Book Review: Shaping Light for Video in the Age of LEDs

“Lights, camera, action!”—the classic, Old Hollywood call to arms. The adage remains, but—as articulated by career gaffer and lighting designer Alan Steinheimer in Shaping Light for Video in the Age of LEDs—the players have changed.

Cameras are capturing beautiful digital images that give varying millimeters of film a run for their reel; action, well… directors still say that word with the same intent. Lights (or lighting), on the other hand, have continued to evolve, from the type of lights (LED, Kino Flo, practicals) to said light’s practicality and the art of its formation. 

Steinheimer draws readers in by promising to chart “The Age of LEDs,” but Shaping Light is a much more extensive approach to every seemingly minuscule aspect of lighting. He starts from the basics of the classic three-point set-up, escalating to the specifics of different types of shoots—sitcom, feature film, fashion, broadcast, etc.

Structured like most textbooks (diagrams and bold terms and glossaries, oh my), the dense subject matter here is well-organized and easy to follow, intercut with real-world anecdotes and practical career advice throughout. Steinheimer consciously considers color, wattage, contingent factors of time and location, and accessibility to equipment in a digestible manner for even the most technophobic moviemakers. 

Shaping Light also emphasizes the different production roles that light design affects and who should be thinking about them on set. Whether you’re a producer accounting for more light-oriented equipment in the budget (“How many C-stands? Grip truck? ARRI Skypanel S60s or LEDs and practicals?”), or a gaffer adjusting set-ups for camera movement, Steinheimer illustrates how lighting know-how will impact your bottom line.

The Takeaway

An extensive manual for moviemakers of any experience level, Shaping Light meticulously maps out nearly every on-set problem lighting has, well, brought to light. Steinheimer provides a go-to guidebook on a highly integral, yet often overlooked part of the moviemaking process, and breaks down how and why to choose the best light design for any project. Though not a breezy read, this is a valuable page-turner for any dedicated moviemaker’s library. MM

Shaping Light for Video in the Age of LEDs was released by Aarhus Publishing on April 9, 2018. This article appeared in MovieMaker’s Summer 2018 issue.

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