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Shedding Some Light on High Definition

Shooting video in HD requires fresh approaches to lighting, and those who sell lighting gear to the trade are in a great position to hear about the latest tips and techniques.

(click thumbnail)Lighting technician Michael Anamal offsets lighting for a recent demonstration of the new ARRI D-20Shooting video in HD requires fresh approaches to lighting, and those who sell lighting gear to the trade are in a great position to hear about the latest tips and techniques.

“In the conversations we’ve had with our customers,” said Duane Sherwood, director of communications for Lowel-Light in Brooklyn, NY, “we’ve found that the lighting adjustments fall into two areas, the amount of light you need and the way you light the scene.”

Sherwood said the change in the amount of light needed for HD stems from the change in camera technology.

“If you look at the evolution of video cameras over the past 10-15 years, each generation has done better with less light,” he said. “What we’ve found surprising is that the new HD cameras actually require more light.”


The difference might be the higher resolution or the different circuitry in HD versus SD cameras, Sherwood said, “yet we’ve noticed that people shooting HD seem to add more lights now when before they’d been getting used to adding less and less, almost to the point that overhead ambient light was enough in some cases.”

Perhaps advanced lenses explain the shift, he said. In an effort to make HD video look like 35 or 70mm film, especially in made-for-TV movies, camera operators might add extenders to get a telephoto effect.

“When you add extenders, you need to add more light to compensate for what the extra lens elements are doing,” he said.

Regardless of the reason for needing more light, Sherwood said Lowel is seeing an increased demand for stronger fixtures with higher multiwattage lamps. “You need more flexibility with HD than with SD because the higher sensitivity of HD makes errors like stray light much more noticeable.”

Sherwood said HD is also improving the craft of lighting.

“I’m very excited about this,” he said. “Just like in woodworking or any creative endeavor where your individual sense of craftsmanship sets you apart from your competitors, so every good lighting director creates a unique style and look.”

With HD, he continued, “you now can use light more like in film by really paying attention to the details. You can create a sense of depth with so much more gradient of shade in the image that you almost get a 3D effect. It’s like the difference between an old computer Web browser with 256 colors and a new browser that can display millions of colors.”

The opportunity for greater craftsmanship is most apparent with those shooting TV programs and made-for-TV movies, Sherwood said, but those shooting local news also need to refine their craft in lighting for HD.

“You need to be sensitive to the subtleties of the image your camera will show,” he said.


A slightly different view came from Gilles Galerne, president of K 5600 Lighting in North Hollywood, Calif.

“Aside from the obvious fact that the new format of 16:9 requires a larger or wider area to be lit, lighting for HD is not fundamentally different than lighting for SD, whether it’s a broadcaster’s shoot or a production shoot.”

Broadcasters usually are satisfied with the lighting they have on a subject, he noted, but when HD is used to replace 16 or 35mm film, then a more “contrasty” film-like look is required.

“From this we can deduce that any camera operator called for both styles of production needs to have equipment that adapts to each kind of shoot,” Galarne said.

Versatility and ease of set up for the lighting kit is paramount.

“In one day, you can shoot a stand-up interview where maximum raw output is needed to fight the sun; then you’ll be doing a beauty shot for the primetime magazine. The next day, you might be faced with shooting a drama or comedy piece where you must combine the roles of director of photography and chief lighting technician. Choices have to be made, and your equipment has to be ready to fulfill all duties.”


The type of shoot determines the lighting choices, according to Gary Thomas, national sales manager for Videssence of El Monte, Calif.

“I’ve noticed our HD customers requesting softer light for their aging news anchors who want to hide as many imperfections as they can.”

At the same time, he said, “more and more news sets are installing light in the desk itself to illuminate under the chin. This has been done for years, but HD really shows up the need for dispelling that chin shadow, and this is most obvious with aging talent.”

A former lighting director at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, Thomas said that angles of light are much more critical in HD than SD, especially when working with multiple cameras.

“You need to match those shared details in the background and in shadow that show up from different camera angles,” he said.

As a consequence, “we’re getting a greater demand for portable lighting kits because field equipment is being used in the studio to get full spectrum lighting from all angles for multi-camera shoots. Nothing is worse than getting into the editing room and discovering that the same shot from different angles does not have the same lighting.”

A related issue is having full coverage of the wide-screen image area.

“HD news sets have to be lit to cover the entire desk with people spread out across the frame. Your lighting must extend to the outer boundaries of your wide shot’s image area, too, so you might want to use filters that diffuse light at the outer edges of the set.”

Jim Crawford, president of Frezzi Energy Systems, a division of Frezzolini Electronics in Hawthorne, NJ, said the most useful high-intensity lamp in HD lighting is HMI (Hydrargyrum Medium Iodine or Hygerium Metallic Iodide), an arc light initially developed years ago for big searchlights.

“The new HMI lamps have lightweight ballasts, so they can be small enough to mount on a camera or carried around in a portable kit,” he said. “HMI lights are always there for you. You can create whatever kind of scene or image you want to achieve with HMI.”


Improved batteries also are critical for HD lighting, Crawford said. “The new HD cameras and lights require tremendous energy efficiency, so we’re seeing a big demand for advanced lithium batteries that support maximum shooting time and stronger lighting, especially when shooting with a 200-watt HMI mounted on your camera.”

Crawford affirmed that multiple light angles are increasingly crucial.

“We have customers placing HMI lights all around a subject to get proper illumination, including back lights and key lights, which is relatively new with HD compared to SD.”

HD cameras tend to compress the contrast range, said Frieder Hochheim, president of Kino-Flo in Burbank, Calif.

“So unless you want your anchors highly defined, softer light seems to render faces better on HD than hard light. I can guarantee that from the viewpoint of the anchors, especially the aging anchors who freak out when they first see themselves on HD, they want softer light that eliminates some of the contrast.”

The trick to handling contrast in HD, Hochheim said, is to “maintain proper control over highlights and shadow detail. To get the skin tones right, I suggest you shoot some bracketed tests at different exposures with a highly textured surface like burlap on one side of the face and an 18 percent Kodak grey card on the other side of the face. If you don’t have time to shoot some tests to adjust your lighting, use a spot meter on highlights and shadows, and set your exposure somewhere in the middle.”

Hochheim also advised staying within the color parameters of your lighting.

“Know the color range of your camera and correct your balancing accordingly. If you’re mixing daylight and tungsten, for example, wrapping something blue around your subject will make color balancing easier. If you have high contrast in the background, unless you are shooting sports where you want every detail to show, focusing wide open on your subject and using a shallow depth of field may help. Of course, all these are very subjective calls. Your own tastes must determine your lighting.”