Thursday, February 6, 2014

LED Streetlights Will Change How Nighttime LA Looks on Film

A retrofit of all the streetlights in LA is just about finished, and the change in color and quaity of the lighting will change forever the way Los Angeles streetscapes appear in movies and television.  In the 1970s and 80s, old-fashioned tungsten incandescent lighting in streetlights was swapped out for sodium-vapor lighting, replacing a soft yellowish-white light with a bright, harsh yellow light.  That has been the standard look of nighttime cities for the last 30 years.

But now, energy saving LED lighting has been retrofitted to replace the sodium-vapor bulbs in Los Angeles, and the new light is a sharp bluish-white that resembles a daylight hue.  The directional quality of the streetlights also mean that the night sky appears much darker, and light pollution is lessened. This look has a more natural quality, but also presents certain challenges for filmmakers.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:

Link to article:

Excerpt: "The decision by the city of Los Angeles last year to replace its high-pressure sodium streetlights—known for their distinctive yellow hue—with new, blue-tinted LEDs might have a profound effect on at least one local industry. All of those LEDs, with their new urban color scheme, will dramatically change how the city appears on camera, thus giving Los Angeles a brand new look in the age of digital filmmaking. As Dave Kendricken writes for No Film School, 'Hollywood will never look the same.'

Kendricken specifically uses Michael Mann's 2004 film Collateral as his example of a movie that relied heavily on the depiction of Los Angeles at night. Mann deliberately set the film in L.A.—actually relocating it to L.A. from NYC, where it was originally going to be filmed—not only due to the narrative mechanics of the screenplay but because of the particular color tones of the city's nocturnal streetscape and how they would appear when shot with digital cameras.

Mann's well-known urban aesthetic, and his propensity for shooting films digitally, thus came together in Los Angeles under the unlikely banner of the city's antiquated streetlight infrastructure.

Surely, though, nothing is really being lost in this transition to LEDs? Filmmakers and photographers can simply fake the old color scheme in post-production—after all, that's what things like Photoshop are for.

Not so fast, Kendricken warns.

As he points out, the color effects of LEDs are not, in fact, easy to mask. 'The interesting thing about non-tungsten artificial light sources,' Kendricken writes, 'is that they often produce a non-continuous or incomplete spectral output. This can affect the appearance of certain colors under that output. More simply, you can't really put colors back in that weren't there to begin with, even by gelling such a light source or color correcting in post.'"

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