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Zylight LED Shines on Mt. Washington

Tom Guilmette and his Zylight F8 after a night on Mt. Washington. BOSTON—Locals call it “The Rock Pile,” but the rest of the world knows it as Mt. Washington, N.H., and home to the world’s worst weather. There’s a good reason for this—in 1934, the Mt. Washington Observatory recorded the highest wind speed on earth observed by a human being at 231 miles per hour. The mountain is 6,288 feet above sea level and gets some really insane weather.

This past December I was embedded with a team of observers and meteorologists atop Mt. Washington, shooting an extreme weather documentary at the summit’s observatory. The work that the people do here feeds information into weather models that create accurate forecasts for everyone.

I could hear the wind howling outside the rebar in the walls of our steel-reinforced concrete bunker popping. The temperature was −17 degrees F, and with 75 mph sustained winds; the wind chill was −61.

One of my goals was to capture the elusive formation of rime ice in time-lapse footage at night. Rime ice forms in frozen fog at high altitudes in heavy winds. Under ideal conditions, supercooled water droplets in fog freeze on impact and delicate ice feather formations grow into the wind on everything.

To accomplish this assignment, I designed weather-tight camera enclosures and came up with a way to heat the embedded glass lens opening to prevent fogging or icing. This heater also kept the camera warm. I used large deep-cycle marine batteries, and placed these batteries in insulated containers along with power inverters.

I knew that HMI and tungsten fixtures would draw too much power, and I had my doubts about using them in extreme conditions anyway and decided to call one of my colleagues, Jeff Hamel, for advice. He has lots of experience as a lighting director and gaffer, and is also very familiar with lighting products. Jeff reinforced my decision to use LED lighting for this mountaintop shoot. He especifically recommended the new Zylight F8 flat LED Fresnel fixture. This compact instrument is very bright and has a low current draw. It’s also rated for rugged outdoor use. I already owned a Zylight Z90 and was familiar with the quality of the company’s products. Jeff arranged to provide me with a pre-release version of the F8.

I needed every part of the system to work perfectly to get the time-lapse footage. The camera could function just as it was supposed to, but if the light flickered or died in the middle of the night the video would be dark and unusable.

We finally called it a night and I retired a little nervously. However on arising the next day, I found that all of the gear was working fine.

The camera stayed warm and the Zylight F8 was still burning brightly, even though it was caked in ice.

I checked my recording and found that I had nailed the timelapse. That illusive shot—never before seen—showed rime ice forming in thick fog, and the nice thing was that I captured it on the very first night I was on the mountain.

Tom Guilmette is a veteran Boston- based television camera operator and DP. He may be contacted

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