Mark Carver On Lighting Live Events

Posted on March 24, 2014

They say that “politics makes strange bedfellows.” It also makes for some strange (or at least problematic) lighting issues, especially when you have to light a presidential debate with a multitude of candidates, all with different skin tones, facial features and other characteristics.

Mark Carver (Mark Carver Designs, Nashville, TN) is more than up to this challenge, having a nonpartisan knack for putting together lighting rigs that bring out the best in everyone regardless of politics. That’s one reason why he’s lighted both Democrat and Republican presidential debates, as well as televised coverage of presidential inaugurations, Academy Awards and Country Music Awards.

Carver, whose work featuring CHAUVET Professional products at the Stellar Awards and other award ceremonies has been featured recently in a variety of publications, sat down with us to discuss the rewards and challenges of lighting live news events.

We know a lot of LDs, but never met one who’s lighted presidential debates, so let’s start with that. What are the big challenges presented by that kind of project?

“The main challenge comes from the fact that there are typically so many different candidates and you have to adjust your lighting so each one looks his or her best.  For example, the 2008 Republican and Democrat presidential debates had five or six candidates each. So we had a lot of different skin tones and facial makeups to take into account. That can be a challenge.”

How did you meet this challenge?

“We set up our back light and fill light to soften everyone’s appearance, but then we also had key lights coming at each candidate from a couple of different angles to highlight their particular appearance. Then before the debates went live, we had to make last minute adjustments, which can always get tricky. In debates, our goal is to keep all candidates at the same luminescence regardless of their skin tone.”

Can you explain how you angle lighting to make people look good on video?

“Most people are flattered by a lower angle key source; you get fewer shadows this way and it also complements where the cameras are coming from. However, if a candidate doesn’t have deep set eyes or a furrowed brow you can make the angle a little higher. I use lower angles for debates or TV reports – between 22 and 32 degrees — as opposed to my theatrical lighting, when I’ll use a 45-degree angle, because we’re lighting for a live audience only in theater and not a TV camera.”

How about with color temperature?

“Most of the time with something like a presidential debate you’re at a 3,200K° color temperature, but if there are video walls like in a Good Morning America broadcast, you want to go up to 4,300K° of higher to color correct the walls.”

Speaking of Good Morning America, we know you’ve done a lot of remote broadcast lighting for that program, including Academy Awards coverage and events of that nature. In those cases, do you look at lighting the surroundings in addition to the news set?

“The news set has to be the focal point, but you also want to make sure the surroundings pop to give TV viewers a sense of the place where the broadcast is coming from. At the same time, we don’t want to distract from the set. Generally we use some powerful HMI fixtures to light some building facades if it’s early morning in the case of Good Morning America and the sun hasn’t come up yet.

“However, when you are doing live broadcast lighting, 90 percent of the job is the close-up. You have to make people look good.  It doesn’t matter how nicely you treat the surroundings, if the talent or candidates don’t look their best you haven’t done your job. The exception is something like the Country Music Awards news coverage when you have live performances on the set.”

Can you elaborate on that last point?

“Sure, when we do the Good Morning America set live from the Country Music Awards, we have country acts come on the set to perform. In these cases, we’ll treat the set like a mini concert and adjust our rig accordingly.  With performances that take place later in the GMA broadcast, we use a lot of LED strips, big moving washes and blinders so we can deliver eye candy even in the sunlight! Every live broadcast has considerations like this; you have to look at who is on the set, what’s happening on the set and what the ambient environment is like, then balance it all so everyone and everything looks good.”