, and eventually Martin Mac 2K washes when they came out. Six years later, we were up to about 75 moving lights in the studio, including VARI*LITEs."

Lighting designer Christopher Landy added a large complement of moving lights to more than a hundred conventional fixtures to add depth, color and drama to the new set of Food Network Challenge.
Lighting designer Christopher Landy added a large complement of moving lights to more than a hundred
conventional fixtures to add depth, color and drama to the new set of Food Network Challenge.

But moving lights for broadcast aren't just confined to late-night headliners and MTV. Earlier this year, Landy's lighting design for Food Network Challenge, in which professional chefs vie for top honors in their specialties, gave depth to a huge new set in Denver and provided dynamic backgrounds to hold audience interest through eight hours of cake decorating. To achieve that he deployed VARI*LITE VL2500 spots, Martin Mac 700 washes, Color Kinetics' Colorblast 12s and Colorblazes and mixed in a pair of Litepanel LEDs plus more than a hundred conventional lekos, fresnels and PARs.

"After Who Wants to be a Millionaire people saw how moving lights could be used for dramatic effect," he says. "Then everybody wanted a Millionaire look. The competitive shows on Food Network use moving lights, especially the finale episodes that want a lot of color and drama."

Landy is a "huge fan" of VARI*LITE's optics for broadcast. "They've always been known for their even fields; the 2500 Series can be used on any TV show quite effectively," he reports. "They're nice and crisp, and you can see templates — pictures don't get muddy." He also favors Color Kinetics' Colorblasts, which he says are "very easy to set up and use — you can throw them into any show and you're good to go."

He's also using more Litepanel LEDs, which he calls "great on talent" and for food shows where you don't want a lot of heat on the ingredients. "Their size fits in confined spaces, and they have very consistent color temperatures," he adds.

Producers who haven't used moving lights and LEDs for TV may have misconceptions about how much they'll cost and the kind of look they'll create, he points out. "They may think they'll hate the look of moving lights until they see their washes of color, and they may not know how great LEDs can look. Moving lights actually save labor costs: Once you sit and program them you don't have crews up and down ladders on the set. And LEDS save power. Using these lights can be more efficient than old-school lighting solutions."