Damian O’Hare, Tobias Menzies and Brandon Flynn in "Manhunt," now streaming on Apple TV+.

Cinematographer Robert Humphreys got creative with lighting to recreate the warm glow of fire and gaslight that would have been used in 1865, the year that Apple TV+’s Manhunt takes place. Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Humphreys and the creative team behind the show wanted to make it look as historically accurate as possible.

“I did a lot of research into what artificial lighting was available at the time, and 1865 was pre-electricity. It was around, there was a little bit of electrical lighting, but not in everyday use — it was more experimental. So the lighting at the time is gaslight, is candle light, is fire light,” Humphreys tells MovieMaker.

“The streets were lit with gas, a lot of houses had gas lighting in it. And then during the daytime, houses were generally always lit through outside. The windows were quite large, the houses were always orientated to get maximum sunlight coming into the house. So you’ll find all the architecture and the building was designed with natural lighting in mind.”

To nail the vibe of the period series, which is billed as part conspiracy thriller and part historical fiction, Humphreys says he and production designer Chloe Arbiture did tons of research into getting the timely details just right, from the wallpaper to the set dressing. For the cinematographer, the challenge and priority was getting the flicker rates just right to give off the look of real firelight.

Manhunt Cinematographer Robert Humphreys on Lighting 1865

“We spent a lot of time studying that, to the extent that we tested all those sources on camera and we read the color temperatures of all those sources, and we looked at the flicker rates of all those sources. We tried to replicate that as accurately as we could in the photography,” he says.

The seven episode limited series follows Tobias Menzies as Edwin Stanton as he tries to track down assassin John Wilkes Booth (Anthony Boyle) and protect the legacy and ideals of Abraham Lincoln (Hamish Linklater).

Tobias Menzies and Lovie Simone in Manhunt, now streaming on Apple TV+.

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Humphreys is also the cinematographer behind popular series like Fear the Walking Dead, The Leftovers, and Apples Never Fall. But Manhunt was his first time working on a period piece set in the specific timeframe of Reconstruction-era America. Before filming began, he’d had high hopes of being able to use all real lighting sources — but that would have required too many open flames on set.

“I went into the project with my kind of pitch to the producers and directors saying I want to shoot this with all that natural sources at the time, and we’d use as little artificial light as we possibly could. So I said, Oh, we’ll use the fireplaces in the rooms and we’ll use candle light and we’ll use gas light.’ But in OSHA dictates and the modern safety measures, that obviously is frowned upon, so naked flames were a bit of a no no,” he says.

“Obviously you could, at times, if it was very specific to a shot, like a candle or a match or something. We could do that, but we did have to fake 90% of the lighting, which I didn’t realize going in… almost all the fixtures that you see in the show are faked. There’s very few real ones. But the effect is very, very, very precise.”

Hamish Linklater in Manhunt, now streaming on Apple TV+.

So how did he fake electric lights to make them look like real flames? It comes down to LED lighting panels, which he says has revolutionized the lighting came.

“LED lighting has basically supplanted all the old traditional incandescent lighting very quickly, like within a few years. It’s harder and harder and harder to find old fashioned incandescent lighting. The beauty of LED lighting is it’s so malleable and so controllable. You can create flickers, you can create fire lights, and a lot of the more upscale lighting units actually literally have a button saying ‘firelight,’ ‘candle light.’ So we kind of looked at what manufacturers thought was a good effect, and then we would change it or fix it, because it’s all basically computerized, so you can adjust anything. It’s not as difficult as it once was,” he says.

It’s a big different from the way things used to be done.

“Gaffers and DoPs had numerous ways of faking firelight — they’d get al-foil and crumple it all up and shine lights on it so that it reflected in different directions, or they’d shine lights through colored gels, which would move. They had all these methods of creating firelight. And now it’s literally, you put your lighting in the fire [place], you program in the rate of flicker that you like, you program in the color that you like, and then the VFX guys come in later and literally take out the electrical film light and replace it with VFX fire,” he says.

“It’s all in the name of storytelling and invisible effects, which is my favorite sort of VFX, where you don’t know they’re there. We’d often have these little LED tubes or little square panels that we would place in a fire and they would get taken out later and replaced by a little crackling [fire].”

Mai Image: Damian O’Hare, Tobias Menzies and Brandon Flynn in Manhunt, now streaming on Apple TV+.