As I mentioned in my previous lighting story in our last newsletter, I have had the incredible good fortune of working with a great group of creative professionals from all over the world. From seasoned professionals to newcomers they all have one thing in common: A genuine passion for making great pictures.
Let’s pick up where we left off with our in depth and exclusive conversation with Emmy Award winner Curtis Pair of azPTP. Curtis has been on a tear, non-stop between commercial work, music videos, and studio projects. We were lucky to catch up with Curtis while he was regrouping at his home office near Phoenix.
PH: How do you decide the types of projects you are taking on right now and what is your approach? What kind(s) of lighting instruments are you favoring these days?
Curtis Pair: Lighting projects for me work in one of two ways… they either work as me being the director/director of photography in which I rent a studio and light the project myself, or where I’m brought in to actually light a set, more or less as an Lighting Director for someone else’s project.
When I’m lighting a project for my own production company, I’ll use whatever instruments I deem appropriate.
If it’s Chroma key, for example, I’ll rent Space Lights (in daylight) and then supplement with HMIs and/or Daylight LEDs. If I light cars in studios for example (I’ve done a ton for Barrett-Jackson auto auctions, including the live stage on TV), then I bring in a HUGE 30’x60′ custom made soft box, and then hang various lights within it. (For Barrett-Jackson, we’ve used 2K scoops, and then migrated to Kino Flo Para Beams because of heat. Now, it’s all Quasar Science tubes. I do rent DMX dimmers from a local rental house; what ever they have on hand.)
PH: I know you and I love all that remote work but tell us about some of your more recent studio lighting projects and the challenges you’ve faced.
Curtis Pair: I was contacted by Arizona Clean Elections to light the Arizona PBS Studios in downtown Phoenix for a series of 2020 political debates, seven in total. The AZPBS studios are rather spacious. They have nice, new/modern studio cameras. The majority of their lighting fixtures are Mole Richardson 2K Fresnels from the 1960s! (Yup, you read that right, I’m not joking).
These are still great instruments, but unfortunately, AZPBS is very limited on their lighting modifiers. They do have some scrims, in both singles and doubles, but not much else. Most fixtures have barn doors, but that is about it. I believe they only own two (2) soft boxes; none of which have grids.
Most of their original programming was lit in terms of foot-candles, necessary for broadcast, but they have extremely hard shadows on all of their on air talent. I was asked to come in and re-light their daily news set for “Arizona Horizon” with host Ted Simons.
I realized they have about 20 florescent fixtures. Half are Kino Flo Para beams and half are Desisti fluorescents. I replaced all of the harsh, non-diffused fresnels on set with the much softer fluorescents. I had some spill in places that weren’t requested… I asked if they could purchase some Soft Boxes for talent… needing 6. I was told they didn’t have the budget for that. They didn’t have any type of diffusion gel (like 216 or 250) for any of the lights either… I was told that a roll of gel at $130 was simply too expensive.
PH: How did you work around the budget limitations?
Curtis Pair: I decided to make a few “soft boxes” out of foam core. It took about four months to get that approved. We spent less than $30 on foam core to complete the project. The host, Ted Simons’ wife told me that he had never looked this good in the decades he’d been on the air at AZPBS. I found that to be a wonderful compliment.
PH: You were faced with some real studio lighting challenges. What steps did you take to overcome those challenges? What was your approach and instruments you decided on?
Curtis Pair: For the Clean Elections debates, I decided to use all of the AZPBS florescent fixtures. They requested that I light the most complicated set up first, and then they would use that set up for the other debates as well. There are a total of seven chairs set up on risers in an inverted “V” configuration. I decided that I wanted to light each of the participants, seven in all, in a manner, that no matter which way they looked, they would be in light. Therefore, each “seat” has two ‘key’ lights set up also in a V configuration.
One light on the talent left and one the right. I oriented the lights so that the ‘fall off’ from each fixture, no matter if a Kino Flo Para Beam or a Desisti, would be horizontal. This would help by lighting with a “zone” approach.Yes, each individual chair (with the seven chair configuration) is light, as each light has a “sweet spot.” However, their plan is when less people are on stage, that they will move the chairs a bit farther apart. I used 14 lighting instruments for the “key” lights in total. All with the simple grids that come standard with each instrument.
For back lighting or hair lighting, I also used florescent lights with plastic grids. I placed one light between two chair positions. This way, the light spilled in both directions, and I was once again lighting in a ‘zone’ manner. This will cover the stage for all seven configurations. (CP8)
PH: You are a big proponent of “daylight” lighting. Why is that?
Curtis Pair: I decided that I would use all daylight lamps for this project. I feel that the majority of modern cameras look better under a daylight balance. Many of these cameras have a ‘standard’ of 4800°K temperature preference.
I’ve lit with daylight as my preference since 2012. It’s very rare that I use Tungsten as key lights, but when I do, I often color correct those with “CTB” gel. I do use tungsten lights as hair lights, and I don’t color correct those. Typically these are smaller fixtures in the 150/200-watt range. I personally like the warmer hairlight look. I often use Mole Richardson or Dedo instruments as hair lights on azPTP productions.
I’ve found that when using daylight with modern cameras, the blacks are cleaner, and the skin tones are more accurate. Some feel that the skin tones aren’t as warm, but I’ve found that white balancing under a pale sky blue type “warm card” rectifies that with ease.
PH: Expanding on a topic we have covered before, what would you consider as some of your more favorite approaches to lighting?
Curtis Pair: In terms of my favorite approaches, I am one that really likes using soft-boxes. I’ve had spirited discussions with many industry professionals that believe light is softest when shooting through large frames to create a “large source.” I’m not one that buys into this feeling.
Instead, I turn my attention to the still photography industry. When one thinks of fashion magazines, they think of beautiful people looking their best in the hottest clothing. These photographers make tremendous amounts of money to shoot the high profile covers. They could incorporate ANY kind of lighting they wish… these photographers DO NOT use the large frame and many lights through that framed diffusion approach. Instead, they use soft boxes!
PH: What kind of research do you go through to determine the how and why of how you work?
Curtis Pair: Many today have turned to the “octo-box” shape over the rectangular shapes. I asked a manufacturer as recently as September 25, 2020 “why did you start making this shape?” Their response: “it’s because it’s easier to work with… when you light with rectangles, you have to know what you’re doing… Octo-boxes make even folks that aren’t as proficient with lighting, appear that they are!”
I had always thought it was due to the shape of catch lights. I believe that high-end photographers use soft boxes because they’ve been ‘mathematically’ designed to bounce light around in the box before it leaves the front. This is why they provide that pleasing soft source. Conversations with some of these photographers have confirmed my own conclusions. This is why they are predominantly available in a trapezoid shape. It pushes light forward as it bounces in the box.
Therefore, I’ve utilized this technique in my own lighting, either field or studio (when possible). I use a variety of soft boxes from FJ Westcott and Chimera. My personal boxes range from the “XXS” size all the way up to the “Large” size. For me it depends on how it’s being used, and the space available in determining the size. I use the XXS size for hair/back lighting al the time. I use the Small size.
For interviews, I often use an 18×24″ or a 2’x3′ due to available space on set. However, if I do have the space I utilize a 3’x4′ for even softer lighting.
PH: I know this is another area we talked about before. What is you favorite instrument right now and how do you use it?
Curtis Pair: My favorite fixture to utilize, but not every scenario calls for it… is the K5600 1600 Watt Joker HMI in a “Kurve” soft box. I have the 4.5′ size, and it’s truly spectacular. When ever I use this fixture and set up, people suffer from a severe case of “drop jaw.” They can’t believe the quality of light on talent.
There you have it. When I think of the hundreds of professionals I have had the pleasure of working in this business, Curtis would be right up there with the best. He has worked his tail off to get to where he is today. Now if I could only play guitar like him!
Do you know someone in our business I should be talking to? I want to hear from you. Also if you have any cool working through the pandemic stories I want to get in on those too. Contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please stay safe out there!