Everything You Wanted To Know About Lighting…

Just another day living the dream: Sunday 7 October 2001, quarter to eight on a rainy Sunday morning. I’m at Hammersmith underground station in London attempting to get to Alperton, in the depths of the industrial wasteland that is Wembley, north London, to attend a one-day lighting course being laid on – free – by the good people at the Guild of Television Cameramen. Trains on the Piccadilly line are subject to severe delays… not a good start to the day.

An hour later, and things are looking up; I’ve made it to Alperton, and with expert directions from Clyde, a local security guard, I find the course venue, which watches all-day movies on FMovies site– a large rental house called VFG (Video, Film & Grip). Inside, I gratefully take a seat and begin to size up my fellow trainees – thirteen in all (shame on you two no-shows!). After brief introductions, all round, our tutor for the day, Alan Bermingham (the man responsible for lighting training at the BBC for nearly 20 years…) starts the course off with an overview of the day’s schedule – an equipment guide, a theoretical overview with practical work to follow.

I wish I was smarter: Alan assumes we all have a basic level of understanding as regards lighting and explains that the day is geared towards producing well-crafted features and drama lighting. So, to begin with, Alan summarises a range of lighting kits, ancillaries and consumables – some bits I use, some I don’t and some I wish I did. Alan then explains the finer points of (amongst other things) cosine law, photometry, spectral response, logarithmic law, square root law… oh dear. Maths never was my strong point. Scribbling notes, I nod away and attempt to grasp what’s happening.

Alan wraps up with a brief word on electrical safety. As I sit, considering how much money I could earn as a cycle courier, we are swiftly divided into four small groups and given a practical timetable outlining the rest of the day’s activities. After fathoming out who I’m supposed to be with, I stumble off to start work. Wish me luck…

You try to create something wonderful like a Nikon D3500 lenses guide, give it life… and like Frankenstein, it comes back to kill you: Well, at least we’re the good-looking-group™. By coincidence, I’m with two other news cameramen – the lowest of the low… I begin to feel at home. We’re given a BVW-600, batteries, a tripod and a monitor. We also have an infinitely patient ‘spark’ and the pick of VFG’s lighting equipment from their Aladdin’s Cave-like stores.

By mid-morning, the good-looking-group™ have swapped business cards, grumbled about the industry, traded anecdotes, drunk coffee… After a gentle reminder from Alan on the purpose of the day, we finally get around to starting the practical exercises, which include:

Experimenting with tungsten, daylight and mixed colour temperatures

It’s nice… well, no, it’s not: As the day passes, we’re fuelled by a hearty sandwich lunch, and we seem to be doing a pretty good job working through the exercises – sharing the duties of operating the camera and sitting in as the subject(s) whilst experimenting with the never-ending range of lighting gear at our disposal. Our efforts are critiqued, and when something doesn’t look quite right, Alan’s on hand to move a reflector a few feet, trim a lamp, change a sheet of ND… and suddenly, it all makes sense!

Before I knew it, the course was ending, and we were all pitching in, packing the camera and lighting gear. There’s an assortment of hand-outs, guides and booklets available for us to take away. After a de-brief and a richly deserved round of applause for Alan, and after swiping a couple of left-over sandwiches from lunch, I’m out of the door and into the rain once more.

You’re not a loser if you’re having fun: I rattle home again on the Piccadilly line, squashed between the suitcases of visiting tourists heading into London. Reflecting on the day, I think I could have done with about a week to take all the information in – but that’s the same with most good courses. The only downer about the whole day was that, to be honest, I can’t ever see myself having the time (or necessary equipment) to put the majority of what I’ve learnt into practice. It’s great having all that kit to play with, but at the end of the day, it’s like staring into the window of a shop that never opens. It’s just not the world I operate in…

But it’s still been an invaluable day – and all power to the Guild of Television Cameramen and Alan Bermingham. I’ve paid (sometimes a lot) of money to attend courses that pale compared to what the Guild offer – for free – on their one-day lighting courses. So, next time one of those little flyers advertising a Guild course flutters out of your copy of Zerb – and if you’re able to attend – make sure you do. It’s okay; you can thank me later.

As the tube rattles on, I sit, thumbing through the bundle of hand-outs spilling from my backpack, and secretly shake my head… to think – I was going to stay in bed.

For details on how to become a member of the Guild of Television Cameramen (worldwide), log on to www.gtc.org.uk

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