Ian Murray • British DOP

Ian Murray
 

His views on Lightstream

Ian Murray is a professional cinematographer; he has worked in the TV and film industry for over 22 years and has carved a distinguished career in commercial advertising production over the last 20 years.

Ian suffered with dyslexia and truly found his forte when he enrolled with the London College of Printing and studied and passed the BA in Film and Video with the only Distinction in his year.

He is best known for the 250+ commercials short films and music videos that he has shot over his commercial career. During this time he has become an industry expert on film and photography lighting and has taught these subjects in different seminars and workshops for both students and professionals.

Of the hundreds of commercials, short films and music videos he has shot many have earned special recognition and he has become a sought after Director of Photography for a broad scale of productions.  From large-scale, multi-camera, multi-unit global campaigns to the precision of table-top model animation, Ian is sought after and constantly in demand. He manages not only to develop his general work but has also gained access to the exclusive areas of hair and beauty, food and drink and sports photography and filming. He is an industry approved hair and beauty specialist and an approved food and drink specialist.

More recently He has begun mentoring and training individuals within the industry. He has taught film lighting techniques and has given lighting seminars and workshops for both students and professionals.


dedolight LIGHTSTREAM, a reflected light system.

Creating a virtual environment of reflected light to reproduce nature in all its complexity and beauty.

Reflected light 

In day to day life we visually experience the world through waves and particles of light.  Originally emitted from a source, the sun for instance, and then cascading out in a multitude of reflections illuminating as they go. We see light reflected everywhere, from every object we perceive, to every environment we experience. In essence, light is reflecting back at us, constantly shaping our experience and consciousness.

Therefore, when you see such as a beautifully lit day time room, you are seeing the playing out of a combination of reflected light, sometimes with the addition of the direct or diffused sun rays, sometimes just reflected light in all its varieties.

A chorus of light - First analyse the light

You can evolve your awareness to light by understanding the subtleties of the multitudes of this reflected light.

I find it a useful tool to dissect the different characteristics of light in the following ways:

First notice the direction of the light and its primary ‚character’ in terms of hardness/softness. Unless you are in a black studio with a single light source you will always be dealing with a primary illuminating source and a multitude of reflected light waves, all with their individual character. These make up the overall ‚chorus’ of the light. You will need to be able to ‚detect, dissect and consider’ all the individual influences of the light, it’s like being a detective. (On the human face look at the nose shadow and the eyes for clues.)

Once you have determined the direction and primary character, go deeper and become aware of the following.

  • What are the colours present in the light, how do these colours shift and relate to each other.
  • Become sensitive of the ‚personality of reflection’. In other words, how the image of the source, in this case the reflector used, is cast onto the object/subject. For instance, a silver reflector creates a silver cast on the skin of the subject.
  • How parallel are the shadows - if there is sunlight, then they will be parallel, if a closer source is used, then they will become divergent.
  • What are the additional textures and movements, if any, of the light? For example tree branches or curtains creating a breaking-up and colouring of the light rays.

All of these characteristics contribute to the story that the lights convey, or, as I like to think of it the ‚narrative of the light’.

For instance, by studying the way a certain landscape at a certain time of day would affect the light reflecting into the window of a room, we deepen our understanding of how light plays out. In turn, this fuels our ability to produce images that have a richer atmosphere, subtly communicating the time of day, location and intended mood, thus adding to the storytelling of a given scene.


A virtual landscape of light

We often need to recreate the light that would exist in nature, at a certain location, during a certain time of day. We can imagine, in effect a ‚virtual landscape of light’. We can ask ourselves, where is the sky the brightest, how does it graduate from light to dark and with what color shifts. What buildings and trees are around and how are they reflecting light, what are the buildings made of. For instance, a red brick housing estate with large windows reflecting the sun or a single aged concrete tower block hanging in the cityscape of a cloudy sky... will produce their own signature of colours, textures and characteristics.

How to re-create a chorus of light: The cinema and photographic reflected light system: LIGHTSTREAM 

Now we have discussed the richness and depth of reflected light that exists all around us. Our job as filmmakers and photographers is to try and recreate its subtle beauty 

and texture in order to tell stories and create striking photography.

In the following text I will explore the LIGHTSTREAM and how it compares to the more traditional ways of lighting. Of course all cinematographers are using reflected light every time they place a light, sometimes more explicitly when 

‚bouncing’ light, sometimes just by the physics of the light reflecting around the environment.

I have been a fan of the quality of reflected light for most of my career, experimenting with different reflective surfaces, silvers, pearls and white.

I have not, however, been able to improve it more than the standard film practices of bouncing light onto crude surfaces using traditional lights.

LIGHTSTREAM, however, is a full system of reflected light application and it’s going to change the way you view film/photographic lighting, deepen your awareness of light and aid greatly in the way you approach the task of film lighting.

The tools

With LIGHTSTREAM the light is channelled from controlled parallel beams onto a sequence of specifically designed reflective surfaces. This system fully integrates and enables a mastery and efficiency of lighting never imagined before. dedolight have custom built and adapted a whole range of lights and reflectors that are specifically designed for this system. They can be used to light everything from the largest film set to the smallest product shot. This greatly facilitates your ability to beautifully light a subject with precision and speed.

Before moving onto the actual tools of LIGHTSTREAM it is important to understand a couple of key concepts of light that relate to the Dedo parallel beam light, namely: ‚the inverse square law’* and ‚virtual light distance’**.

It must be understood that a parallel light source produces a virtual light distance far greater than the actual distance the light is from the subject. As mentioned, when you evaluate shadows, you look at how parallel they are to determine the distance of a light. Therefore, if you analyse the exit angle of the parallel source and plot it back until it converges, that is its virtual light distance. This is a key component to producing convincing sun rays and a naturalistic light.***

So let’s have a look at the tools: The central lights of the system are the PB70 (parallel beam 70cm) and the PB30 (parallel beam 30cm, its little brother).

Footnotes


PB70

PB70 allows for the purest approach to the LIGHTSTREAM system.  It produces a very powerful, broad, parallel beam of light, powerful enough to mimic the sun and broad enough to allow multiple reflectors into its path. 

It is manufactured to the highest standards, producing a highly efficient output of light (Only 1.2 kw of power, but a far higher light output). With consistent light across the beam, free from stray light and only producing moderate heat, even when switched on for several hours. There is no other light fixture currently made that can outperform the PB70. As a traditional film light, it is simply state-of-the-art. However, it has been designed as the centrepiece of the LIGHTSTREAM system, and as you will see, its features support a whole new way of lighting.

PB30

The PB30 is a smaller version of the PB70.  It has a 30 cm reflector as opposed to the 70 cm reflector of the PB70. 

It maintains the same power output with its 1.2 k bulb; therefore, it’s fantastically powerful for its size. The only drawback is, that due to the smaller beam size you cannot fit as many reflectors in its path as with the PB70. 

dedolight 400 and 200 range

For supplementing the PB70 and PB30, or for minor setups the smaller lights in the range can be used.

By modifying these lights with a ‚parallel beam adapter’, the light beam is channelled onto a reflector more efficiently with more precision and intensity. These adapters almost defy physics by producing up to 3 times more intensity of the light you would get if you simply ‚spotted’ the light into the reflector. This is due to its lens design.

The Parallel beam adapters are currently made for the following dedolight lights:

400 Series

200 Series

Classic Series

LED Series

This produces a comprehensive range of smaller lighting fixtures, that will fit into the most cramped location or compromised situations.

Which method you choose for the most part will be determined by the application.

For example, when dealing with lighting through set or location window, you will probably want to start with the PB70/30 outside the window. In most cases you will 

be able to light the whole room from just this one light. Sometimes the need to supplement the light may arise, this can be done by channelling the light onto another reflector from the PB70/30, or using a smaller fixture in the room and channelling that onto its own reflector.

Therefore there are 3 approaches to using LIGHTSTREAM:

  1. Using the PB70/30 with a multitude of reflectors.
  2. Using smaller individual lights, the 400 Series, the 200 Series, or LED series with their parallel beam and respective reflectors.
  3. A combination of the two.

Now let’s move onto the reflectors

Reflectors are the light producing, redirecting and sculpting elements of the system. They can precisely define the quality of light and adjust the distribution and intensity of light.

The reflectors are precisely measured reflection mediums, constructed from aluminium panels with reflection-enhancing hi-tech coatings. This ensures reflection values between 78% and 96%.

They have been designed to define the light distribution and the light modulation precisely.

The characteristics of the reflectors are consistent. Independent to the surface area illuminated.

Currently the reflectors come in 4 grades from soft to hard, and in 4 sizes; 1 metre square, 50cm square, 25cm square and 10cm x 7cm. They are mounted onto a slide and lock bracket that allows precise positioning into the beam of light. Once the position is found, they lock with a twist clamp.

The four grades range from soft reflectors, producing diffused yet structured light, to hard reflectors, redirecting the light precisely, without changing its shape or diffusing it, with only 3% loss of intensity.

To fully understand the versatility of these reflectors, you need to also define them in terms of the exit angle of the light. Hard reflectors, having a narrow exit, concentrating the light within the beam, and soft reflectors with a wider exit, scattering the light and widening its influence. The soft reflectors have an extraordinarily high reflectivity, however, since the light is spread over a larger area, the intensity will be reduced.

Reflector No.1 is the light redirecting reflector, it has a narrow light exit, maintaining the parallel beam. Light can be channelled around the set with minimum fall-off or scattering.

The No.1 reflector produces a convincing sun light with clear, hard, parallel shadows and no colour fringing.

It should be noted that the No.1 reflector is not a mirror. A mirror changes the reflection of the source, influenced by reflecting directly the surface flaws of the mirror, whereas the No.1 reflector maintains the homogeneity and character of the source, just redirecting it, not changing it.

Reflector No.2 has a wider exit angle, 12 degree. However, the reflected intensity remains at 95-98%. It is a very useful reflector for redirecting the light onto another reflector with a larger surface area.

Reflector No.3 has an exit angle of 50 degree. This reflector is gentler, with the same amount of light reflected, but disperse over a larger area.

Reflector No.4 is the gentlest reflection with an angle of 95 degree. Close to styrofoam in softness, but more structured.

It is worth noting that the virtual distance is fully in effect with reflector No.1, but when the next reflectors with subsequent reflections are of the type No.2, No.3 or even No.4, they seemingly soften and have a larger angle of light exit, and the effect of the virtual light source is quickly diminished; the light is not being redirected, but scattered with the reflecting surface, and the reflecting surface becomes the light source. By the time you get to reflector No.4, there is not really any noticeable difference between the virtual light source and the front surface of the reflector.

The intensity of light is determined by merging the reflector into the light beam. If you put the reflector all the way into the light beam, the entire reflector works with maximum light, whereas, if you insert only part of the reflector into the light beam, less light will be reflected.

Regardless of how much light hits the reflector, the colour, direction and spread derived from the surface remain the same. The shadow appearance (with regard to the hardness/softness) proportionally changes, depending on the size of the source, or, in this case how much of the reflector is illuminated.

When the LIGHTSTREAM reflectors are used in sequence, another dimension of possibilities opens up.

By selecting a source reflector by its exit angle, you can manipulate the amount of the target reflector that is illuminated. By adjusting the portion of the target reflector illuminated, you are determining how hard or soft the light produced is.

Therefore, your choice of reflector and the amount of light you allow onto it, determines the quality of the light. Allowing precise control and fine adjustment.

Light distribution and modulation can be adjusted precisely. Merging into the light beam and locking off precisely. You have never had so much control, speed and precision in placing lights, allowing for quick switching between soft and hard light reflectors. You have a full range of lighting textures at your fingertips. You simply select a reflector and determine how far to merge it into the beam, and where to channel its light into the set.


Moving away from the artifice of film lights 

When we view an object, we see light reflected back at us. Therefore, you could say that light does not come from the light fixture, light comes from the object. The light fixture is something the audience should not be aware of.

Therefore, as filmmakers, we want the audience of our work to feel the emotions of the light without being aware of the equipment we use to shape it. 

Film lighting fixtures usually require further manipulation in order to recreate natural looking light.

As a result, we usually have to substantially modify the light. It is this modification or ‚shaping of the light’ that is the essence of film lighting. However, traditionally it requires the use of a wide variety of additional equipment. It is time-consuming, expensive and restricting to both the director and actors.

The PB70/30 produce an exceptionally clean parallel beam of light. This has many advantages over traditional film lights.

To start to understand the benefits of this system, let’s look at one of the most difficult tasks of a film light; to imitate the qualities of sunlight.

By virtue of the sun, being a far-away incandescent ball of hot gases, it produces a certain quality of light. By the time it reaches the Earth it’s relatively small in size and thus becomes a specular point source of light. It produces hard, clean, parallel shadows and is consistent in light intensity due to the inverse square law*, with no reduction or ‚fall-off’ of light intensity over the distance on the Earth it illuminates.

To create natural looking sun light, a film light needs to imitate these qualities. DOPs will traditionally use a very large powerful light** far away from the film set. The further away the light is placed from the subject, the harder, cleaner, more parallel the shadows and the less ‚fall-off’ of light intensity.

This comes at a cost, a powerful light set back requires a large noisy generator, cherry pickers or heavy stands and additional crew. All of this takes time and money; however, the biggest drawback from a lighting perspective is that it will not allow for lighting precision. It is very hard and time-consuming to get this light positioned and shaped.

The LIGHTSTREAM is a completely unique approach to creating natural looking light, it overcomes these problems is a beautiful and elegant way.

The PB70/30 generate a clean parallel beam of light at its source, producing crisp, clean parallel shadows.

This light beam defies the inverse square law, and its fall-off is far less than a traditional film light. This, along with its virtual distance means that it can be used a lot closer than a traditional film light. it does not have to be so big and powerful to produce convincing sunlight with minimal light fall-off.

This beam is projected into a series of reflectors, modifying the beam further and creating even cleaner more natural-looking light rays.

Furthermore, this effect of natural sunlight is further enhanced by the added ‚virtual distance’ *** created by reflecting the light. 

The PB70/30 are very quick and easy to set up, both lights can be used facing directly up from their flight case, you just wheel it in, take the lid off and power it up from a domestic wall socket.

The light is far easier to move and shape than the traditional method.  After all, a reflector in someone’s hand is far easier to move than a larger, heavy light far away.

In essence, the PB70/30 produce the most efficient, precise, natural looking light I have seen from a ‚film light’, producing a purity of light that the best lighting tools currently available struggle to imitate.

Footnotes


Less equipment, more lighting precision

To get the most effect from the LIGHTSTREAM system, and for the majority of sets or location lighting applications you would usually want to start with either the PB70 or PB30 light.  And then supplement it with the smaller lights if needed.

Often times placing them outside the window, firing it directly up into the reflectors. Using multiple reflectors to channel all the different qualities of light through the window into the room.

The control of the beam and the shaping of the light is happening at the source, with the selection of the reflector and its position in the beam of light. This is a really important point. And it makes a huge philosophical and practical difference to the approach of lighting a film set. Therefore, all the equipment traditionally associated with modifying the light, stands, flags, nets, floppies, sand bags etc. is not needed. In fact, very little equipment is needed in the room at all, just maybe additional reflectors to redirect the light, thus, creating great freedom for the director and actors.

Zoning the light

The LIGHTSTREAM is a simpler way of lighting, producing a more complex textured result. Resulting in motivated 

light with more complexity and shape, but delivered in an effortless simple and natural way.

The light can be built up in stages with unprecedented precision. By virtue of the control and ease with which the light is directed without spill and mess, you can zone the light, creating more depth and texture, from hard, naturalistic sun rays to soft, yet structured light. You are able to produce the most intimate touches of light, from broad strokes to fine detail. You can build up the light in layers or ‚zones’, defining individual areas of the set.

You are only dealing with a single beam of light, the multiple reflectors do not produce double shadows, as would happen with multiple lights, and a rich tapestry of light textures is created, individually structured and zoned into the film set.

The LIGHTSTREAM, when used with the PB70/30, is particularly suited for recreating convincing sun and consecutively a multitude of additional lighting textures with just the one source of light. The characteristics are so striking - when you first see the LIGHTSTREAM at work it is how unlit yet 3 dimensional the set looks. It is effortlessly naturalistic with shape and structure to convey the three-dimensional reality onto a two-dimensional screen, you can really feel the presence of the light without feeling the presence of ‚film lights’.

Dynamic light

When assessing a hi-fi speaker‘s ability to reproduce sound, the term ‚dynamic’ is used to assess the ability of the speaker to switch from loud to quiet with a minimum of distortion. We could borrow this term and apply it to the ability of a lighting fixture to blend from hard light to soft with a minimum of distortion. For instance, unwanted or double shadows, colour fringing, in fact any mechanical artifice that give away its film lights being used to illuminate. 

Controlling the degree of hardness and softness in lighting a scene, and how they interplay is fundamental to the success in creating depth shape and atmosphere. What is unique about the dedolight LIGHTSTREAM system is its ability to produce this type of dynamic light effortlessly and in the most natural way.

The sophistication of combining the light and building it in layers, allows a multitude of different lighting textures. Rather than a soft light as sky and a hard light as sun, the hard shaft can literally be placed within the soft shaft. A single source with a rich texture variation of soft and hard.

From the polarised light of a hard reflector with a mirror to the broad beam of the PB70, producing an even spread of light over the surface of a soft white reflector.  This subtlety and control of the dynamics of the light is unique to this system of lighting.


Time spent lighting not rigging

The great satisfaction with this system is that the vast majority of the time is spent actually lighting. Moving and shaping light around the set. Not running cables, placing stands and flags. Traditionally, a Director of Photography will spend 80% of his time waiting for lights to be powered and placed, only then can a decision be made on the aesthetics, usually with traditional methods. It is the last 10 minutes that the finessing and actual shaping of the light happens, and it is the most pressured 10 minutes, often with the director and producer wanting to start shooting.

With this method, you are finessing the light as soon as you place your first reflector, often only having to place a single light.

Light channels: rather that cables

By projecting the light across the room and catching it in a secondary reflector. You are in essence creating channels of light, dispensing with the need to place additional light fixtures and run cables. You simply channel the light to where you want it. Spend your time finessing the light, not running cables and placing stands.

Colour: Quicker colour control

These benefits of control speed and precision can also be applied to the colouring of the light. Because of the cool running of the light, the gels can be placed directly on the front glass. In most cases you will be firing the light straight up, therefore, the gels can quickly be placed on the glass and moved around with ease.

Control colour with simple gel placement:

Simply by placing small pieces of effect gels onto the glass of the PB70/30 to get the right graduation and offsetting the reflectors we can go from an iridescent tropical summer morning light to a northern autumn twilight. It has never been quicker to make colour changes, with dramatic shifts of time of day and overall mood.

This is revolutionary, being able to colour the lights quickly is a huge benefit. In traditional methods, with a light of this power you would need to have a separate frame and stand to place the gel away from the heat of the light, even then the gels burn through and discolour. The frame takes time to make up and used a lot of gel. The DOP needs to be sure he/she will use it to commit to such expense and work. However, with LIGHTSTREAM you simply take small pieces of gel and move that around the surface of the light until you have the colour composition you want. This method works best with either Polyester or even better Polycarbonate (for instance the Rosco Super Gel). The Acetate gels being the least resistant to heat. Dedo is in the process of conducting tests to clarify the amount of time they will withstand the heat.

Because of the method of placing the gels on the area of light that covers a certain reflector, there is nothing stopping you from offsetting the gels to only cover a proportion of a certain reflector or covering several reflectors at the same time. It is just down to the size of the piece of gel cut and where on the glass it is placed.

You can therefore select and ‚zone’ the individual reflector into different colour temperatures and effect colours. This speed and ease of colouring light generates a playfulness that allows the DOP to try things out and take more risks with perhaps bolder colours or unique colour combinations. I believe, part of the new wave of cinematography is a more sophisticated use of color, and this system supports that development also.

In Summary

For a creative individual, you can now understand that the control and freedom that is afforded by LIGHTSTREAM is unprecedented. dedolight have devised a system that brings a purity and immediacy to lighting, stripping away fixtures and placing the light literally in the palm of your hand, removing obstacles and offering a higher level of intimacy to produce a more naturalistic light. 

An intimate relationship with light is essential in crafting nuanced stories. It is my belief that a small commitment to learning this system will empower the filmmaker and photographer, unlocking a set of tools with limitless possibilities.