In today's challenging economy, broadcasters are looking at every possible way to save money. The economics of using LEDs to light a television news studio is a no-brainer. Run the numbers, and they speak for themselves. The minimal power required by LEDs, combined with long life and reduced HVAC costs, usually pays for the new lighting equipment in just a few years, with continued savings well into the future.
However, there is a learning curve with LED fixtures. It's not unlike what lighting designers, who were comfortable with incandescent technology, faced in the 1990s, when modern fluorescent fixtures made their debut. Some embraced the new technology, while others watched it pass them by. The challenge is to recognize the great potential of LEDs and find ways to integrate this technology into your studio lighting environment.
I don't find it helpful to compare a particular LED fixture with a legacy incandescent or fluorescent fixture; they're different. Like any other source, you have to learn what each LED fixture is designed to do. You learn the capabilities and performance of each product, and design your lighting accordingly.
That said, the object of lighting with LEDs is the same, regardless of what type of source is used: make the talent look great from every camera angle, separate them from the background, and provide illumination and accent for the set when called for.
With the introduction of a new generation of LED Fresnel fixtures, there are now LED instruments that perform like a traditional incandescent, with a longer throw and impressive control and focus capability. Just as lighting designers have used incandescent soft lights or fluorescent fixtures, LED arrays have been around for some time now. They emit a soft, high-quality light that works extremely well with HD cameras. There are also LED arrays available in a variety of beam spreads, which gives the designer better control and more options to work with.
One of the properties of many LED fixtures that everyone can appreciate is the ability to dim the source without a color shift. Incandescent has very little latitude to dim before the color starts to shift. So, to maintain color temperature with an incandescent, the choice is to either lamp with a lower wattage, scrim or move the source away from the talent. It's a great feature of an LED fixture to be able to position it where you want it and dial in the light level you need, either locally on the fixture or using DMX control.
LED fixtures are offered in daylight, tungsten or equipped with both daylight and tungsten LEDs that provide the ability to select any color temperature between the two. In a television news studio environment, there are positive reasons for using daylight. On television news sets, there are often a number of monitors (LCD, plasma, DLP, etc.) worked into the design. Most of these monitors display in the daylight range, so if you light the set with daylight, you don't have to adjust the color temperature of the monitors like you do when trying to match tungsten. How many times have we used CTO or had to add expensive processing gear to get these monitors to look right?
Often, when people walk into the studio and see it lit with daylight LEDs, they say, “Wow, they're so bright” Usually that's because they've never seen daylight used in a news studio environment. But when the cameras are properly set up to the daylight source, the pictures speak for themselves. Then their reaction is one of pure amazement.
The plan is still key
When it comes to creating a lighting plan, you do it the same way you've always done it. You have to look at the set and you have to look at the shots, where the cameras are going to be and what the angles are. That's what you do with any form of lighting. Look at the blocking and say, “We've got three angles on this position and two angles on this one.” You can easily take a traditional approach with three-point lighting. I try to get double duty out of the LED fixtures, so if I use one as a key on position 1, it would be nice if when they turned to camera position 2 that key would become a fill. I don't want to light so tightly that I can't get more than one use out of the fixture. And that's no different from what many of us did with fluorescent fixtures before LEDs came along. It's just easier with LED fixtures because they're smaller and can fit into places where the larger fluorescent fixtures just won't go.
For lighting control, where I don't want light from one LED array to fall on the talent sitting one chair over, most LED fixtures can be fitted with traditional barn doors and egg crate, as well as “honeycomb” grids with varying degrees of beam spread. I also find using light diffusion works with LEDs to soften the light or to keep light from traveling beyond the subject. Using the lightest diffusion is often enough to knock the light down and still keep the light quality of the LED.
When it comes to mounting most LED fixtures, they're so much lighter in weight than other types of lighting equipment you may find there is no need for heavy duty grip gear to support them. We recently completed lighting a new set entirely with LEDs suspended from a 3/8in threaded rod. It was the operations manager's idea, and it worked flawlessly.
A word of caution to anyone who is unfamiliar with LED technology: All LEDs being sold are not created equal. The truly good LEDs emit a consistent, broad spectrum of light to achieve their color. Be careful. There are fixtures that rely on a variety of different colored LEDs to achieve a broad spectrum of light. This can cast a variety of different colored shadows, which you don't want.
Suffice to say, before deciding which LED manufacturer to go with, you would be well advised to run some tests of your own. Having the equipment in your hands and lighting talent and scenes will be the best way to determine which products measure up. Also, take a look at who is using a particular LED maker's product. Often a customer list will tell you everything you need to know about the equipment and what you can expect.
Don't be afraid to try something new. LED technology is here, it's ready and you need to take a serious look at it. An associate of mine put it this way, “Lighting with incandescent is like using a typewriter. Lighting with fluorescent is like using an IBM 286. When you light with LEDs, you're using an iPad.”
Steve Mulkey heads Redwood Media Group.
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