Most of us watch TV but have you ever stopped to imagine how entertaining the programme would be without production lighting? Watching our favourite stars host in darkness would definitely not have the same appeal!
Text: Emma Morgan
Lighting is a crucial element of television production. Without proper illumination, subjects would appear lifeless and flat.
Lighting function can vary from general illumination to providing added effects. It plays an important role in creating the right mood and look for a studio environment.
Tungsten and quartz tend to be the sources most used within studio and discharge daylight sources on location. Profile and Fresnels are the basics used worldwide. Profile provides key lighting while Fresnels are used for white and softer illumination.
Gordon Smith, UK sales executive of film and TV at AC Entertainment Technologies South said: ‘Until five years ago, it was mainly tungsten used as hard sources for key lighting and quartz halogen lamps used as soft source fill lights. Over the last 10 years, fluorescents have come into play mainly for their energy saving qualities, a cooler light equals less air conditioning needed, and therefore a real cost saving for studios.’
Remote newsrooms tend to use fluorescents within the studio, as the colour temperatures of these fittings are more controllable, with the added benefit of heat generation being less than that of a standard fixture.
Smith adds: ‘Heat is always an issue, especially in smaller studios. Heat management has become more efficient in recent years because you don’t need the big light sources anymore. This is one reason why things are moving towards LED and fluorescent lighting. The major TV broadcasters are looking seriously into their general carbon footprints.’
AC-ET recently supplied LED-based lighting for the London broadcasting studios of a major UK news channel. The LEDs are used on the presenters’ desks as small fill lights fitted from underneath to wipe out any shadow cast by the overhead lighting. The LEDs generate no heat, eliminating a potential problem for the presenters.
LEDs are now commonly used as camera lights, providing illumination on the tops of studio cameras. They are the preferred choice as the LEDs draw so little power, they don’t drain the battery pack – and as an additional benefit are lightweight to carry too.
Kevin Fitz-Simons, lighting sales manager at AC-ET North comments on their use: ‘LED Fresnels are now being produced by various manufacturers. Recognisable as a classic light source, the LED versions are new and have all the advantages of less heat output and low power consumption. While hard and soft light LED technology is a large initial outlay for studios, long term it’s a real cost saving, with the light sources lasting at least 20,000 hours.
They also save massively on the need for air conditioning and on power consumption, drawing about a fifth of the power of conventional lighting sources, and this figure will decrease as the technology is further developed. All studios are trying to save money at the moment, and so it’s an ideal time for them to look at investing in LED products.’
Products in television lighting differ depending on location. Live and pre-recorded tend to use similar products while location shoots tend to work with a single camera set up and one angle with daylight discharge lighting. These light sources have their own electronic ballasts and are used for all exterior applications in film as well as TV.
Moving lights are used to provide special effects and are beginning to make their presence felt in entertainment shows, having developed fairly slowly over the years. In the late 1990s broadcaster, Granada would bring in 24 Vari-Lites and an operator especially for shows such as ‘Stars in their Eyes.’
Early ‘Top of the Pops’ programmes used lots of generic disco effects with great success, and the show was known as an early pioneer of effects lighting on TV.
In the last five to ten years, LEDs have been widely used for providing special effects on entertainment shows. The worldwide distribution of the Chroma-Q LED range has provided a colour block DB4 LED fixture to a wide range of TV shows over the last six years, including the ‘2010 Eurovision Song Contest’ and ‘BBC Comic Relief’.
The Chroma-Q colour web modular visual effects lighting and video panel has been a mainstay on Saturday night entertainment TV shows since 2005, after high profile lighting designers, such as Mark Kenyon found they could fill large areas of the set for a very small cost.
Bernie Davis, a leading lighting director in the UK who is responsible for the lighting of televised events, such as the ‘Royal Variety Performance’ and ‘BBC Prom’ says: ‘There is an ever-increasing range of LED lighting designed to enhance sets, often seen in light entertainment shows. LED panels and projectors are used as programmable scenery too, all under the control of lighting. Shows such as ‘X Factor’ and ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ are good examples of what this technology can achieve if your budget is high enough!’
The lighting for the latest series of ‘The X Factor’ auditions was dominated by intense narrow beams produced by Alpha Beam 700 fittings. The beam effect was fully used during the ‘boot camp’ stage of the show, which took place at Wembley Arena.
Lighting designer, Mark Kenyon said: ‘It all moved up a notch once we got to the boot camp stage. The lighting spec got substantially bigger. The ELP crew helped me create a classic rock and roll look, with searing white beams criss-crossing the stage, ceiling and audience.
‘I used 38 Alpha 700 fittings supplied by ELP as they delivered exactly what I required – and more! The units are so compact, lightweight, energy efficient and crammed full of features. We had to record up to 50 acts per day and I created a universal look to wash over the whole stage. The Alpha 700’s gave me the flexibility I needed to change things up.’
In addition, 30 Vari-Lite 1000 fittings were used to key light the stage from the front house rig, and Arri 2K Fresnels to key light from the side of the stage. The judges were lit with Source 4s and Mac 500s. Six lamp bars backlit the audience seating and single par truss warmers were used to decorate all of the metalwork.
The lighting production was carefully controlled and any camera imbalances were corrected for HD production.
A major development affecting TV lighting is the progression of camera technology. As cameras have improved and become more sensitive, less lighting is needed, particularly with HD broadcasting.
Davis adds: ‘Television lighting is important as it is the medium by which pictures are delivered to the camera. The significant difference between TV lighting and other lighting is that cameras are low contrast-ratio devices, compared to the eye or event to film.’
Advancements in camera technology means that poorly lit areas are more exposed due to camera sensitivity.
Davis continues: ‘The problem is that they can expose for dimly lit interiors or bright daylight but they can’t cope with both bright and dark at the same time. If you put a performer in a very bright follow spot on a dimly-lit stage, the eye can see everything, whereas the camera can expose either the performer or the rest of the stage but not both.’
Design can vary depending on the type of production, ranging from single camera where the lighting has to only work from one viewpoint, to multi-camera where the simultaneous needs of many cameras have to be accommodated.
HSL has recently been working on the lighting production for BBC’s latest game show, ‘Don’t Scare the Hare’ produced by Endemol, which will be aired in April. The company supplied equipment to the first BBC TV show to be produced at the new Media City complex and studios in Salford Quays, Greater Manchester.
The show sees two teams of contestants pit their wits and physical agility against one another in a series of games, which centres on the contestants not scaring a large animatronic hare.
Lighting and colour psychology plays a key role in the production – if the hare takes fright during any of the games the whole environment turns red for danger!
Lighting designer, Tom Kinane created an enchanted forest set design, which enhanced lighting and colouration. HSL supplied Vari-Lite moving lights, white lights, LED sources, cyc lighting and follow spots.
Along the back and wrapping around two sides of the studio are white cyc, which combined with the set, demand a theatrical back-to-basics style of lighting. The moving lights were positioned on an extensive overhead-trussing grid and on the floor, where they were concealed behind some of the set pieces.
Each tree on the set was up-lit by five Pixel Pars ensconced in the bases and the trees themselves were edge-lit with ribbon LED strips.
Kinane said: ‘Having a white cyc has given me enormous scope. I have really enjoyed having to approach lighting in a more traditional way, and it’s a good contrast and completely different to working with an LED-based set, which is currently often the norm.’
The boldness and vivacity of the lighting bought a comic book style to the visual equation providing the environment with depth and 3D definition.
Lighting plays a massive part in TV production, helping produce enjoyable programmes, but despite the use of camera work and angels there is no escaping the need for LEDs.