Skip to main content

LED Lighting in News Gathering.

How has LED lighting changed the way that broadcast lighting camera operators tackle their daily challenges? We asked three prominent professionals for their insights. Keith Jacobsen (KJ), Ed Lister (EL), and Dave Young (DY) responded with stories about how they bring world events to our screens, revealed their signature tips and tricks, recalled sage advice from their mentors, and offered some advice based on their years of experience.

How did you get started in broadcast?

KJ: I’ve always wanted to be a cameraman from a very young age. The way TV was made fascinated me – any behind the scenes reports would have me glued to the screen and I would often be more interested in the way a program was made rather than the actual content of the show. I would write to the Director General of the BBC and the Chairman of Thames Television from around the age of 8 asking to see inside their television studios – I would wait to watch the credits roll to see who the camera operators were and hope that one day I too would have my name on screen. My dad was very keen that I learned about the world and we would watch news and documentaries together. Very soon I could start to see the differences in the way things were shot by different operators, but there was one particular current affairs program that stood head and shoulders above the others. “World In Action” made by Granada TV in Manchester. The camera operator for most of it was George Jesse-Turner – his style of shooting was so natural – it was like you were actually in the room with the subject of the documentary, or out on location with him. No need for false cut-aways, no crash zooms, no fast cuts, natural light where possible. I’m sure most of the kids in my school were watching something else, but for me 8:30 on a Monday evening was just sublime, informative, well-made television.

Fast forward and the rare opportunity to become a trainee camera operator with BBC Television came along. I was incredibly fortunate to get accepted and it was the start of an amazing career that was the stuff of dreams.

The BBC taught me everything I needed to know about how to ‘operate’ a camera, but it was George Jesse-Turner who, without ever meeting me, taught me how to tell a story with a camera. I try take the viewer on the same journey and make them feel part of the subject. Thank you, George. You have no idea just how influential you were to me. I owe you many beers!

DY: I worked as a photographer for magazines inc. The Guardian, Independent, Observer, Telegraph, TIME, plus ad agencies for 15 years. My first film won a Channel 4 short documentary competition back in 2007 and C4 commissioned me to make more.

EL: I started out assisting and just helping out on small shoots in Manchester, learning on the job as I went along. Got involved with as many projects as I could meeting as many people as physically possible working my way up over the years to where I am now.

I’m constantly building my network circles, always hungry to learn more and I still carry on this ethos!

What does a typical day look like for you? Is there such a thing?

DY: It depends who I’m working for but if it’s Channel 4 News and I’m deployed on a project, I’ll either be making contacts on the ground or a producer from the office may have set something up for me. In terms of shooting, I always shoot alone and must make a sequence out of whatever I’m faced with. It could be a simple interview which I have to find ways to illustrate visually so it’s not a boring talking head. If it’s a fluid situation that I find myself in, I have to gain the trust of people I’ve just met and then film enough that will edit into a sequence that gets across their story in an authentic and compelling way. So diplomacy, agility and understanding how it will edit to make sense narratively and visually are essential.

EL: My day varies so much job to job but that’s what I l love about it, nothings ever the same and variety is what keeps everything so fresh. If I’m doing a shoot for live breakfast news, I’ll be up at around 3am, drive to location for around 5, wrapped and eating breakfast by 10ish. I travel a lot for work and often alone so I could be battling my way through customs unpacking V-lock batteries or checking in my Astras on my way to shoot a commercial somewhere overseas.

KJ: The great thing about working in tv news is that there is no typical day. It’s a lifestyle that isn’t for everyone, but for me I absolutely love it!  I’ll get a phone call from a news desk that sometimes starts “how long will it take you to get to {location}…?” and I’ll jump in the car. Sometimes it’s a shoot with a celebrity, other times it’s gathering material for a story that’s just breaking. You just never know.

On one occasion I was sent to shoot a preview piece at Silverstone Circuit about the upcoming F1 season – I had the reporter sitting in an F1 car on the track ready to do a piece to camera when my phone started ringing. I silenced it and carried on shooting. It rang again. And again. Eventually I answered and was asked “Have you got your passport with you? Leave Silverstone NOW and get to Heathrow. There’s been a terrible tornado in Oklahoma. You’re on the next available flight. Breakfast want as long a package as you can give them”.

What’s the best piece of advice you have been given by a mentor?

EL: Have the confidence to be vocal if you feel something isn’t quite right or not quite how you want it to be, 100% don’t be scared to make others wait on set till you are happy with the situation.

KJ: “Dare to be different”.

Astra behind the scenes

Let’s turn it around, what is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting out?

EL: If you don’t ask, you don’t get!  Don’t be afraid to talk to peers, ask for help, advice and favours. This industry is a massive people orientated one so go hustle however you can! We all started at the bottom.

DY: Keep it simple and make it look real…like you didn’t light it.

KJ: Always go on “two”… No, seriously, I would tell myself to take as much care of my mental health as I would my physical health. Shooting news, you often see the best life has to offer, but you also see the very worst. Reach out for help when you need it and if you’re feeling fine, check on your colleague. Your “hey, how are you feeling?” might be the very thing they need to hear.

What is your (camera) weapon of choice?

DY: Canon C300-3. It does everything I need in one small package and makes lovely images. I went to the US for a fast turnaround “Dispatches” and it was the only camera I took as I knew it would work in any environment. It works well in low light; I can use the 16mm crop sensor to double the length of my lens and I love its slow motion. In some sensitive environments I use Panasonic GH5 to be as low profile as possible.

KJ: My main camera is the Sony PMW-F5. This camera is all things to everyone – it’s one of the most fantastic cameras that I have used in many years. I shoot news in HD, then shoot a film for cinema release in 2K and then a documentary in 4K – all on the same camera. There isn’t a camera out at the moment that I would consider replacing it with. A lot of people, especially those coming into the industry, think that if they have the latest ‘fad’ camera then they will be amazing, and work will come streaming in because they have that camera. No. You don’t choose a restaurant because they have a funky new cooker. You go there because the chef gets the best out of the ingredients they are given.

EL: I’ve mainly used my Sony FS7 with the Fujinon MKs which I absolutely love using, it’s a truly Swiss army knife setup. I use various ENG cameras for the live OB / ENG work which will be in the satellite truck from base. I also use The ARRI Amira a lot for higher end music and commercial work as it has so much to offer in terms of a beautiful looking image especially where skin tones are concerned.

What features of the Astra 1×1 panels are particularly useful to you?

KJ: The Astra 6X is incredibly powerful, and the fact I can run it on battery or mains is a great advantage over my previous tungsten filament lighting kit. The variable colour temperature of the Astra 6X is constant throughout its intensity range. I’ll admit that it was something that concerned me before I started using them. Would I have to keep white balancing the camera as the power changed? I needn’t have worried. Even when I use the Astra 6X on batteries, I can run it at full power for a good couple of hours – so handy when doing live injects into rolling news channels as you can’t keep switching lights on and off in case the studio throws to you unexpectedly. The physical size and weight of the Astra 6X means I now no longer have to sacrifice lighting kit when travelling abroad – budgets are always tight and excess baggage fees are a pain to claim back, so you always end up leaving kit behind to save money. Lighting is usually the first casualty. I know that even if I only take on Astra with me, I have enough lighting power for the majority of the shoot.

DY: I love the fact I can use it fast anywhere. I only ever use with Anton/Bauer Titon batteries so gone are the days of looking for the nearest power socket possibly running a 50m extension lead! I can deploy it quickly and dim it to the required output without worrying about flicker.

EL: The versatility and the absolute robustness is without a doubt my favourite feature of the Astra. It’s perfect for ANYTHING you can possibly throw at it… I use them every day on literally every scenario and I know they are not going to let me down. Stood up in absolutely torrential rain reporting on storms and severe flooding, snow and blizzards not giving an inch – The next day I’ve had them with me lighting the latest Rolls Royce model on a commercial.

Not only is it a heavy hitting Led 1×1 Its also such a nice beauty light that you can use to flatteringly illuminate your talent. I find them great on skin tones with a truly unbeatable colour accuracy… Not many LED panels offer that versatility. I find many other models can be really harsh on skin tones and nowhere near as natural in colour. I’m genuinely skeptical of other LED panels now.

Also, the fact they are flicker free for shooting high frame rates is a great get out of jail free card. I could go on ranting forever about how much I love my Astras.

Astra being used during the night

Talking of ‘get out of jail free’ can you tell us an example of a challenge that Astra helped you to overcome?

EL: Many times, I’ve arrived at our location way before sunrise, we have been instructed the night before it’s a really good viewpoint of something related to our story, yet its still absolutely PITCH black upon arrival for us so the context is completely lost… We covered all of the really bad flooding the UK had last year, one morning in the town of ‘Ironbridge’ the water had reached a truly unbelievable level… the actual bridge due to be in shot, was totally invisible due to the lack of light, so we placed an Astra either side of it to cross and up light sections to make it visible in the back of shot. Two more Astras were used to light the talent in the foreground, unbelievably they were powerful enough to give the shot! I’ve done this on a number of occasions with buildings and landmarks that get used as a backdrop for the super early reports. I’m amazed every single time by the power and ability to do so! (Plus living in northern England its usually hammering down with rain so again they really have been put through their paces).

KJ: With the current Covid restrictions, the last year or so hasn’t given much opportunity to rise to the challenge that every camera operator dreads – the helpful PR people who have arranged for a press conference to take place in front of a massive window, with the sun behind the speaker. It will happen, as sure as night follows day.

In anticipation of this event, I deliberately shot a reporter conducting a Zoom interview with a big picture window behind her. I used two out of my three Astra 6X panels to balance the lighting and I was genuinely surprised just how effective they were. They really do have a lot of punch when needed!

DY: I make a lot of films with medics talking about Covid. Recently I made a film all shot at night, mostly in outdoor car parks. I was able use the Astra as a key light and use the environmental carpark light to add to the feel. I also used a Gemini 1×1 outputting blue to add mood. Both were on Titon batteries and never failed, even in the rain.

Covid segues us neatly to the next question. How has social distancing affected your work?

KJ: We have all had to adapt the way we work since Covid – maintaining social distancing is just common sense. The additional power that Astra 6X delivers is useful when you have to add an extra two metres to the distance between yourself and equipment from the subject you’re shooting. As mentioned before, that fact that the Astra 6X can run at full power on batteries for prolonged periods is a great asset. I’m not in a contributor’s house, unplugging their fridge or fish tank to use mains for extra brightness because the Astra 6X will deliver the same output whether mains or battery operated.

DY: I carry 2 x Astras and 1 x Gemini in my car on all shoots and know I’m covered for most eventualities. More often than not I’m in low light environments at this time of year and knowing they dim right down without colour change or flicker means I can get shots I couldn’t always achieve in the past. Being small I can usually fit them in even small spaces and by using batteries only I avoid touching power sockets in people’s homes.

EL: Social distancing has meant fewer bodies on set, the fact that Astra is really good for traveling makes them perfect for me. I had to fly over to a few places during the pandemic for stories and the fact it was only me and the reporter meant as little gear as possible. I knew the Astra would 100% have my back for wherever we ended up and whatever the location would be. Its build quality also means keeping it clean and wiping down post shoot properly is no issue to me as the weather sealing allows this without worry.

Astra being used for news gatherring

Which light shaping accessories do you use and why?

EL: I love the softbox for the Astra, it just makes things even more beautiful. plus, the best thing about it is it’s way less of a faff to attach than any other soft box I’ve ever used to attach. It’s a game changer to have as a quick add on! Also, I love the egg crate, when you really need your source super directional and any spill controlled.

DY: Softbox and grid for extra modelling on a contributor’s face. Barndoors to flag the wall behind an interviewee, making for a much more pleasing shot.

KJ: I inherited some softboxes from a colleague when he retired and being a typical northerner, I don’t like to waste anything or throw something away that may still have a use, so they have been adapted to fit my Astra’s! They a great for giving a softer, flattering light for presenters I work with but they are also handy when shooting live stand ups at night or early morning because despite the intensity control, you may need more “oompf” but a flatter light.


Our panel have all reached the top of their game but have taken different routes to get there; this has shaped their own unique perspective of the fascinating life of a lighting camera operator.  Common themes were highlighted in our conversation; adaptability, versatility, innovation, knowledge, hard work and an appreciation for storytelling with no distractions – and we learned that everybody loves a softbox.

Meet the Pros

Keith Jacobsen, Freelance Lighting Camera Operator, BBC & ITV, UK

I’m a news junkie, hockey loving, tea drinking, proudly Liverpudlian lighting cameraman who is passionate about well-made television, with over 30 years’ experience in the broadcast industry …. And I’m also the best camera supervisor in my price range.

I was staff for many years with BBC TV, ITN and Al Jazeera but after a severe bout of self-doubt and depression I took the bull by the horns, quit my staff job and ventured out into the freelance world in order to take back control of my working life and mental health. I’ve never looked back. Since then I’ve worked on everything from ‘BBC Breakfast’ to ‘Coronation Street’, ‘NASCAR’ to Rugby Union, ‘House of Games’ to ‘Mrs Browns Boys’.

Website | Instagram | Linkedin

Ed Lister, Freelance Lighting Camera Operator, ITV News, UK

I’m a hugely enthusiastic, yet pretty laid-back lighting camera operator from Manchester. I truly enjoy the hard work put in on every single job taken on. I love hanging out with like-minded creatively driven individuals over a brew / cold beer!

I work on a real variety of shows which is my favourite part of being freelance, I shoot a lot on location with ITV covering shows such as Good Morning Britain and ITV News. I also work with the BBC quite a lot shooting for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra which is a real privilege. Occasionally BBC sport too with Football Focus. I have had the pleasure of shooting on CNBCs The Edge a number of times recently too which is a fantastic show with a top team behind it! I also shoot a lot of high-end branded content and commercials too.


Dave Young, Freelance Filmmaker, BBC & Channel 4, UK

After years as a documentary stills photographer, I began making documentaries for TV. I had a spell making ads and corporate films and still do some but I’m very happy as a freelance film-maker making current affairs documentaries as I’m love telling stories of ordinary folk and trying to highlight important issues. I’ve worked on films for Panorama, Dispatches, Newsnight and Channel 4 News. I’ve been really lucky to have kept working for C4 News throughout the pandemic. They are such a lovely professional team. I’ve witnessed a lot in the last year. I filmed 18 month old twins joined at the head since birth being separated in a series of marathon operations at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital. I was deployed to Brighton when the first UK covid cases appeared there and I’ve just been back and made another film a year on. I went to Georgia, USA for Dispatches as the US Election which was epic despite almost no sleep for five days.


Our Brands