HD Tips and Techniques—Illuminating HD

With high definition becoming more popular and cost effective with the addition of HDV and AVCHD equipment, lighting manufacturers have been working overtime to develop lighter, brighter, and cooler lighting options. Focusing in high definition, whether 720p, 1080i, or 1080p, is much more critical than in standard definition, especially in low- lighting situations. In this article, we will look at some of the new offerings in lighting available.


(click thumbnail)Fig. 1One option is the one foot by one foot (1 x 1) Litepanel. Made up of hundreds of light emitting diodes (LED), it is a compact, daylight-balanced light source that gives off virtually no heat, is dimmable, and the LEDs will last for more than 100,000 hours. Color temperature orange (CTO) gels are available in full, three-quarter, half, and one-quarter, and slide in front of the Litepanel. The small holes in the back allow the user to align or “aim” the light at the subject by looking through the light—no other light offers this feature. In Fig. 1, Gabby is standing three feet from the Litepanel with a half CTO gel inserted. The only other illumination in the room is fluorescent lights 12 feet above the floor. As you can see from this actual HD frame, the Litepanel is acting as her key light with a reading of 180 foot-candles on her left (your right) side. The only fill on the other side of her face (at 60 foot-candles) is from a mirror used as a reflector 20 feet away.

White balanced for daylight, Gabby is slightly warm because of the 1/2 CTO in this example of a 3:1 lighting ratio. The f-stop on the camera was f2.8 with the lens at about 35mm. There is still detail in the background, but the subject in the foreground holds our attention. Normally, you would not be seeing the lighting instrument in the shot.

(click thumbnail)Fig. 2In any low light situation, the Litepanel offers sufficient illumination without ever appearing too bright. The light could have just as easily moved closer to the subject to simulate the light from a candle with dimming the fixture. Ambient light in the room is still necessary because at lower exposures, blacks tend to be noisy. With our background at f1.6, Gabby still has definition without the background appearing too dark.


In Fig. 2, Kristen is modeling the Zylight Z50. Another LED instrument, the Z50 is the only lighting tool that is daylight- and tungsten-balanced at the push of a button, dimmable in either setting, and offers light in every color of the rainbow by changing hue and chrominance. Like any other LED light, the Zylight is heat-free, lasts almost indefinitely, and is dimmable. What is unique is that the Zylight will wirelessly remote control several other Zylights. Whatever is done to one Zylight, the rest of them will mimic.

Mounted on the hot shoe of your camera, the Z50 provides even illumination in low-light situations without looking like dad’s Super 8 camera light. The Zylight is excellent as an eye light when shooting close-ups for that “twinkle” in your talent’s eye. Especially in high definition, the close-up is even more important because we are pulled into the shot. We identify with the main character when we see his or her eyes, (Fig. 3). Any mood can be created with lighting.

(click thumbnail)Fig. 3Look closely at Fig. 3. Alyson’s eyes are illuminated by the Zylight dimmed to about 10 percent. With the camera and light three feet from your subject, the eyes are all you want to sparkle; her face does not need to be washed out.

Rarely will you just use the daylight or tungsten setting of the Z50. By adding a little green to the LEDs by changing the hue and dimming it slightly, the subject will have an eerie “bathroom fluorescent” look that so many low-budget horror films are using. Gels from a Rosco swatch booklet are small enough to fit over the Zylight’s LED surface and a Salmon gel might add a small amount of warmth to the shot—almost subliminally.

Lighting in high definition should never call attention to itself. The best lighting is the type that blends into the scene, so that no one knows the shot has been “lit.” In Fig. 3 Alyson was “lit” with a backlight acting as her hair light, and Rosco’s Tough Frost on her one K key light. The Zylight just adds the sparkle and the other lights should not be noticed.


(click thumbnail)Fig. 4Lowel-Light has created the Ego Light, a soft, fluorescent light normally used in close proximity to the subject. In Fig. 4, Arielle is sitting three feet from the Ego light, powered by two 40-watt fluorescent, tungsten-balanced lights. Ideal for tabletop product shots, the Ego Light, when mounted on a tripod, is an excellent soft fill light creating almost no shadows.

These are only three of the many lighting options available to the high-definition filmmaker. With the enhanced clarity of HD, why not use the new lighting instruments available to make your next HD production stand out?