A rock concert yesterday made me ponder on some of the differences between the old and the new ways of lighting a stage.
For some inexplicable reason, modern stage lighting seems not so much focused on illuminating the actual performers as on flashing harmfully bright and narrow coloured beams or flashes into the eyes of the unsuspecting audience at irregular intervals during the concert. How this practice can be even legal is probably a matter of ignorance on the part of lighting technicians and regulating authorities. Sometimes real laser beams are used.
The new LED technology has both advantages and disadvantages.
+ LED uses less energy (if power factor is good) and lasts much longer (if drivers are of good quality and don’t get overheated).
+ LED floodlight does not emit heat in the beam direction as incandescent light does, so performers will not overheated from the lighting.
+ LED diodes are small and versatile and can be used for more creative effects if so desired (as exemplified at the London Olympics).
+ LED diodes are already coloured and directional and do not require coloured filters.
– LED light is much sharper and more laser-like than incandescent light. It’s a sort of digital light that is either on or off, with no softly glowing tungsten filament to ease the transition. It thereby lacks some of the charm of older types of stage lighting and gives a more high-tech effect that is less flattering to performers and much harder on the eyes.
– Cool white light it is horridly harsh, unflattering and a real mood-killer, compared to the warm sunny glow of traditional tungsten light.
– Blue, green and cool-white LED light can damage the retina if bright and beamed directly into the eyes.
My recommendation to stage lighting technicians:
• Rethink the practice of lighting up the audience at all. People come to watch the show, not to be illuminated themselves. Therefore lighting should be directed towards the stage, not be placed at the stage and directed at the audience. If lighting effects on or around the stage are desired, they should be only be decorative (e.g. non-directional, low-lumen dots or panes) and not illuminating.
• Avoid cool white light. Complement the coloured LEDs with halogen floodlights if you want performers to look good on stage. Just a few won’t add that much heat.
• Use blue light sparingly and don’t direct it into people’s eyes.
• Don’t use lasers. If you have to, don’t direct them at any living being.
• Don’t use strobe lights as this can cause epilepsy in susceptible people and is generally irritating.
For the audience I recommend bringing sunglasses as well as ear plugs in order to avoid eye damage until lighting designers have learned how the new technology can be used safely.
Good article about stage lighting with LED: