Practicals in the ceiling provide additional illumination. A hard ceiling on the firehouse set helps create a sense of realism, and the wide-lens approach helps show it off.
One rule of thumb is that the camera always accompanies the characters, never arriving at a fire before the firefighters. For driving shots, Wiegand and her operators are with the characters as they navigate the city streets. Fire truck interiors provide the camera team with a bit more elbow room to light and shoot than a normal vehicle. Fluorescents and LED lights are often the lighting solution in those situations, as well. Mixed color temperatures are part of the show's visual signature.
"I really wanted to make a new, modern-looking show," Wiegand continues. "When I first arrived in Chicago, I was looking for ways to anchor it to the current time period. I walked around with my still camera, and I noticed that there are so many different lighting elements and color temperatures in this city. They're in the process of changing the streetlights to LEDs, so everywhere you look, things don't match. You can be inside a building, and none of the bulbs in the ceiling are the same. It was like that in the real fire station where we shot the pilot. I decided that was something I wanted to show in the series. I'm really aware of that, and I'm constantly mixing color temperatures and fixtures, and I think that will tie it to this time period. Right now, cities and homes are in a transitional period in terms of lighting sources, and I wanted to show that. In five years, big cities will probably be all LEDs."
For the pilot, Wiegand did extensive testing to determine the photographic properties of various fuels and the best methods for shooting fire. Now well into the first season, she has found that fire tests have become part of her routine. She began by studying the penultimate of fire movies, Ron Howard's Backdraft (1991), shot by Mikael Salomon, ASC. That film had also been shot in Chicago, which means that a significant subset of Wiegand's crew worked on it.
An exterior scene of a burning multi-story building, shot on a night with a low-hanging mist, sold Wiegand on the ARRI ALEXA. "Fire is the main reason the ALEXA is the perfect camera for the show," she says. "That night, there was a fog over the city, and you get the bounce-back of the sodium vapor lamps off the low clouds. I had to set the ƒ-stop to catch the detail of the flames, and it held all that detail. You may not be able to get it in one-light dailies, but you have to treat it like a negative. When we went into the online, all that information was there. I could bring those highlights down and open up the shadows. I could see the darkness in the sky and how the sodium vapor was hitting the light fog, and all the detail in the fireballs was visible. It was awesome. I really don't think you could get all that detail with another system. We used some DSLRs locked off for fireball explosions, and they just didn't hold any of the highlight detail. So now, all our extra locked-off stunt cameras are ALEXAs, too."