Normally we should be free to act on our impulses.
The first impulse when setting your white balance for video may be to bring up all of your stage lights at the same time. It may also be to use Windex to clean your lamp surfaces. Another would be to set a lighting budget based on installing par cans instead of intelligent lights, because they are cheaper.
Why are first impulses not always the best voice in your head to listen to?
White Balance and The Orange Pastor
If you’ve got certain lights set up for your live services, but you also want to do video, what are the things you really need to take into account in terms your lighting?
First of all, white isn’t white. It’s that simple. Our eyes are very forgiving, and willing to look at many different color temperatures on a surface. In your mind, you will blend them together as usable light. Cameras aren’t anywhere near that forgiving, and TV is going to be very honest in what it sees. We’ve all heard that TV adds ten pounds, or ten years, but what it actually does is show everything in its real light.
The difference between TV and radio is light. TV is nothing more than a replay of light that happens to have radio tacked onto the side of it. We don’t consider light enough when we’re making television. Cameras are recording a reflection of light, and if there is not a quality light source present in the first place, it doesn’t matter how good a camera you have, you will not have a quality image.
You have to give a reflection back to the camera to see, and it has to be an honest reflection. If you start blending light sources and color temperatures- and worse yet, color rendering indexes- the camera is not going to blend those together as your mind does, so you are going to end up with a hodgepodge of different colors.
One common mistake of a novice LD is to turn all of your lights on to establish your white balance. Turning all your lights on and recording that information as white balance is not what you’re doing. The camera is asking for a white balance reference for the show. If you turn all your lights on and you record that as white balance, and you never see all those lights on again during the show, what have you just balanced to? It’s like doing a mic check with Bobcat Goldthwaite to prepare for a soft-spoken pastor.
A similar mistake is shining a follow spot on a big white piece of cardboard. Follow spots nowadays are usually arc source so they tend to be very blue. If you do a white balance to that – the follow spot on the white card – then when the incandescent spots come up, on video they appear very orange or red because you have balanced the white reference to a blue source, not an orange source.
So what’s the best case scenario as far as setting your white balance prior to a show?
Major television productions with professional designers will color-balance themselves to within half a foot candle of intensity, which is far below what you can see in the visible source, and usually, if they can get it within 1 Kelvin of color temperature, then they’re very, very close. You’ve got to remember that you can’t turn all your par cans to full, and expect it to give you a clear definition of your white balance. When the pastor comes up and says: “That’s too bright!” you will probably turn all the lights down to 80%, and then try to figure out why the cameras have all gone orange. Or worse yet, you turn all your par cans on to get a balance, and then you put a follow spot on the pastor and he’s a different color temperature than the pars. The reason is that you’ve just shifted your color temperature.
One of the things that people forget when they look at TV studio and film studios for lighting is that most TV studios don’t have dimmers. If they do, it’s strictly for utilitarian purposes.
There is a substantial color shift in a regular incandescent or halogen lamp as you dim it. Obviously, the hotter it’s burning, the cooler it is in color temperature – (it works backwards). If you look at metal, as it burns it starts out as a nice warm orange, and then it goes red, and eventually yellow and white. Well, we consider those colors cooler in our mind, but actually they’re hotter in the burn temperature. A filament is nothing more than a piece of metal, so it’s the same thing – the harder we push it, the colder the color temperature gets, or the closer it gets to what we consider sunlight. Warmer color temperature can be can be as low as the 3000 Kelvins, 3900, 3600 Kelvin when we look at incandescent light, yet when we look at our source light, it’s very easy to get into the 6000s and even 7000s, and that’s closer to sunlight.
There is a very famous television LD (Academy Award, Olympic opening ceremony level) that I was fortunate enough to work with once for a FOX TV Christmas show. When I asked him “How do you balance between the audience lighting and the video lighting?”, he answered: “You don’t- pick one.”
With all of the major resources this LD had available to him from a major television studio’s equipment – and this was a well-funded production with any type of light available – he could not make both the camera and the audience happy. The average church is not going to do it either, So the advice is to pick one. Don’t try. Don’t waste your resources.
Of course, there are methods which you can implement to reach a spot where you will stave off some gnarly mistakes. The audience is more forgiving than the camera, and that’s what you have to remember. That said, there are very few “fatal” lighting mistakes. The only really fatal thing you can do is a black out at the wrong moment, but other than that you’re really not going to do anything that the audience is not going to get over pretty quickly.
Maintenance and the Evil of Windex
Glass cleaners have chemicals in them, that besides being wonderful for removing dirt, also do a wonderful job of pulling the finish off from most of our lenses and reflectors. They will effectively destroy any fixtures, reflectors, pretty much right away, so don’t use them. Glass cleaners are very, very bad when it comes to the majority of the equipment that we work with. Soap and warm water is great, and simply dusting is wonderful. The thing that people have to remember about reflectors – and it’s usually reflectors where this damage happens – is that if you turn them on while they’re dusty, that dust will burn into the reflectors and you’re never going to get it off. So, the maintenance needs to be done before you turn it on in the first place. Any dust that appears while the light is on burns off before it ever gets to the reflector, so lights are almost self-cleaning to an extent. That said, you need to keep them clean. The one down-side to the intelligent lights is that they must be maintained – there’s no such thing as a maintenance free moving light – we’re getting close to it with LED, but at this point it doesn’t exist. Remember, just because you hang the light up doesn’t mean you can let it go for years at a time; they must be maintained consistently by someone who is knowledgeable.
You also need to pay attention to the lifespan of your lamps. The lamp itself is just like a projector lamp – it is an arc source lamp – it’s non-filament based. Filament lamps are really safe, because one day they decide they simply cannot retain the filament, so it burns in half and the lamp goes out.
Arc source lamps aren’t that simple – they’ll keep going and going well beyond their rated safe-life. Eventually the inner-envelope can actually explode, so it must be changed on a regular basis.
Arc lamps are lit by a very large arc of electricity, and if that goes bad one day because the lamp is too old, it will damage the fixture. Even though filament fixtures may be safer, you cannot predict when they will burn out. You can try to play devil’s advocate and change them on a regular schedule, but even that doesn’t do it. If you get a bad one, it’s going to burn out. On the other hand arc source lamps fail on ignition, so the nice thing is generally, (and this is one of the reasons they’re so popular with live TV) once they’re going, they tend to stay going. They won’t go out in the middle of a show.
It’s very important that you have a good understanding of the fixture from either the dealer or directly from the manufacturer. There are very few distributors and manufacturers that will not help you when it comes to support. Every one of the major manufacturers has some sort of fixture class. A good relationship with your dealer and dealer network will ensure that you can arrange service calls and service support.
On the other hand, you can decide to maintain the equipment yourself as long as you intend to do it right. Just like you can blow up your own car, you can blow up your own light, and they are dangerous, dangerous things – they use very high voltages. It’s not just 110 running around in there, not with those igniters – we’re talking hundreds of thousands of volts. It’s also very dangerous light we’re talking about- all of them have various UV filters to protect you from the raw light source, seeing as you could seriously damage your sight by looking at the raw lamp in an intelligent light. Those arc source lamps are not safe, so you need to be very comfortable and careful with what you are doing if you opt to do the maintenance yourself.
Stockpiling and Saving up for Rainy Days
Arc lights are expensive, bluntly. A parcan lamp is $30, and an arc lamp is $100. Arc lamps are very predictable – you know that every X number of hours, say 500 hours, 1000 hours, whatever it is for that model, you must replace that lamp. So you have a very predictable maintenance schedule.
Most churches have to replace all their lamps every one to two years. That said, if two years down the line after you haven’t been buying any lamps, and all of a sudden you have to relamp 24 lights at $100 bucks a piece – $2400 really hurts. However, $100 bucks a month for 24 months doesn’t hurt as much.
And as far as the “parcans are cheaper” argument, parcans vs. intelligent lights are not a fair comparison. It’s usually about a 10 to 1 ratio, because par cans cannot do all of the things an intelligent light does. So, using our above example of 24 moving lights, if you start looking at 240 parcans at $30 bucks a piece on the lamps, now you’re looking at $7200 as compared to $2400. And that really hurts. What makes the difference in either case is to go out every few weeks and buy a couple of lamps so that you won’t be hit with a massive lump sum purchase every couple of years.
As far as impulses go, there are some that are appropriate, and some that are not. Usually, impulse is best left for coming up with creative lighting ideas on the fly. When it comes to lighting for video, using Windex, or stockpiling lamps, you may just want to ignore your first impulse and remember this article. Hopefully it will save you some headache in the future.