Re-envisioning the Old

We’ve talked here about the archival importance of lighting, but sometimes it just comes down to safety and numbers. Here are a few old structures that are getting re-lit to become safer and more energy conscious.

The Harvard Bridge (which goes right from Boston to MIT) is getting a makeover with more lighting that is also brighter. It’s a dark yet heavily used bridge, between vehicle traffic, pedestrians, and bicycles. The lighting posts will be installed every 30 smoots to increase the brightness across the bridge, making it safer for both the pedestrians and bicyclists.



(and read the article if you have any questions about smoots, the inaccurate if historically interesting unit of measure for this specific bridge).

The other old structure that recently got an upgrade is the Castle Howard. Over the past 5 years, they have been upgrading their heating systems to ground source, and lighting systems to LED. This is not only helping to preserve the artifacts, it is also saving the estate tens of thousands of pounds (more in USD). Apparently the LED system paid for itself in energy savings in just three months.

Finally, the L train rails in Chicago are getting a makeover. Two lighting designers unveiled their design for the L train rails at Wabash, which will be part of Chicago’s lighting design challenge. Tubes of LEDs will be placed under the rails, with the potential to be programmed in an infinite number of ways.


Though this is not meant to be permanent — the installation is projected to last only about five years.

Lights! Camera! Action!

The Conversation, an informal academic blog in the U.K., has published a fascinating overview of the history of lighting in motion pictures.  It’s a great review moving through the first ways films were lit (using natural light in glass studios, in case you were wondering, which is why Hollywood is in California) to today (when lighting is used more minimally). A hypothesis presented is that lighting was used less and less due to the physical effects on the actors.















However our theatricality side, though usually used on stage, knows that lighting is still an important factor to consider. This video at Filmmaker Magazine illustrates (as we already know and have discussed) the ways in which light can affect what we see. There is an interesting discussion in the comments as well. And one Director of Photography has actually laid out his set ups for lighting 4 different commercials (I particularly like the one where he had to improvise a system!).

After reading the historical background on the use of lighting in film, what do you think? Do we rely too heavily on computers these days to give lighting effects that physical lights could give?