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Lighting Within Without a Hitch

Lighting Within Without a Hitch

UK – Emma Dalesman is a London-based freelance director of photography. A graduate of the National Film and Television School, she shoots a range of projects encompassing fiction, documentary, art films and commercials. A member of the Illuminatrix collective of female cinematographers, her narrative work has been shown on TV and in competition at numerous international film festivals, whilst her commercial work includes brands such as Sony, Fujitsu and Curzon Cinemas. Emma’s broadcast and feature documentaries have received strong critical and audience acclaim and her passion for visual storytelling grows with the experience of every shoot and every new collaboration. In July 2020, following a quiet period on the work front due to the Coronavirus-enforced shutdown of the industry, Emma received a call from producer Derek Richards about a potential job.

The iconic contemporary dance company, Rambert, had decided to turn its upcoming creation by Belgian choreographer/director Wim Vandekeybus into a live broadcast performance which could be enjoyed in real time by audiences around the world. ‘Draw From Within’ would be a significant departure from Rambert’s customary working methods, conceived for the medium of film for an online audience. Following a remote interview with Wim and Derek, Emma secured the job and, after a COVID-19 test, went straight into rehearsals.

As the production was rehearsed, the camera and lighting style quickly came together, as Emma explains: “Wim was an inspiring director to work with, and as the piece came together we experimented with what would work best for different scenes, creating atmospheric lighting and camera work to draw the audience in. Rambert weren’t short of in-house lighting fixtures. Some I was familiar with, others, coming from a film background, I’d never seen or used before. I was eager to check the colour rendition of the fixtures and whether they would look good on camera. We brought in the camera I’d be using during rehearsals and, adopting as filmic approach as possible, didn’t use traditional outside broadcast cameras, instead opting for 35mm sized sensors and cinema zoom lenses.”

Emma tested most of Rambert’s in-house fixtures in the company of lighting technician Jack Ryan. As the production was live, with fixtures required for multiple scenes, the lighting had to be adaptable and use mainly RGB heads. When testing the fixtures, Emma came to realise that most of the heads that were RGB, although good for colours, caused problems when trying to obtain ‘white’ light: “They either appeared magenta or green, especially on skin tones, and gave the dancers’ skin a waxy look which was terrible!”

A solution was at hand, though, as Emma describes: “I discovered that Rambert had a plethora of ETC Source Four Series 2 Lustr fixtures, which could either be used as Fresnels or profiles by swapping the lens system on the front of the fixture. They were a godsend! Using the ETC Eos lighting desk, we could select the required colour temperatures, and the fixtures would create the perfect light at the requested white point using the x7 colour engine. It looked amazing on skin tones. I was lighting for a stop of T4 on the lens (at native ISO 800). I set the camera’s colour temperature at 4300K, and then adjusted the fixtures from warm to cool, as well as making use of the full range of colour in the Lustr’s palette. Because the colour engine had so much of the spectrum available, and it was all infinitely adjustable, I was able to obtain a very high quality of light no matter what the output colour was. We were filming at Rambert’s South Bank building, which was 16 x 16m with a rig height of 6m. The Source Fours were giving me the output I needed and were so adaptable that I could balance the lighting and not change any camera settings during the shoot; we could simply take the camera outputs and broadcast them with no adjustment required. In a lighting world that was theatrical and unfamiliar, I suddenly felt at home!”

ETC is represented in the UK by 3LR who recently added the US manufacturer’s broadcast, film and TV ranges to its existing remit in architectural lighting. Under the leadership of managing director Matthew Lloyd, 3LR acts as an additional resource to ETC’s dealer network, and uses the expertise of its team in the field to promote ETC’s products in direct consultation with customers.

Whilst Emma’s work on ‘Draw from Within’ constituted quite a shift from her customary experience, a willingness to experiment and learn ‘new tricks’ made for a dynamic, very creative and thoroughly enjoyable time: “The company of dancers and the whole team at Rambert were fantastic to work with and really embraced the possibilities of film. The dancers adapted their movements, angles and eye lines for camera, inviting the audience into their world, great on camera, they really were the dynamic energy of the film. Live meant live, and we did three performances in September for different time zones at 12pm, 8pm and 1am. I found it exhilarating and totally understood why it was so key for the performances to be live.”

Emma was proud to have been involved in such an innovative production which received rave reviews across the board. The New York Times wrote of ‘Draw from Within’: “Watching it felt more like watching a movie, immersive and absorbing, yet easily the most technically sophisticated live dance production I’ve seen since theatres closed.”

No sooner had the dust settled on this memorable production than Emma was invited back to work with choreographer/director Jo Strømgren on Rambert’s most recent creation, ‘Rooms’, which was broadcast from the 8th to 11th April this year. Suitably impressed by the Source Fours she had used on ‘Draw from Within’, Emma spoke to 3LR business development manager for broadcast, television and film lighting, Barry Grubb, with a view to exploring other ETC options for ‘Rooms’.

Barry comments: “I was already acquainted with Emma through her wide range of excellent work and also her membership of the Illuminatrix network, with whom I’m in regular contact. Our discussions led to her camera-testing some of ETC’s new fos/4 PL8 LED panels; suffice to say she loved the new X8 colour engine with the addition of the Deep Red, and added six units to her inventory for ‘Rooms’. They added to the sixty-plus Source Four Series 2 x7 Lustr units which were deployed on what was another spectacular project.”

7th May 2021

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