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