Wireless Controlled Lighting Systems: a sign of the times?

In the last post we looked at sensor lighting for homes, where the lighting is controlled by timing devices which come on or off automatically. The limitation with sensor or timer-related devices is the accurate of the delay or the sensor. For example, if you are deep in concentration at a task, you don’t want the lights to go off because they cannot sense you are in the room.

Imagine you were trying to repair a laptop or something requiring your focussed attention. At the most inopportune moment you’re left hiding a screwdriver in one hand, a pair of pliers in another, while trying to wiggle one leg in the hope of triggering a sensor.

Another lighting feature that is growing in importance is wireless controlled lighting. In this form of lighting, the lighting is controlled via wireless means, so you could adjust the lighting from a smartphone. As most people are often glued to the phone or have it close by, to the point that it is described as their third hand, or a leash, using this as a lighting control is not unnatural, it is a seamless extension of the device.

The primary push behind this sort of thinking – controlling lighting wirelessly – is undoubtedly lifestyle. In the modern age, turning on lights from a wall socket is seen as outdated and backward. In fact, many new build homes now come with wirelessly controlled lighting as the norm. Young first time buyers, all of whom will have grown up with a smart phone in their teenage years view this as a sign of status. The use of wirelessly controlled lighting may make a positive impression of a property and its asking price. Some home owners install it prior to sales, upgrading their old lighting systems, because the increase in the asking price a property could fetch would outweigh the lighting cost.

But wirelessly controlled isn’t just growing on the younger generation. Older citizens are installing it too, to save on the physical effort to adjust lighting, especially if they have mobility difficulties. Having to brighten or dim the lighting without having to get up may be a benefit to some.

There are other advantages too. If you are leaving on a long holiday but in your haste to get away you forgot to turn off a set of lights, those lights are going to announce to the world, especially those who see them lit continuously, that your property is vacant and ripe for a break-in. If you had wireless lighting you could turn them down on your journey. And while you are away, too, you could turn the lights on and on to give the impression of occupancy. Wireless lighting is a boon for security, not just a status symbol! Of course, it means you have to choose a really good password, as you won’t want someone else running your household controls for you.

Wireless lighting can be preset to adjustable levels, such as with the brightness on your television screen. It is a quick efficient way to adjust lighting controls without adjusting individual lights, and can bring about valuable time-saving.

Bill Gates has a remote controlled house where he could call in on the way home for it to prepare his bath, or to get the kettle boiling to prepare a cup of tea. Will the average house be like that? Probably not in the immediate future, but perhaps wireless technology will make its impact elsewhere. For now though, it seems that wireless controlled lighting systems will become more commonplace in the future and every household may eventually adopt one.

Lighting and its function in cinematography

Cinematography is the art and science of recording moving images. Through lighting we can create in these images a visual language that indicates time, place, and three-dimensionality. Lighting can do a lot, but it has several major functions in photographing moving images.

ILLUMINATION AND SELECTIVE FOCUS

Just as light allows us to see, lighting allows us to record the image. Obvious, right? But we need to consider the following. Our eyes register light through rods (brightness on a gray scale) and cones (color values) and transmit images to the brain. They are very sensitive and have a tremendous amount of latitude in what they can perceive and what the brain can then process or “record.” At the writing of this book there are a lot of very excellent high-definition cameras being used in the profession. They range from the ARRI ALEXA and the RED to the Sony F55. There is also a wide range of “prosumer” and low-budget professional cameras being used for a wide variety of digital cinema and video production, which includes the Sony NEX-FS700, the Canon EOS C500, and a slew of digital single-lens reflex still cameras that can also record video and that all boast 35mm sensors and high resolution rates. They can record an image under almost any form of available light, even under streetlights outside at night or by the light from a computer screen. Amazing! Yet none of them come anywhere close to what our rods and cones can detect. The human eye can see detail in the darkest shadows in a room with only a single candle. It can see details in the texture of the snow on a sun-drenched mountaintop.

Lighting allows film and video to record an image that approximates what the human eye sees. Without enough light, the image, or parts of it, will be noisy, blurry, burned out, dim, and lacking in detail, if visible at all. While a lot of things can be done to the image in digital postproduction, it takes a lot of time, talent, and money—and can degrade the image quality. Even with the most advanced postproduction coloring software, it is still preferable to begin with a full-range, deeply saturated image—something we used to call a rich negative. That means a picture with a defined contrast, full blacks, clean whites that don’t blow out, and a nice full range of in-between levels throughout. We can usually only accomplish this by judiciously adding some of our own lights.

With the new highly sensitive sensors, the need to add light for simple exposure has all but disappeared. That burdensome, nonartistic, technical requirement has been, thankfully, lifted from the shoulders of the director of photography (DP) and gaffer, who can now concentrate totally on the artistic use of lighting. In other words, we now concern ourselves with how much we want the viewer to see and how much we want hidden in the shadows or ignored in burned-out white. In lighting we put light where we want it and take it away from where we don’t want it. We now have more ability to be selective in what we allow the viewer to see—selective in the brightness, in the color, in the contrast, and in the detail.

By using this selectivity, we can direct the focus of the viewer’s attention to what we want the viewer to concentrate more on within the picture. The human eye is attracted to whatever the brightest thing is in its view. Magicians use this to their advantage all the time. A bright flash of light occurs off to one side and everyone looks at it, giving the stage crew enough seconds to hide an elephant and make it appear to disappear (yes, it’s been done). Directors, art directors, and DPs use the same concept. Art directors will give the actress that is the star a more colorful, brighter, or more sparkly costume than the characters surrounding her, thus making her stand out in a crowd. DPs do this with lighting.

ILLUSION OF REALITY AND MODELING

Movies and videos are two-dimensional images. But everyone working on the project wants to suck viewers into the world being shown onscreen—we want them to feel as if they are looking into another world through a window. We want them to become so engrossed in the story that they feel like they are in the picture themselves. Lighting suggests a belief in the reality of what is on the screen. We use lighting to deceive the viewer into believing what is happening is real. We want viewers to forget that what they are watching has already happened a while ago and isn’t happening right here and now, and that who they are watching are actors, that the actors are just reciting written lines, and that they are in sets, not real locations. Good lighting renders an illusion of three-dimensionality to a flat screen, making it feel all the more real and making the viewer feel more present. Lighting does this by providing modeling and depth to an otherwise flat image.

The mind rejects pictures that are false and confusing, thus taking the viewer out of the moment and back into the position of sitting looking at a screen. This causes the viewer to separate from the story and examine the image as an image. When this happens, the viewer becomes detached from the story. While viewers certainly can become reengaged, they will not process fully what was going on or being said while their brain was preoccupied with trying to justify the “reality” of the image.

In order to avoid this, the lighting in the image must look “real” or “natural” or at least story-appropriate. Lighting provides logic. The light seems to be coming from natural or logical sources, making us feel we are in real locations. Lighting utilizes light, shadow, color, texture, and angle to give the audience a perspective on the scene taking place. Shadows must be consistent with the “source” of the light whether seen or unseen. We must be consistent to maintain believability. And believability is key to getting the audience to suspend disbelief and become involved in the story.

In order to maintain an illusion of reality, we will want to light the scene as if it were lit by a motivated light source—something that seems believable, such as a desk lamp, a window, or a fireplace. Thus, the lighting we use should be consistent with its source—in color and intensity, texture and angle. This helps the believability of the image, which helps the believability of the story.

These are only two of the functions lighting performs in cinematography. In the next post I will examine the others.

The importance of good outdoor lighting

Outdoor lighting is used for a variety of purposes in modern society. It enables people to see essential detail so they can be active at night. Good lighting can enhance the safety and security of persons or property, emphasise features of architectural or historical significance, or call attention to commercial premises by means of area lighting or signs. Unfortunately, poor lighting practice is extensive. Much bad lighting can be blamed on the fact that the user is unaware of the issues of visibility and its usefulness. Careless and excessive use of artificial light in our outdoor environments causes extensive damage to the aesthetics of the night-time environment, while at the same time it often compromises safety and usefulness, the very reason for its installation. Bad lighting hurts everyone. The loss of the dark star-filled sky is of tragic consequence for the environment and for the human soul, akin to the loss of our forested landscapes and other natural treasures. On the other hand, quality lighting brings substantial benefits. Lack of glare and excessive contrast brings improved visibility, especially for the ageing eye. Elimination of wasted light saves money, energy and resources, which in turn reduces air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions caused by energy production and resource extraction. Quality lighting improves the appearance of our communities, returning a sense of balance to the night and giving a more attractive appearance to our cities, towns and villages. So good lighting can make a significant contribution to the outdoor environment whereas poor lighting can damage it.

This positive contribution is not limited to the hours of darkness, as the reduction in crime effects are now known to extend to the daytime. In August 2002 the British Home Office published two research studies on crime prevention: ‘Effects of improved street lighting on crime: A systematic review’, and HORS 251 ‘Crime prevention effects of closed circuit television: A systematic review’. In international experiments one of the main points to emerge from the street lighting study is that where street lighting had been improved there had been an overall reduction in recorded crime of 20 per cent. In the British studies there was a 30 per cent decrease in crime. The lighting improvements increase community pride and confidence and strengthen informal social control, and that this explains the impact, rather than increased surveillance or deterrent effects. Furthermore, improvements in street lighting offer a cost-effective crime reduction measure.

The Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) study summarised the findings of previous studies from both Britain and the USA and concluded that where CCTV had been installed there had been an overall reduction in recorded crime of 4 per cent across all the experimental areas. It was found that CCTV had no effect on violent crimes but had a significant desirable effect on vehicle crimes. Both studies together demonstrate that improved lighting is between five and seven times more effective at reducing crime than the installation of CCTV.

In addition to facilitating the safer movement of pedestrians and vehicles during the hours of darkness and enhancing commerce and recreation facilities, lighting has a key role in preventing crime and reducing the fear of crime. Crime prevention practitioners have always advocated improvements to outdoor lighting as part of their strategies; for example in Scotland powers to install street lights, including on private buildings, were enshrined in the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act 1896, which remained statute for almost a century. More recently, and after a lengthy debate, the UK Government in 2002 finally acknowledged the key role of lighting in reducing crime, with the publication of Home Office Research Paper 251, ‘Effects of improved street lighting on crime: A systematic review’.

Over the past 100 years advances in technology and decreases in costs have greatly increased the ability of lighting practitioners to deliver more light and society to afford it. However, a downside has been a proliferation of inappropriate lighting installations, which create sky glow and light pollution, and waste precious resources by the inefficient use of energy.

Recognition of these issues has resulted in the formulation of light plans, an essential tool to achieve visual unification of the disparate night-time components of urban centres, to resolve conflicts between the lighting needs of different users, to aid the use of light as a commercial tool and to minimise light pollution.

Crime prevention practitioners have always included improvements to outdoor (particularly street) lighting in their toolbox and have repeatedly advocated its use. However, over the last 15 years, the view that improved street lighting does not reduce crime has emerged. This view has been attributed to the Home Office, with the result that many have taken it to be an official position. If left unchallenged, this view would have the effect of excluding or limiting the role of improved street lighting in the local crime and disorder prevention strategies that are required under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. It was thus thought timely to consider afresh the effect of street lighting on crime. The Head of the Home Office Crime Prevention Agency, Chief Constable Richard Childs, thus asked Professor Ken Pease to review the most up-to-date research evidence and this was done in July –August 1998. That review effectively overturned the conventional assumption that improvements to street lighting do not make a considerable impact on both crime and the fear of crime.

Lighting Books and Reviews

Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook: Film Lighting Equipment, Practice, and Electrical Distribution

Comprehensive. Detailed. Practical. Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook, Fourth Edition, is a friendly, hands-on manual covering the day-to-day practices, equipment, and tricks of the trade essential to anyone doing motion picture lighting, including the lamp operator, rigging crew, gaffer, best boy, or director of photography. This handbook offers a wealth of practical technical information, useful techniques, as well as aesthetic discussions.

Review
“Harry Box’s Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook (Focal Press) is a gold mine of information about safety, lighting and studio procedures.” – Ron Dexter, ASC

Harry C. Box has worked in television and motion picture production since 1989. Over the years he has done substantial work as a lighting technician, gaffer, camera operator, director of photography, and as an educator. His recent credits include network and cable television series, such as Heroes (NBC), Brothers and Sisters (ABC), and Everybody Hates Chris (CW). He has worked on major motion pictures, independent feature films, telefilms, documentaries, music videos, commercials, and industrials.

I’ve had previous editions of this book and like to pass on the old one when I upgrade. This, the 4th edition is presented extremely well, is bang up to date and is indispensable. The best thing about this book is the lack of an opinion which plagues a lot of cinematography books, this is simply the tools, how they work, why you would use them and that’s it. You apply your current project needs to this information and develop your own technique.

If you are an aspiring electrician and want to work in movies and commercials this is a must-have for your shelf. Even a seasoned pro can learn a thing or two and the attention (and clear explanation) given to electrics is superior to any trade manual on the market. I’ve been reading, Mr. Box’s articles in Film Crew Magazine for the past few years and it is even more valuable to be able to have some of this knowlege bound in a book.

As a long time theatrical technician I found the book to be very insightfull as to the practices of film lighting world. I wish a book this good was written for stage hands. It is a practical guide to the film lighting business with not just basic information but tips to make you feel like on old pro. After reading it I would feel comfortable taking a work call on a film set any time.

A great book for any film electrician, whether you’re starting out or need a handy reference for wiring anything. It gives overviews for every aspect of lighting, starting out with the types of lights and cables and going into electrical theory later on. This book has basically become a must in the IA local here. This is a thorough, detailed and comprehensive handbook, with a wealth of useful information on equipment, techniques, and practices. A great source of insight and inspiration.

Studio Photography and Lighting: Art and Techniques

This book gives clear, practical advice on how to get creative with and achieve the best from your studio lighting. It explains and demonstrates basic and advanced techniques so you can fully understand how to light a subject and compose a great photograph. Explains lighting and camera techniques and the ideas behind them. Utilizes specific examples and diagrams to illustrate everything from portraits and art-nudes to still life photography.

Christian Hough is a professional photographer. His polished commercial and fine-art nude photographs are synonymous with exquisite lighting and impeccable technique.

It’s filled with some excellent portrait photography and also a description of how to achieve that photo, along with diagrams and settings. Easy to read, lots of tips for beginner, enthusiast and professional alike.

A very useful reference book if like me, you are a photographer that rarely ventures into a studio. It is clearly laid out and written in understandable English. It has given me the confidence to use a studio and be able to explain to a Technical Support Worker at University exactly how I want the lighting set up for my shoots.

Has pride of place on my bookshelf next to my camera manuals notebooks. Also helpful in working out how images have been lit so you can try it yourself if you want to. I find it useful in helping me to understand more about lighting and getting more from my own photography. It is not a definitive all encompassing everything you will ever want to know manual, but it’s a great start and I suspect it will be my go to reference book for quite some time, well worth buying and I may get the Kindle version for my Fire Tablet.

So glad I bought this book! Other volumes I have studied, just swamped me with high-cost “options”. Just the sort of insight I needed, for my first steps into studio work and simple set-ups. If you are at the threshold, like me, this book will help demystify so much superior jargon that’s out there.

Light Metrics – Quality of Light

We pick up impressions of things around us largely through visual means. Scientists have estimated that as much as 85% of human impressions are derived visually. This figure might seem unnaturally high, but if you think about it, your eyes are the medium primarily through which information is first received. The exception to the rule is for people who are visually impaired, and who hence rely on other senses. Because the eyes are first to perceive the things around us,  proper quantity and quality of light are essential. This is what lighting aims to achieve. The mission of lighting management is to give optimum level of lighting, a quality of light, and all this achieved at the lowest cost. This compromise of variables is what we have examined in the previous post on architectural lighting.

When lighting engineers speak of and discuss lighting, there must of course be variables that are commonly defined in order to be specific about the level of lighting required. Otherwise discussions would only include subjective terms which are not helpful to the task. If someone told you they wanted a stage to be brightly lit, their idea of bright may not be the same as yours. And if you arranged for a stage to be lit as how you felt bright was, the probability that you would be in concordance with their wishes would be fairly slim. Or if you ordered a lighting fixture but could not give any specific details other than that you wanted it to be bright, it would likely leave your supplier flustered in trying to obtain more specific details, or you might be presented with a whole list of items while the supplier goes “Like this one? Or maybe similar to that one?”

To use another analogy, if you were trying to cook a meal, and were seeking details such as the kind of heat – low, medium or high – and the duration of heat, but if you were told “Hot, just make it hot” then this would be completely befuddling.

So we need lighting metrics.

We use lighting metrics to discuss and the quantity of light (light output and light levels), quality of light (brightness and color), and fixture efficiency (electrical efficiency and how much light leaves the fixture).

The rest of this article will address the first metric, which is the quantity of light.

The quantity of light that leaves the lamp, or the light output, is called the luminous flux. The luminous flux is measured in lumens (lm). Lamps are rated in both initial and mean lumens.

Initial lumens is the measurement of how much light is produced by only when the lamp is deemed to have stabilised. The stabilisation period for fluorescent and high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps can usually last for 100 hours
The other measurement, mean  lumens, is the average light output over the lamp’s rated life. A lamp does not last forever nor does it produce light constantly at the same quality. A number of factors affect a lamp’s light output over time. The mean lumens is general works out to be 40% of the rated life.

The output of a fixture can be affected by the diminishing quality of a bulb. It can also be affected by other factors such as the characteristics of the fixture itself, such as its reflective quality, and hence is susceptible to fixture surface depreciation, and dirt and dust buildup.

Illuminance, or light level measures the amount of light on the workplane in the lighted space. Illuminance is assessed using the unit footcandles (fc) (or lux in metric). A footcandle is actually one lumen of light density per square foot. If you are using metric units then one lux is one lumen per square meter.

  • The human eye can adjust to a wide range of light levels, including about 10,000 footcandles on a sunny day to about 0.01 footcandles under full moonlight. Despite the variation of range, optimum ranges of light levels have been established for various tasks so that those tasks are performed most efficiently and without strain.

Architectural lighting considerations

Architectural lighting design is much like architecture itself. It requires a combination and understanding of both artistic and scientific aspects. How do what are supposedly two differing worlds work together? It would not be an assumption to state that the science has to support the artistic. Architectural lighting is about using the knowledge of the scientific to bring out the aesthetic.

Look at it this way. As far as lighting is concerned, the end effect is apparent. Someone may say “I want this section to look bright while the background is lit with red sparkles.” What is not so clear, and this is where a lighting engineer can bring in knowledge, experience and expertise, is how this effect is going to be achieved. The lighting engineer can bring in years of training and know-how, and for the beginner, having the lighting engineer to learn from can take years off the learning curve and process is accelerated.

A creative spirit is sought from a lighting designer. But it is not all about creativity. The qualified professional knows how light works, understands its properties as well as its effects on humans. He knows the aesthetic impact of light on humans.

Too much light? It causes glare and causes discomfort. Too little light also causes discomfort, but in a different way. If you have to squint to narrow your focus because the lights are too bright, your body language is immediately defensive. If the lighting is insufficient and too dark, you have to psychologically extend yourself in order to make more sense of it. An object with higher level of light stands out from its background, of course, but how do you manage the level of overall light?

When it comes to architectural lighting design, the points of emphasis revolve around three areas of focus. These three areas are fundamental aspects that we will commonly encounter in the illumination of buildings and spaces. The aesthetic appeal of a building, how the building looks, is one of these. The second is what we might call the ergonomics, this is an aesthetic measurement of the lighting and its impact is experienced by the building/space. The third aspect is that of energy efficiency. If a lighting for a building scores well in all these three aspects then it is likely that its overall feel is good. Quite often the decisions a lighting engineer has to make are how to obtain a balance between all three even if there was one area he could really go all out on. There is no point excelling in two areas if the third average, because the aesthetic quality, the feel of things just wouldn’t be right.

The lighting designer often works in conjunction with the architect to arrive at a common consensus about the effect of the lighting. When it comes to aesthetic appeal, the architect’s vision for the project comes into play, and it is important for the architect to fully describe what he aims to get from the project. What parts of the building or installation does he want to emphasise? Which parts does he want to make more subtle? More importantly, what is the aesthetic, or the emotion, that the architect wants to project? The lighting designer has to fully take in the architect’s ideas and vision, and then work out the means to achieve these. The architect provides the “What” and the lighting designer provides the “How”.

The ergonomics of the design must also be considered. If it is going to be a brightly-lit space, will there be too much light for users during different periods of the day? And what about the changing of the seasons? Considerations for human users as well as the impact of the lighting on the surroundings must be factored.

To give a recent example, a company decided to revamp the entrance grounds, where all visitors and staff pass through. This involved the construction of a bronze company logo, which at night was highlighted by spot lights from various angles and backlit by semi-indirect lighting. The aesthetic the company sought to promote was that of pioneering leadership in its field, and the lighting brought this out fully. Visitors passing by in the night could see the logo well-distinguished from its surroundings. The only problem was that as winter approached and it got dark towards the end of office hours, those working on the ground floor were often blinded by some of the spotlights. If you were waiting in the lobby to see a member of staff, some of the lights, as well as the reflections off the structure, depending on where you sat, you might have well been sitting on a sofa with a red dot between your eyes.

Another company had the same intention, with their company logo of a torch on the grounds. At the top where one would expect to see the flames, there were four strong spotlights that streaked out to the sky to mimic the same effect. At the time of construction, at the start of summer, the project opened with the usual fanfare that accompanies such openings. But by late autumn no one was applauding, especially those who worked on the upper floors and fell in the direct line of the spotlights. Eventually it was decided that the lights would only come on after office hours, but in doing so, the aesthetic quality that the company sought to convey, that of being a shining light among its surroundings, was lost.

Ergonomics and aesthetics must be balanced and quite often ergonomics triumphs.

The third factor is that of energy efficiency. Even if the ergonomics and aesthetic aspects are satisfied, what is the cost of maintaining such lighting? It is no good having a well-lit installation if it is going to drain the company budget and be a source of future grumblings and spawn areas of contention. The running costs of the lighting are not only the costs that lighting designers have to deal with; they may have to find ways to source materials that accomplish the same effect but which do not cost as much to acquire or do not have high running costs.

The lighting designer has to find a way of meeting all the above three areas in a “best fit” situation – it is not point excelling in two and dwindling in the other. A project that is ergonomic, projects the desired effect but costs too much to run is no good. One that falls within budget, and projects the sought impression, but makes the surroundings or the nearby users uncomfortable is similarly an undesirable outcome.

Designers also have other considerations too. For more complex works, they have to project manage the work itself as well as the acquisition of building materials. They also have to evaluate the materials for cost and regulations, while also ensuring the outcomes adhere to building and energy codes. In addition, growing environmental focus has meant that they are increasingly under pressure to work sustainably – to source sustainable materials and deliver carbon-neutral works.

If it were a musical world, we would say lighting designers are the conductors and the orchestral managers at the same time. Not only do they have to conduct the various forces at the disposal to obtain a desired emotional effect, they have to recruit the musicians at the same time. If musicians are unavailable, they have to recruit others in their place, or find a way to get the same musical result without them altogether. And they have to make sure the budget for musicians is met. So if – at the start of this paragraph – you thought, “What an overstatement”, it really is not!

But one thing is for sure. In having to meet all these demands, it takes skill.