A true pioneer, Fiorentino's lighting career began during the golden age of live, black-and-white television, when his TV credits included Omnibus, U.S. Steel Hour, Pulitzer Prize Playhouse, and the Bolshoi Ballet's first televised appearance in the U.S. He formed his own company in 1960 and was responsible for the lighting of hundreds of TV specials and stage productions, commercials and industrial shows.
Clients throughout the world often call upon his expertise as a consultant on the planning and development of major productions, exhibits, museums and other architectural projects. He also serves on numerous professional committees involved in furthering the quality of television lighting.
Among a number of projects, Fiorentino is currently designing studio lighting schemes for Fox's owned-and-operated television stations, whose news studios are being remodeled for high-definition (although they are not broadcasting in HD yet).
Do lighting designers have to relearn their craft for HD?
Absolutely not. I think all of the principles we have been using since the first days of television and film are still true today, no matter what resolution you are shooting in. Now, the creativity in lighting is what sets different lighting designers apart. A good lighting designer can cure a lot of ills on the set.
It's been said that HD cameras require less light than standard-definition. What's your opinion?
I've heard that too. Today camera sensitivity is so much better that I don't think you need more light. You use the same light, and in some cases, less light. Shooting at night you could use less light as well, because the contrast of your subject is greater against the dark sky. So theoretically you could use less light, but not a lot less.
What's your approach to basic lighting design?
My approach to lighting a person sitting at a desk is very simple. I use one key light, positioned above and next to the camera, and angled about 30 degrees down towards the subject's face. If you point the light directly at the subject, it flattens out the scene and I don't prefer that. I like to create a third dimension.
We live in 3D, but television is two-dimensional. So I try to add the third dimension to the picture with light. You help create dimension with good, clean shadows. Separating the foreground from the background, by softening the background, for example, also helps create the illusion of a third dimension.
In addition to the key light, I use a back light at about 45 degrees to the subject's head and shoulders. And another fill light, coming from the opposite side of the key light.
So the end result is you get a nice sharp shadow from the key light, softened by the fill light. The separation is also achieved by the single back light.
What type of lights work best for HD production?
Well, some will use fluorescents to light a set, because they're cooler, but I hate fluorescents. They make the scene flat and you can't control them. Fresnels are fine, because they are softer and you can control them. Also, Lekos, or ellipsoidal framing spotlights, give you lots of control over the light because they include built-in shutters as opposed to barn doors. This allows you to control the light with a sharp edge if you wish.
So, on a news set, I can light a person without spilling over to the person sitting right next to them. This is very helpful if you have two people with different colored skin tone or who have drastically different hair. I can light each individually and still make the overall scene look good. Remember that black absorbs light, while white reflects it. Also, you don't need a back light for a bald person, because it reflects the light like a mirror.
What's the biggest challenge in lighting for HD?
HD cameras are designed to produce high-definition pictures. They show all the fine lines in a person's face, including all of the blemishes. I can soften the face with light, but how do I soften a picture when HD is adding more resolution, and still make it look good? This is a dilemma because if you take detail out of the picture, you are defeating the purpose of HD.
However, with digital processing technology, you can tell the camera you want less detail in the skin tone. The camera identifies the skin tone and softens only that portion of the image. I think we will be learning a lot about the dos and don'ts of HD lighting in the very near future.