Litepanels Get Up Close and Personal on Chicago Fire

Hand held LED lights go wherever you need them.

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

Although much of the action is supplemented by special effects, shooting the intense fire scenes of NBCs hit series Chicago Fire require some tricky lighting, especially when the stars of the show are hidden behind breather masks that obscure their faces. So cinematographer Lisa Wiegand is turning to Litepanels Bi-Color lights to get up close and personal.

“We use an active handheld camera to follow our characters through their lives and into dangerous rescues. Obviously, we shoot a lot of FIRE, (and that) creates many specific challenges. We need to expose for very bright flames, while still being able to dig out details in the shadows.

“Because of the intense levels of smoke we deal with, we are often shooting in the fire with a handheld ARRI Alexa camera and Angenieux Optimo zooms very close to the actors so we can see their faces. When our actors are in the fiery interiors, they wear facemask-breathing apparatuses. Because we need to recognize their faces, and it is difficult to get light through all the smoke involved, we use handheld Litepanels 1x1s close to the actors to get light in their eyes.” – Lisa Wiegand

Wiegand says that the benefits of the ultra light and low power MiniPlus™ LED lights is that they’re hand held and you can direct them anywhere, including getting really close to the actors you’re shooting. The cinematographer says that since these Litepanels are battery operated and dimmable, they’re not only really quick to set up, but very easy to move around when the situation requires it.

This means that they are also perfect for hand holding on the run, or for rigging in areas that can’t support a heavy light.  “My gaffer will walk with our camera operator and hold a light aimed right at the actors’ eyes to make sure we can see the faces through any challenging circumstance that arises in fighting the fires,” Wiegand explains.

In addition, the BiColor capability of Litepanels gives the shooter plenty of color temperature options that are both standard and non-standard.  And because the LED design allows for color and temperature adjustments, gels are usually not needed, saving time in setup.   “If I want a key or fill to be at 3800K or 4300K, it’s easily dialed into the lighting unit and we don’t need gels to make compensations,” she says.

Due to their portability and ease of set-up, Weigand says she can put them anywhere on set.  The Litepanels are small and fit into tight places.  “Since we are constantly shooting in real locations,” Wiegand says, “there are often challenges of mounting lights into restrictive places. Litepanels are the perfect tool for them.”

Wiegand also says that at least 70% of all the shots they use on Chicago Fire use Litepanels and she doesn’t the look of the series would be the same without them. “I’ve tried other small LED lights and they don’t give me the same punch (intensity) and quality of light that the Litepanels provide.”

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