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Loneliness, Love and Light: How ‘Her’ Conveys a Familiar (But Futuristic) World

Set in the near future, director Spike Jonze’s Her follows a lonely man whose only connection to the world is through his computer. Captured in ARRIRAW format on an ARRI Alexa Studio camera by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, Her anticipates the future but presents a familiar world based on today’s reality.

Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore in Spike Jonze’s


, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

“We wanted to use as much existing lighting as possible,” explains the film’s chief lighting technician, Cory Geryak. “We shot in a real apartment. We often shot wide open on the Alexa, going back and forth between 800 and 1250 ASA. We tested up to 3200 ASA but it made the background a little too bright and almost unnatural. We played at very low light levels, often shooting at T1.3 or 1.4—very few foot-candles, which was interesting.

“We built a lot of practical lighting into the set that we could actually photograph,” Geryak continues. “We made them out of LED LiteRibbon from LiteGear. We rigged them and then ended up playing at such low light levels that we had to put ND 6 on all of the boxes because they were so bright. We could then dim them in a relatively controlled way. We made all of the boxes out of RGB+W so we could experiment with color quite a bit. The film takes place in a slightly futuristic society and we wanted to play [with] deeper color saturation using the flexibility of an RGB world rather than to have to re-gel the light.”

Geryak also employed ARRI L7 LED fixtures, Fresnels with tunable color and dimming control, for the production. “The first time I used them on set we were shooting a day interior in a tiny bathroom,” he says. “We were looking into a mirror and seeing out the windows, so we had to balance the daylight. We didn’t change the glass in that bathroom, so the windows were really green because of the window tint. We had to match the color and then balance it out in-camera afterwards. I took two of the L7s and bounced them off the ceiling and dialed the green in on the heads. It was a very low ceiling with sprinkler heads, but the L7s were so cool that the sprinkler heads weren’t a problem. It was the perfect tool for how we needed to shoot.

“We did some night exteriors and we were using a lot of existing fixtures,” he says. “When we did want to augment something, we would use the L7s so we could match existing streetlights. Sometimes the streetlights were metal halide or different colors—we were able to dial in the color right there on the L7 rather than changing gels.

“Nowadays you can just start shooting in almost any condition, but I still want to control the image,” Geryak concludes. “Digital is still a tool, and you have to use it in the right way. Just because there is enough exposure, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is appropriate for the storytelling. You want the lighting to serve your story.”