Geoff Nelson is an Emmy winning freelance DP & Lighting Cameraman based in Seattle Washington. Geoff has covered Broadcast, Sports, Corporate, Documentary, and Entertainment for over 23 years for clients such as NBC, CBS, CNN, ESPN & ABC News.
For seasoned broadcast and news cameraman, Geoff Nelson, his work day can find him anywhere from pitch-side reporting for the NFL to corporate interviews and everything in between.
In a fast-paced environment where things can change in an instant, having reliable, versatile and punchy lights is essential. Gemini 1x1 Hard has solidified its place as a replacement for HMIs in Geoff’s kit and pair perfectly with the Astras he already owns and loves.
We caught up with Geoff to find out how he began his career in news and how LED lighting has helped overcome the challenges of working in an everchanging and fast-paced environment.
How did you get started in the news business?
Well, it was an interest that began in college, and sort of took off from there. It turned in to internships and then jobs in local news stations around the US. Then in 1997 I went out as a freelance cameraman. So I made my way up the ranks as I learned more and got better.
What are some of your biggest challenges as a news camera operator?
I think the most challenging thing about being a broadcast and news cameraman is having all your ducks in a row as far as working quickly and knowing what the client expects. On one side you have to be interfacing with the client, subjects and people involved with the production and story as a human being, but you also have to be somewhat robotic to achieve the list of things you want to accomplish.
You’ve got to be clearing the list really quickly whether it’s talent lighting, making sure your camera’s set perfectly, accounting for variables in the background and ambient lighting. There’s lots to consider in limited time and you have to understand in your mind what needs to happen in a certain order.
What do you consider when choosing your lights?
I’m always very interested in the build quality of my lighting instruments. The Gemini Hard is built for the field. It’s a solid panel, with easy controls, that punches out daylight and tungsten temperatures that are as close to natural as you’ll find.
I also need something that’s easy to use, that doesn’t demand a lot of external ballasting or lots of cables running here and there. I want a light that’s self-contained, easy to pull out of a case, pop on a stand, add a battery or AC and I’m off and running. But most important is light quality.
What was it like using Gemini 1x1 Hard for the first time?
I’m very tight with my gear and expect a lot in terms of how it appears to a client, how it works for me and the ruggedness of the unit, and in all respects the Gemini 1x1 Hard was really impressive.
My first impression of the Gemini 1X1 Hard light was that it was the same quality of light that I have come to expect from the Astra, but with even more powerful output.
The Gemini Hard panels, because of their RGB capability, have the unique feature of being able to dial in some green or magenta hue that helps balance out ambient light. This is especially important in a stadium setting when you have to work with the contrast of the large LED fixtures of the venue that don’t always have the accurate CRI of Litepanels.
I like going into a shoot knowing the Gemini 1x1 Hard will give me a punch-through quality. The fact that you can add diffusion, remove diffusion whether it’s on the light itself or shooting through a Chimera or other add-on diffuser gives flexibility. You’re going into any situation knowing you have the power of an HMI in an LED source.
Do you use your Astra and Gemini 1x1 Hard panels together?
Mixing Gemini 1x1 Hard and Astra lights, is normal. Just a couple of months ago we used the Gemini through a 4x4 silk. We shot through that for a CEO testimonial and the amount of power I had was fantastic. I was using an Astra for a back light and my accent lights. They play very well together because of their common color quality.
How has Gemini 1x1 Hard helped overcome the challenges of news and sports coverage?
Covering news and sports can be challenging in many ways for a television cameraman. Space, ambient light, and the availability of power all play into it.
The Gemini Hard fixture gives me the punch to tackle any ambient light condition, usually with power to spare.
The combination of a well placed scrim and the available output of the Gemini Hard, creates the perfect lighting ratio outdoors without blinding your talent.
The number one thing I found after going 100% LED and ditching my HMIs, was the ease of use. For almost any situation, with RGB LED panels, the speed and convenience with which you can dial in the color is amazing. Depending on the event, the footprint of your setup can be restrictive with other crews right next to you. The ability to power the Gemini 1x1 Hard with battery power, and retain the same output, is a massive plus on location. This wasn’t always an option with HMIs. I was constantly worried about power draw and if I had enough battery power to get through the live shots I was tasked with.
What’s been the biggest change in news production?
More and more these days we’re being asked to shoot interviews, even single person interviews, with multiple cameras. A wide shot, a tight shot, another camera on a slider perhaps. In my case I use matching cameras and I want the light to look the same from all angles. There’s no time to deal with color issues coming out of light fixtures. With Litepanels I know that when you set up the temperature that you want you’re going to get it.
I think the ease of setting up Litepanels fixtures has sort of now become standard operating procedure in how I factor in set-up time.
Had we been working with HMIs it would take longer. You’ve got to allow for where the ballast is going, how long is the cable run, how are you going to diffuse the HMI light?
Litepanels are on a stand within seconds and it’s drastically changed the speed with which I work. It’s tremendously important because you never know the speed that your production will be until you get there. Sometimes producers tell you one thing on the phone and then you get there and things have changed dramatically and you’ve got to do things quickly, maybe even go to a different location.
Would you recommend Gemini 1x1 Hard to other news camera operators?
I would definitely recommend the Gemini 1x1 Hard light. It’s so versatile with the RGB features it has, where I can dial in a gel in an instant. Its output has been great for outdoors, inside behind silks, through all sorts of diffusion, as a soft or hard bounce source.
It feels like you have two 400W HMIs but they’re easy to use LED panels. I sold all my HMIs and these are their replacements.
The Gemini Hard is just as at home pitch side with the NFL as it is inside doing a corporate interview. So versatile and able to stand up to all that the North West can throw at it weatherwise.
It has so much useful output, using a large light bank with multiple baffles creates a beautiful large and soft source. Using the domed diffuser is helpful with lighting large rooms for press conferences or corporate video, again, with the versatility and color balance options of RGB.
It’s just a great light either as a harder source or through diffusion to create that soft look. It’s a great fixture.