Lighting Technology Changes

I started in this industry in the late ‘80s. Up until that time you had three types of lighting technologies: Incandescent, HMI and carbon arcs.


When I was new to the business I had to run down to the old Victor Duncan rental house in Chicago to pick up some gear for a client of mine at the time. This was the one and only time I have seen a carbon arc other than in pictures. I have never seen one fired and I truly regret that. The idea of trimming the electrode to keep the arc stable really intrigues me. Oh well.


So, for a large part of my early years we had two choices: Incandescent or HMI. You had to choose tungsten or daylight depending on the color you wanted or the budget you had to work with since HMIs are more expensive. If you wanted to mix the two sources you had better have some orange or blue gel because most cameras could not handle the difference. It was a simple time. The lights lasted forever so once you bought them you could plan on never replacing them. Color temp meters were a must and if you ran electric you had better have an amp probe because the power requirements were large. You needed to be strong because the lights were made of steel and the magnetic HMI ballasts had a ton of copper and iron in them. Cowhide leather gloves were a must to avoid severe burns to your hands. None of today’s thin and rubber coated hand protection would do. And you knew who the gaffer was because they had a light meter belt on them at all times. Ah the good old days!


But life and technology march on. Soon florescent lighting went from the green ugly light we all disdained to an efficient source that could be switched to do BOTH tungsten and daylight! Insane! And now florescent fixtures have all but fallen to the wayside as the LED revolution has overtaken everything. Very low power requirements and the ability to mix colors on the fly truly make them a revolutionary light source. Many now let you dial in any color making cutting gels a thing of the past. And cameras today are much more tolerant of color mixing.


These are all great things. However I have noticed that many of today’s younger generation do not understand the basics of lighting that were so necessary back in the day. Skills like the ability to compute amperage in your head or the experience to tell the color temp of a light within a couple hundred degrees just by looking at are simply not being learned. Some might argue that it is no longer as necessary to know these things but I believe that it makes a much more rounded crew member when the fundamentals are second nature.


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