The Production Managers Guide to Television Lighting

This guide is a short introduction about lighting. It is geared towards production Managers and production coordinators to develop their understanding of lights they may be asked to order for particular jobs. Lighting cameraman may find some parts of the history of some lighting products interesting so please read on. This guide will also help with some of the jargon used in TV Production.

In simple terms lighting is split into 3 main types, Tungsten, HMI & Fluorescent.

1) How does Tungsten work?

Well power is simply passed through a very fine wire coil, (called a tungsten filament) it heats up and glows ‘hot’ which in turn gives off light. The colour temperature of the light is around 3200k (similar to your bulbs at home)

2) HMI- what does it mean?

(Hydrargyrum Halide Iodide) lights have the same colour temperature as daylight (5600K to 6000K). They produce about four times as much light as a tungsten bulb with the same wattage. HMI lights work differently from Tungsten in that a spark ‘jumps’ or ‘Arcs’ between two pins and that spark ignites a gas which is held under pressure in the lamp housing. When that gas glow’s it does so very brightly. These lamps require what’s called a ballast. This is a heavy box that steps up the current and passes the high voltage to the lamp via a heavy duty ‘header cable’. (Remember never to look into an HMI when it’s on, it’d be like looking directly at the sun!)

3) Fluorescent- is that like strip lights?

In a nutshell yes these are based on the same principle as domestic strip lights. They are popular because they are light weight and give off a lovely soft light.


Standard Interview Light Kit

The kit we’re most often asked to provide consists of four tungsten lights: an Arri 650-watt or 800-watt light with a Chimera, an Arri 300-watt light and a Dedo light. We also include a gel kit with a range of gels and a reflector.

Here’s a brief description of each light:

Arri 800-watt light (Redhead)

It is an open-faced (there is no lens in front of the bulb) tungsten light. For interviews, this light is generally used with a Chimera (more on Chimeras in a minute) as a key light, the main light used to light a subject’s face.

Arri 650-watt light (mizar)

This is a Fresnel light – it has a lens with raised circular ridges on its outer surface which are used to focus the beam. It is often used instead of the Arri-800 and in such cases is generally provided with a Chimera. For interviews this is generally used with a Chimera as a key light. However you can also attach a gobo and this light can be used to throw a slash of colour on the background.

Arri 300-watt light (Mizar)

Like the 650-watt light, this is a Fresnel light. For interviews, it is commonly used as a fill light – a light to soften any shadows created by the key light, generally with some diffusion gel (more on gels in a minute) to reduce its intensity. These lights are also used as a backlight in an interview – a light directed from behind the subject to highlight the top of the head and shoulders.


A Chimera is also known as a lightbox or soft box. It fits onto a light using what’s called a speed ring which fits where the barn doors are held in place. You remove the barn doors and put the speed ring in their place. The Chimera looks a bit like a box made of white and silver material. It attaches to the speed ring and sits in front of the light so that the light shines through it. The effect is to soften the light, turning a harsh source into a diffuse one.

Trivia: The Chimera Lightbank was invented in the U.S. by a location photographer and a mountaineer to supply photographers with studio quality lighting on location. They founded the company CHIMERA in 1980 and operate from Boulder, Colorado. Their products continue to be made in the U.S., sewn in seamstress’s homes, and are individually inspected and initialed.
Speed Rings:


Gels are made of gelatin and come in different colours on rolls. They are cut into sheets to fit and then mounted on the barn doors of the light using crocodile clips (similar to clothes pegs only they’re metal). Gels are an essential part of any light kit. They can be used for colour correction or to create special lighting effects. Understanding this requires a basic understanding of colour temperature. Different kinds of light sources have different amounts of red or blue in them and can affect the colour of the image you’re shooting. For example, tungsten lights have a different colour temperature than daylight. This means if you were shooting in a room with lots of daylight coming in and you wanted to light a subject with tungsten lights you would have a problem. One solution is to use colour correction gels in front of the tungsten lights. These gels will make the light from the tungsten source the same colour temperature as the incoming daylight. Other gels are used to diffuse or soften the light. Others can make the light more flattering for interview subjects. Some are used to add colour to a light source and cast that colour in the background.

Dedo Lights

These lights were designed by a German Director of Photography (DOP) named Dedo Weigert. Hence the name Dedo. They are small and compact and have a light output equivalent to much larger lights. They also offer precision control of the beam of light they produce. For interviews, they can be used as a backlight or to highlight features in the background behind the interview subject.

Other Tungsten Lights

Arri 1,000-watt Fresnel Light

In the same range as the Arri 300-watt and 650-watt Fresnel lights, this light has a lens with raised circular ridges on its outer surface which is used to focus the beam. The 1,000-watt light is generally used for helping to light an indoor location.

Arri 2,000-watt Light (Blonde)

Moving up from the redhead (800-watt open-faced light) you have the blonde. This light is generally used to help light indoor locations although I have known some people to use it for helping to light an interview.

Fluorescent Lights

Kino Flos

Kino Flos are fluorescent lights mounted in specially made fixtures to hold two or four two or four-foot tubes. They generate a cool (in the “not hot” sense of the word), soft, energy efficient light that is excellent for interviews and for lighting people in general. They are used as a key light and cast a soft diffuse light over the subject which is very flattering. They are an excellent alternative to using a tungsten light with a Chimera. Another advantage is they take both tungsten and daylight tubes so you can easily use them in indoor locations where there is a large window or skylight that lets in lots of natural light.

Trivia: They were invented by the gaffer, Frieder Hochheim, and his best boy, Gary Swink, on the film Barfly in 1987. These two innovators were working in a cramped interior location and the DOP was using a wide angle lens. This meant there was no space to put a conventional lighting rig. The solution – fluorescent lights that could be hidden, easily mounted and controlled with quiet remote ballasts. Because they don’t heat up, they are excellent if you’re shooting in the same location for a considerable time. They were a real hit with the cast and crew of Barfly and are now used in movies and TV production all over the world.

We frequently provide Kino Flos to shoot interviews with celebrities and other high profile talent. They are popular in interview satiations as they do not generate the Sam heat that tungsten lights do. The range includes: 4 x 4-foot tubes in a fixture; 4 x 2-foot tubes in a fixture and 4 x 2-foot tubes in a fixture.

Diva Lites

Manufactured by Kino Flo, these are also fluorescent tube lights. They come in one size only – four two-foot tubes – and they have a built-in rather than a remote ballast-dimmer. This makes them especially quick to set up and take down. Like the Kino Flos, Diva Lites are superb for shooting interviews. They cast a soft diffuse light that is flattering for talent and interview subjects.

Production manager benefit: Everything comes in one case so if you are flying abroad there’s less baggage, furthermore the light can be set up and de rigged very quickly, the lamp does not need to cool down so the crew can wrap on time- no overtime! (sorry crew)

Kamio 6 Ring Light

This is a unique light that mounts on the barrel of the camera lens so that you get a constant light from the axis of the lens. The result is a soft light that smoothes rough edges and flatters the talent. It has a palm-sized ballast that mounts on the camera and runs off the camera battery. The kit also includes a matte-box tray holder. We have used this light in studio and on location for static shots and for tracking shots. In the case of tracking shots it offers a consistent flattering light. When the camera gets close to the subject, an attractive catch light produces a white ring in the eye which is very flattering.

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