I've been writing about lighting and cinematographic skills for two years now for Tidningen Monitor, the magazine that covers the Swedish film & TV industry. This is a 2015 article I wrote looking at the different types of lighting commonly available at rental houses at that time.
The article is in Swedish by the way, but I'm writing this blog in English since I'm a lot faster in my native tongue.
In 2015 LED lighting had become something you wanted to have on your truck, if you were shooting a drama. And it could be an invaluable part of a documentary kit (perhaps the only part of a doc kit). It also had become a standard for studio use because LED has a much greater energy efficiency.
But LED in 2015 wasn't yet essential -- its primary use being those situations where you needed a small battery powered unit or where energy efficiency was paramount. The people I talked to didn't think it was a game-changer, just something that was very handy for certain uses. The color stability had improved in 2015, and was quite good in some of the better units, such as those made by the Danish company Brother, Brother & Sons.
I recently saw a lighting demonstration put on by Mediateknik at Filmhuset in Stockholm. I was blown away by the new LITEMAT LED units from Litegear, that are flexible rectangles of fabric embedded with LEDs. They come in a form you can hang from a ceiling with egg-crate diffusion built in -- allowing a garffer and crew to mount a soft-light overhead with astonishing speed. The photo here shows the LiteMat on the ceiling, with the room visible through the camera monitor. The LiteMat can also be draped on a wall as in this example where the LiteMat is mounted behind a chair, in a place that would be very difficult to mount any conventional light. A more standard looking LED unit is on a stand outside the window. (Litegear isn't the only company making this style of flexible LED units -- but it was type used in the pictures I took here.)Everything can be controlled through an iPad, with a dimmer to adjust the strength of each lamp, and color temperature controls that allow you to vary the color temperature instantaneously, again from the iPad. Here is a picture of Spencer Newbury of the British company LCA, which is the European distributor for these lights. He's using his iPad to control the units, changing the key to fill ratios, shifting the color temperature from daylight to moonlight (i.e. the film convention of blue moonlight) to a soft red candle-light glow.
I may have been writing about lighting for just two years, but as a cameraman I've been doing it for forty years. I've seen a lot of technology come and go and I'm not easily impressed by the latest gadget -- I want to understand how they'll be used and IF they'll actually be useful, not just a fun toy to be thrown aside when Christmas is over.
Embedding LEDs into fabric (and strips) creates a whole new set of possibilities for lighting. This is a game-changer. I still don't think it should replace HMI or fluorescent, or even incandescent, which has a beautiful quality as a light source, one that still hasn't been matched by the new-comers of the past three decades.
But LED can now do things no other type of light can. And the stability and quality of LED light is improving with every year.
LED has finally come into its own.