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Run & Gun LED Lighting, with Lowel Blender & Tom Robotham
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Tom Robotham is a Director of Photography from Boston, MA. He invented the Lowel Blender to solve lighting problems he encountered on location.

In the video clip to the right, Tom describes what led him to develop the Blender.

We sent a videographer along with Tom on a recent day of shooting interviews in several office settings. He showed us the considerations & techniques he employs when lighting under varying circumstances. They are concepts that transfer easily to any location setting.

Video clips of 4 lightng setups are linked below.



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Working in a World of Multi-colored Light
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How Does Lowel Blender Work?
light with blender The natural world is lit by the sun, sky and clouds. The man-made world is lit with many more sources and colors. From Tungsten-halogen (aka quartz) to all shades of conventional fluorescents (warm, cool, cool white, warm white, etc), to discharge lamps such as HMI, HID (mercury vapor, sodium vapor, etc), and more recently various types of LED's. Each source can have a different color temperature.

Todays high-res shooter has some considerable tools at his / her disposal. The current breed of HD still & video cameras have surprisingly high sensitivity in lower light levels, delivering crisp images without noise in the shadow areas, as well as beautifully rendered shades of gray between the high & the low levels. You can technically get an exposure with just the ambient light levels of most locations.

But lighting is still needed, to focus the viewers eye on the subject, and to create a sense of depth, mood, and visual interest that suits the needs of the production. With most lights confined to delivering one color temperature, working in a location that has multiple light sources (ex. - tungsten lamps & daylight windows) can be challenging and time consuming.

The chart above shows the relative color of a variety of commonly encountered light sources, listed in color temperature degrees of Kelvin. For a greater understanding of Color Temperature, we encourage you to visit Color Temperature & Color Rendering Index DeMystified, here at Lowel EDU.
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light with blender Lowel Blender uses 2 array's of high intensity LED's. One set is tungsten color (3000K), and the other set is daylight color (5000K). Each set is controlled by its own rotary dimmer on the rear of the unit.

To match the ambient lighting of the location you are in, simply adjust the day and tungsten controls until they match what you are seeing, either by eye or on your monitor.

Blender comes with 3 plastic accessory diffusers, that drop into the front of the fixture, to vary the quality & character of the light output. It can be powered by AC adaptor, or a variety of DC battery options.


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Lighting Setups with Lowel Blender
The setups shown in these four video clips were shot in different offices of the same building. They showcase how no 2 locations are ever exactly the same, when it comes to lighting. As you watch them, take note of the similarities and also the differences. These are important factors to be aware of when developing the "instinct of lighting", the ability to walk into a location and quickly decide what is needed, as well as the ways to achieve that look.
Office Setting with Large Daylight Windows, Tungsten Desk Lamps, and Overhead Fluorescents
Notes:
  • Switched off the overhead fluorescents.
  • 2 Desk lamps with 60W incandescent & 25W halogen lamps, both at 2900K color temp.
  • Blinds partially closed to limit daylight.
  • The first step is to position the camera, all lighting decisions then flow from that placement choice.
  • Lit with 1 Blender, placed at front near corner of desk. Mostly daylight and a little tungsten LED blend (by eye). Cracked Ice Diffuser added to break up the light a little and make it look more natural.


Office Setting with No Windows, Daylight Color Desk Lamp, Overhead Fluorescents
Notes:
  • Ambient color temp in room - aprox 5000K (slightly warmer than conventional daylight 5600 - 6500K).
  • Single fixture overhead fluorescent tubes are 'warm daylight' color, and the desk lamp has a daylight colored lamp in it.
  • Lit with 2 Blenders. The first is placed at the far front desk corner, set with a low level of daylight & tungsten (50/50 blend), and 2 diffusers added to reduce & soften output. A piece of gaffer tape is added, like a flag, to cut light spill on backside of the computer screen. A second Blender is set up near the camera with a low level of daylight (no tungsten) to fill in shadows, and counter the warm overhead fluorescent. Cracked Ice Diffuser added.


Office Setting with Indirect Frontal Daylight, Tungsten Desk Lamp, Tungsten Floor Lamp
Notes:
  • This was a more involved setup, and different options were explored. Pay attention to how the lighting gets tweaked as things get set up.
  • Location has mixed ambient sources, daylight and tungsten. They will be reinforced by 2 Blenders.
  • The first Blender is placed on far-side front desk corner, with only tungsten color being used. It extends the light from the desk lamp, to wrap more around the subjects face. A diffuser is added.
  • The second Blender is postitoned high behind the subject, to add subtle fill to dark areas around his back & shoulders. It is mostly low-level daylight, but at the end a little tungsten is added to the mix to enhance reality. A Cracked Ice Diffuser is added, to make the output of the beam appear more realistic.


Office Copyroom Setting with No Windows, Overhead Fluorescents, and Tungsten Track Lighting
Notes:
  • This was a simpler and more direct setup. The location has no windows, but overhead fluorescents, mixed with tungsten track lighting, were read in the camera as a 3300K color temp.
  • The first Blender was placed on the opposite side of the subject, and was set (by eye) using a mix of tungsten and daylight color, to reinforce the generally cooler lighting color of the copier. It was aimed at the far side of her face, and dialed down to a low output level. One diffuser was added to smooth out the beam and further cut the output.
  • A second Blender was added from behind her, with a low level of tungsten color only, to add a bit of definition to her hair & shoulders. Tungsten color was selected on this Blender to mimic the overhead tungsten track lights whose beams were creating subtle highlights in the image. The second Blender had 2 diffusers attached, to diffuse and further lower the output.


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Other Ways to Work in Mixed Lighting Environments
While Blender allows you to change color temperature of the light easily & intuitively, to match the lighting of the location, it is by no means the only way of working in mixed source environments.

Lighting gels are available to turn tungsten sources into daylight color , or daylight sources into tungsten color (both in varying strengths).

Photo quality High CRI fluorescent lamps are available in day & tungsten color. Mixing the color of the lamp tubes in a fixture can also be a way of finding a middle ground that works.

Lighting internally with HMI's (daylight color) will allow the light to mix well with the daylight coming in windows.

It is also not uncommon to show up to a location with a large roll of tungsten correction gel, to cover the windows, changing the daylight color coming thru, into tungsten. Then using only tungsten fixtures, and balancing the camera for tungsten, gets everything into the same color rendering.
All of this is possible, and all of it takes time & energy. It is not uncommon for productions to require a day of pre-lighting to solve issues such as these.

But you dont always see or have access to a location before the shoot. Nor is there usually the time to make some of the above modifications to either the location, or the lighting package.

Color changing LED lights like the Blender make it possible to work quickly and effectively.

Color Temperature & Color Rendering Index DeMystified, here at Lowel EDU, will provide a greater understanding of these issues.
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