July 25, 2014

Oscar-Winning Cinematographer Wally Pfister on the Changing LED-Lit Landscape of LA

cleantechnica led street lighting lights lamps sodium vapor mercury clean green la los angelesEarlier in the year, we posted about the city of Los Angeles' massive changeover to LED streetlights and some of the ways in which it might affect the appearance of LA in cinema. In addition to its ecological and economic benefits, this new street lighting has a lot of interesting photographic implications, particularly due to the LEDs' more daylight-like rendition of color. Following the post I was fortunate enough to take part in a segment of KCRW's program Which Way, LA? in which Academy Award-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister shed his own unique light on the subject.

Below you can hear the entirety of the Which Way, LA? broadcast in which Wally Pfister, ASC discusses 'Los Angeles in a new light.' (Thankfully, it's mostly Wally and not myself doing the talking). Wally covers a range of details on the topic, hitting upon several of the points we considered in our original post and plenty beyond. He speaks about the history of technologies used in street lighting, noting that the classic orange glow with which we're so familiar actually follows an earlier precedent. He also explains how a large-scale shift to LED such as LA's could impact cinematography in general, and period pieces in particular. To hear all this and more, skip ahead to the 13-minute mark in the embed below.

LED street lighting may not seem like a very interesting subject at first, but it is pretty fascinating to ponder such a significant, fundamental shift in the way we see our cities every night. On the one hand, streetlights are a staple of infrastructure so commonplace we seldom stop to consider them. We almost take them for granted because of their familiarity. On the other hand, their extensive deployment would all but ensure the opposite if and when a changeover did take place. Once streetlights are suddenly illuminating our hometown in a dramatically different light than we're used to, it's more likely we'll pause to take notice.

As Mr. Pfister points out, it will take some time before the streets of anywhere are entirely LED-lit. Once that happens, during night hours the place in question will look different. That much is certain, and will be measurable in a number of ways. But, perhaps more importantly, how will such a place feel different? This question came up in some of the response to our original post, and I found it a far less cut-and-dry matter to consider. I suspect the answer will differ for each and every person who takes the time to look onward and upward -- literally -- on a solitary stroll sometime in the PM.

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35 Comments

Oscar-winning cinematographer also known as failed film director whose first feature flopped hard.

July 25, 2014 at 6:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Natt

Ouch.

July 25, 2014 at 6:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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And you've won what exactly?

July 25, 2014 at 6:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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He's right and don't bring up the whole, ''what have you done?'' nonsense, not everyone wants to actually make films, stop being an idiot.

July 25, 2014 at 7:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jeff

Haters gonna hate ^

July 25, 2014 at 8:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Rich

When someone is going to pop their head up and say for no reason that they are a failed director which is not relevant to the article nor does it make them less of an Oscar winner, then yes the "what have you done?" is needed.

July 25, 2014 at 9:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Agree with Simon. "What have you done" usually are a fallacy of logic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority), but since the OP used exactly this kind of reasoning (in reverse), he opened himself up to the question. Not to mention that making a flop as a director doesn't in any way affect his cred as cinematographer.

July 25, 2014 at 10:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Shenan

I just wanted to jump on the comment bandwagon. Not many directors make hits on their first go of it. I believe the question 'what have you done?' is a valid one because it is far easier to judge others who do than to do ourselves. If the next film he makes is a hit, would that still make him a 'failed director'? It's true that we don't all want to make films, but I'm we sure we can all appreciate what it's like to create something and to have it not do so well. You know when it sucks, no one has to tell you. If you don't know that, then make something and put it out there. You will know soon enough.

July 26, 2014 at 6:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Kevin Paul

I just wanted to jump on the comment bandwagon. Not many directors make hits on their first go of it. I believe the question 'what have you done?' is a valid one because it is far easier to judge others who do than to do ourselves. If the next film he makes is a hit, would that still make him a 'failed director'? It's true that we don't all want to make films, but I'm we sure we can all appreciate what it's like to create something and to have it not do so well. You know when it sucks, no one has to tell you. If you don't know that, then make something and put it out there. You will know soon enough. But of course this might not be the venue for such discussion

July 26, 2014 at 7:00AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Kevin Paul

That's just you opinion. And what have YOU done ?

July 26, 2014 at 2:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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FabDex

did he kick your puppy or something?

name one oscar winning director that hasn't had a flop...give the guy a chance...if he fails he did more than you sitting on your couch typing away already anyway.

July 26, 2014 at 11:23AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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nic

Pfister is NOT an Oscar winning director and I doubt he'll ever be. For his defense, the script to Transcendence was terrible. Add to that his terrible directing skills, coupled with that terrible actor, Johnny Depp, and you get a terrible turkey.

July 26, 2014 at 2:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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FabDex

He needs to pick better scripts, that's for sure. Right now he is "radioactive" and I doubt any studio will give him the reins to a film until he redeems himself with a stunning low-budget indie film.

July 26, 2014 at 8:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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James

Personally i liked Transcendence.

July 30, 2014 at 6:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Andy

Was really looking forward to seeing Transcendence & actually allowed the bad Press to influence my decision ,& decided to pass on it.
Finally saw it last week & it was Much better than the Bad Press it got. Granted ,Johnny Depp (who usually has some Charisma) was no help in this Movie. It really doesn't deserve the Bad rap it's gotten. I feel that MANY of the commentators who like to spit on this and other Films & Film makers ,1. Ought to see a Movie before Spouting. 2. Ought to actually Make a Movie before talking as If they know what it is Like to do Just that.

July 31, 2014 at 5:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dheep'

Wow, great point! You proved that you have nothing worthwhile to say!

July 30, 2014 at 10:48AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Kripalski

So true Transcendence was one of the worst movies in a long time. Horrible piece of crap.

July 31, 2014 at 11:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dave

Part of the beauty of LED bulbs is that they can be manufactured to any color temperature. If LA wants to keep its traditional night time ambience, all they have to do is get bulbs that approximate the 2500K - 3200K temperature of old streetlamps.

July 25, 2014 at 6:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Also if you shoot digital you can just change your white balance to make the LEDs look like sodium vapor

July 25, 2014 at 9:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Two counter points: first, the regular bluish LEDs are more power efficient than the tungsten balanced LEDs (compare the lumen outputs on LED lighbulbs of both types).

Second, the sodium lights have a very particular look that would be hard to reproduce in-camera with LEDs or any other lights because they only emit a very narrow part of the spectrum, so you will notice that whole colors almost completely disappear under them.

The accurate sodium look would have to be done in post by major color correction. If you're going to that extent, it may not matter if the LEDs are bluish or yellowish to start with.

July 25, 2014 at 11:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Shenan

It can go far beyond that. Using RGB LEDs with remote controllers, the city could alter color at will. However, as noted by other posters, that's unlikely in the foreseeable future.

July 25, 2014 at 11:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Charlie

Has anyone else heard about the supposed effects of daylight color on our bodies, i.e. waking them up and making us more alert? Makes sense, blue daylight is what we experience naturally in the *day*time. Can't be good for any kind of animals, bugs, etc.

But neither can 24 hours lights in general. And people are up around the clock regardless of what kind of lighting there is anyway. Not trying to prove a point, just something to think about.

July 25, 2014 at 8:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Chris

Yes I heard about that Chris! That's a very good point. I actually changed my kids nightlights because of that. All L.A. residents will become insomniacs!!! Seriously, it might affect the quality of their sleep.

July 26, 2014 at 1:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I sleep in darkness, so...

July 26, 2014 at 2:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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FabDex

I've just been in southern Tanzania where they have no street lights at all (just recently got electricity for most of the houses in the town where I stayed)
At first you might think it is kind of romantic, but after a few days you realize you do not want to live in such a place. Not only because of the street lights though, but that' a different story... ;)

I have seen very new and seemingly high quality LED street lights in Switzerland a few months ago and I thought they were great because their color rendition was so natural. They must have been at least CRI 80 I think, with a nice temperature of 5600-6500 (maybe 7000? I couldn't measure it)

I'd really like those lights in my home town, everything looked so much better than under old fashioned streetnlights (let alone those horrible yellow low pressure sodium lights)

If you worry about your good sleep, you'll have to get better blinds for your windows anyways. It's a fact that you sleep better in total darkness - and then it doesn't matter what kind of lights are outside!

July 31, 2014 at 4:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Heiko

Wait, Wally still shoots on film????

July 27, 2014 at 2:42AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

He only shoots on film and has been quite outspoken that digital is a substitute for true filmmaking. Wally is right as Roger Deakens is a hack and not an artist like he is.

July 31, 2014 at 2:50AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Daryl

To me, a person who has tried and failed is a winner-
Where as a person who is afraid to try-- is a loser.

Edison failed more than 50 times with his lightbulb so I guess he was a failure too.

July 27, 2014 at 1:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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William

Edison also publicly slaughtered dozens of animals alternating current and spread misinformation about alternating current.
But, you know, he sold everybody some light bulbs so he must be a good guy, huh?

July 29, 2014 at 3:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Point Of Order

That obviously wasn't his point. Just because Edison was a dick, that doesn't mean he's not a great object lesson in persistence. He actually tried over a thousand filament materials. The concept already existed, but Edison's persistence made it viable. If he'd dismissed his efforts after the first few because of "failure", who knows how long it may have taken to have a commercial lightbulb.
-Olaf

August 1, 2014 at 8:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Olaf

Most DP's that ventured into directing haven't done well.

July 30, 2014 at 12:39AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Aaron Francesconi

HHhhmmm....some good points. Changing the lights will essentially change the light. We'll have to wait until this theory is put into action. Good call Wally, insightful as always.

July 31, 2014 at 2:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Daryl

A friend texted this to me yesterday, seems fitting.

Man in the Arena...It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Theodore Roosevelt

July 31, 2014 at 6:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Geoff

He's no Barry Sonnenfeld!

July 31, 2014 at 11:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Lawrence E. Donato

I don't really think it's going to change anything. I think we are all aware of the colorists job after all and what they can the with the look of a film. You can change thing into the way you want them to look, so I don't really think this is something that film makers should be concernt about.

October 5, 2014 at 7:16AM

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