Last week I finally had the opportunity to pull out all of my vintage McAlister hot lights to use for a photo shoot. I have them safely in a storage space. They were used and eventually given to me at the last studio I worked at. There are about 15 of them ranging from 200 watts to 2000 watts (and everything in between). Two of the units are Altman Ellipsoidal theater lights that utilize an inserted pattern to create beautiful light patterns on walls, floors or anywhere they are aimed. The high wattage of the tungsten halogen bulbs for all of these lights emit heat and require appropriate gloves to work with them once they are plugged in. Employed as an assistant, years back, I am proud of my branding marks from inadvertently burning my arm, hand or otherwise while working with these babies! Energy consumption is also not of primary concern in their construction.
I have 2 that use 2000 watt lamps. ( The big one up front!)
With the advancement of LED lighting for many applications, these lights seem to be the equivalent to using a typewriter to author a book. The whole package seems contrary to what is produced today. These lights are heavy, large, not energy friendly, extremely hot to handle and the lamps are delicate and expensive.
The project I pulled them out for was for an editorial spread in a local magazine. I wanted to create “movie sets” for each image, in the spirit of vintage Hollywood using the authentic lights used back then.
After a meeting and a walkthrough of the shooting location, I began to formulate a lighting plan. I have found that formulating a preconceived idea prior to the shoot is good, however my room for improvisation has expanded over the years. Keeping an open mind and paying attention to presented opportunities is my biggest challenge.
The beauty of these lights, both in their housing and the quality of the light put out, makes them a joy to work with. We shot in a restored historic home in Appleton and the concerns I had for the electrical capabilities were real. With 4 or 5 lights plugged in at once, using 5000 watts of electricity, (or more) scared me into bringing along a backup set up battery powered speed lights to “cut down” the power consumption if needed, (an emergency backup if combining lights to prevent circuit trips became necessary). I forgot to mention more than one of the light’s plugs had no ground prong.
We had a person familiar with the circuits, capabilities and layout of the house while shooting. I was thankful for that.
The project would be a 2 day shoot. I would be in total control of the lighting and photography. In other words, I worked without an assistant. That means: enough sleep the night before, a good breakfast the day of, comfortable shoes, leather work gloves and Advil, before and after the shoot.
I will detail the actual photo shoot in my next blog. I was sworn to secrecy for any imagery or divulgence of subject matter prior to the magazine’s release.
As I mentioned, I treated these shots for this undertaking like a movie set. I have never shot a movie. I have been on a movie set, before I had an interest in how they were lit, so to get the best results possible, I combined my acquired knowledge, working with photographers who preferred continuous lighting, (as opposed to strobe lights), my inherited tools (the lights) and my eye for beauty in implementing these lights, gels, and diffusers into each scene to create something exciting. It was a lot of work, but tremendous fun. More to come…