DP and Educator Bill Holshevnikoff reflects on seeing light and the changing tech behind it all.

Known as one of the world’s preeminent lighting educators for almost three decades now, Bill Holshevnikoff says that one of the things he will warn his many workshop students about right off the bat is that once you start to understand how light works, you will never be able to see it any other way. “It becomes almost a subconscious thing,” he laughs. “It’s like showing the magic behind a trick; once you see how it’s done, you can’t really un-do it.” 

Based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, the Emmy-award winning DP/Lighting Designer first began his love affair with light as a still photographer. He says that once he learned how to create mood simply by manipulating the nature and quality of light, it changed the way that he saw the world forever. “From that point on,” he explains, “I was just kind of addicted.” As a young photographer, he first began a relationship with Chimera as far back as the mid-eighties. He worked closely on a series of instructional videos with lighting educator Dean Collins, who excitedly introduced him to the Chimera Lighting company as they began work on a series of Lightbanks for the film and video production world.

“I can’t NOT see shadows, I can’t NOT see highlights. It’s kind of affected my brain for good.” 

His own personal lighting kit consists of a duffel bag loaded with Chimera light banks that has been around the world with him several times over. Holshevnikoff has even collaborated with Chimera on a series of incredibly natural cucoloris background patterns (Chimera Window Patterns) that he always carries with him as well. Otherwise, he will work out in advance what is needed for each project per the budget. “I never wanted to be a full-time gaffer and have a huge inventory of gear to take care of and fix all of the time,” he explains, “so I stayed away from getting heavy in the gear department.”

He now counts a number of high-end clients like ESPN, Mercedes-Benz, Marriott Resorts, Disney and National Geographic, as well as an incredibly versatile roster of short films, broadcast work, industrials and commercial work. Recently, he completed his first feature-length film, and currently finds himself busy with a range of high-budget studio production work, offset by location shoots with a minimalist setup the very next day. 

While most DPs rely on a staid kit, Holshevnikoff thanks his busy workload for keeping him on his toes, and he finds just as much comfort in working with only a key light as he does in fully fleshing out complex lighting designs. “I can’t NOT see shadows,” he says. “I can’t NOT see highlights. It’s kind of affected my brain for good.” He seems to approach each job with the same logical, intuitive thinking that has helped to shape his career as an educator. 

“Often,” he explains, “I’m on location somewhere in the world where I don’t have a choice of lighting instruments or grip equipment. I have no choice but to use what they have, or what they have brought for the day. So I’ve learned to adapt.”

“Often,” he explains, “I’m on location somewhere in the world where I don’t have a choice of lighting instruments or grip equipment. I have no choice but to use what they have, or what they have brought for the day. So I’ve learned to adapt.” If he does have a choice, he prefers a combination of the clean, strong light from a Fresnel or HMI, along with a variety of tools for creating softer sources – such as the Chimera Lightbank. But Holshevnikoff is also embracing the changes in technology. While he definitely has his reservations when it comes to the “soft light” of many current LED solutions, he’s also very enthusiastic about the energy saving, game-changing technology. 

“It’s not like this LED thing is going away,” he says. “It’s getting refined and it’s better and better each year. For many situations, both on-location and in-studio, the newest LED lighting solutions offer so much control and a range of color manipulation that we could not achieve previously. But the 18,000 Watt ARRI HMI? There’s nothing that can even get close to doing what that light can do, at least not that I’ve seen so far. Tungsten will probably be pushed to the wayside much sooner, but I think that the bigger HMIs are going to be around until LEDs can match or exceed what they do now.” 

Still, the low power consumption is a huge draw for him, no pun intended, and he has found himself using LED lights much more frequently as the technology matures. He gushes that an entire feature film can be shot now by using LED instruments on location without needing a generator, which was previously unheard of during his career. Holshevnikoff does of course still use legacy lighting instruments, like tungsten Fresnels and one of his favorite HMI instruments, the ARRI M-18. He says that he has done a lot of lighting for resorts and travel locations where the glow of a powerful HMI can come in very handy in lighting interiors and exteriors. 

“…Today, a traditional 650w Fresnel might cost you $400 and the equivalent in LED is going to cost you closer to $2,000!”

“We’re in the infancy of the LED world,” he says, “and it’s going to take quite a while in my opinion, like any new technology, before these lights are not so expensive and can match what the old original instruments can do. Today, a traditional 650w Fresnel might cost you $400 and the equivalent in LED is going to cost you closer to $2,000!” Holshevnikoff is aware that there are cheaper models on the market, but he quickly points out that you may get what you pay for with the subpar electronics and multiple diode arrays found in more affordable LED models.

Prior to the ubiquitousness of the Internet, Holshevnikoff offered nationwide workshops and his own Power of Lighting series of lighting tutorials. He still does his workshops, though he no longer tours the US to offer them. “It’s honestly difficult to get a big crowd anymore,” he admits. “I’ve been doing them for probably close to 25 years now, around the world, and these days so much is on YouTube and online. Everybody and their sister is coming out with their own education series, so it’s harder and harder to get a crowd.”

When he was younger, however, in true rock star fashion, Holshevnikoff traveled the US four times over, hitting roughly thirty cities per tour. “It was nuts!” he exclaims. “It was a great experience, but as the years went on that became a bit less fun. And the airlines have made that impossible now, so I have to have gear shipped in and/or request it from whoever is hosting the event.” Instead, he’s been concentrating his efforts on uploading the content of his historic workshops bit-by-bit to his website, http://www.videolightingtechniques.com, where burgeoning cinematographers and gaffers can peruse and download content as needed. Eventually he plans on introducing a nominal fee, but in the meantime, the online posts are more of a response to the many pirated versions of his videos that he says are easily found online, sometimes even dubbed in Russian and other languages. 

“…the online posts are more of a response to the many pirated versions of his videos that he says are easily found online, sometimes even dubbed in Russian and other languages. “

Holshevnikoff says that he has refined a vast amount of material over his many years of doing these workshops, which cover roughly 6-7 hours of material per class. He also talks a lot about newer technologies and shifts in the industry as larger sensors with better light sensitivities come more and more into play, which obviously has a big effect on lighting needs. “A term that we’ve used a lot over the years is edu-tainment,” he mentions with another laugh. “I try to keep it entertaining for the people that have a tremendous amount of knowledge and are just there to pick up a tip or two, while also not losing the entry level newbies that are straight out of high school or college. It’s kind of an interesting balancing act and, like I said, I’ve been doing this  for so long now that I think I’ve refined my workshop into a really solid presentation. And I still love teaching!”

Our thanks to Bill for taking the time to give amazing insight on his work and educational experience. Come by and meet him in person this year at NAB this year, in the Chimera Booth, #C5640! You can follow Bill on Instagram as @bholshev99.bh, Twitter (@poweroflighting), and make sure to like Power of Lighting on Facebook!