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Makeup looking "odd" under LED stage lighting?

  • 1.  Makeup looking "odd" under LED stage lighting?

    Posted 08-27-2021 12:41
    I came across similar threads on this forum, but none seemed to tackle the specific issue I'm questioning, so here goes!  :-)

    Our 850-seat theatre is now starting its fifth year since construction, and all of our stage lights (ellipsoidals, PARs, movers, fresnels, spots, floods) are LED from ETC Lighting.

    Well, when we first opened the theatre, my high school drama students in the makeup crew attempted to use traditional makeup methods on our actors (and while their techniques are certainly not that of professionals), I was rather stunned by the post-show comment of one of our audience members who commented how "odd" the makeup looked under the new lighting which was no longer the traditional incandescent, tungsten style of stage lights everyone was used to for years. This commenter had some experience in doing makeup for theatre, and with makeup not being my strong suit, I honestly did not know how to respond.

    That comment has haunted me ever since, and I've been hesitant to even teach older stage makeup techniques with my stagecraft students out of fear that I'm using outdated methods that no longer work well with LED stage lights. I understand that some stage makeup contains micro metallic elements that might look odd under LED lights, but I could use some direction in knowing answers to the following three questions:

    1) Is there a makeup book for beginners that specifically focuses on techniques of stage makeup UNDER LED LIGHTING?  A lot of books were written during times when all stages used older lighting.
    2) Is there a recommended stage makeup brand that works particularly well under LED lighting? I'm guessing the big name players will all say they do, but does anyone know from experience?
    3) Does anyone have any suggestions for straight character makeup under LED lighting they can pass along? I'm looking for advice for the makeup crew, not so much for the lighting crew. I know the two crews definitely go hand in hand, but some other threads kept focusing on changing only the lights, and I'm curious if there are changes to makeup strategies that are recommended as well.

    Thanks, all!  Have a wonderful start to the school year!


    Julie Hanisch
    English/Drama Teacher
    Mukwonago High School

  • 2.  RE: Makeup looking "odd" under LED stage lighting?

    Posted 08-29-2021 22:16

    I understand that this is not what you want to hear, but the threads suggesting that the lighting needs to be changed are not wrong.  Trying to correct for the lighting with the make-up is no different than trying to correct for the lighting with the scenery paint and fabric selections.  The issue could be coming from several things:

    1. The lighting in your Dressing / Make-up Rooms may not be correct color content (Color Rendering Index - CRI, particularly the R9 band, and Correlated Color Temperature - CCT).  The color content of the lighting (this includes both the lamps around the mirrors AND the overhead room lights) may not match they typical Stage Lighting CRI & CCT.  CRI for incandescent stage lights is 100, and should be 95 or greater for LED lamps (many cheap LED lights are waaaaay below this). Typical CCT for TV Studio lighting used to be 3200K (but has largely shifted to 5400K to be compatible with modern digital cameras).  Short-life incandescent stage lamps are typically 3200K, however, most theatres have opted to use the long-life incandescent lamps and they tend to be closer to 2700K (a bit 'warmer' / 'yellower').  Don't confuse 'brightness' with CCT or CRI.  They are three different things.

      Many Dressing / Make-up Rooms have institutional 4400K fluorescent lamps, and they are typically a very poor CRI, around 60-80 CRI.  The lamps for lights surrounding the Make-up mirrors are typically a total random mess, and are often a mixture of 'whatever is available', so you get compact fluorescent (yuck!), incandescent (regular, true white, grow lights, and a hundred other variations), and LED (every brand, make, and model with no thought as to brightness, CRI, or CCT).

      To further compound the problem, many Dressing / Make-up Rooms have walls, floors, and/or ceilings that have been laminated or painted odd colors.  They should all be white or neutral* grey.  If you have any color bias in the surface finishes, then the light reflected from the surfaces will be tinted, too.  *Neutral means it doesn't have a shift towards blue, green, pink, red, purple, yellow, etc. -- a lot of 'grey' paint actually has a color bias, typically towards blue.  Get a photographer's 25%-50% Gray color calibration chart and compare it to your alleged 'gray' paint - you'll be surprised how 'not gray' most grays are!  You can also take the Photographer's gray calibration chart to the paint store to get them to match it.  The same is true for 'white' - get a white paint that is matched to the color calibration card white.

      Fix the color biases and mismatches in your Dressing / Make-up spaces and there will be better results on-stage.

      The same exact advice is true for your design studio, video editing suites, scene shop, and costume shop, too.

      Note that if you are doing lighting and make-up for a TV / Film studio, then all of your lamps / light sources need to be adjusted in CCT upwards to 5400K (typical, or 6500K for outdoor daytime work).
    2. Your new LED stage lights may have presets for the base Color Temperature (CCT) that are not correctly set.  Stark 'winter white' (6500K) is great for a snow storm scene, but reads particularly awful for a morning / evening scene where the low angle sunlight is much warmer (yellower).  Look into your fixture's settings and check to see if they match your incandescent lights (about 2700K).

      If your LED lights do NOT have an adjustable CCT, consider adding Color Correction Filters (CTO filters, or Color Temperature Offset) in the gel frames.  Your gel swatch book will typically have some of these (if not, contact your color media supplier and tell them you need a CTO swatch book).

      If you have multi-color LED lights, as opposed to just WW (Warm White) or CW (Cool White), then you may need to play more with the colors you select to get them to feel warmer and more 'incandescent'.

      If you don't know what you need to get the color correction, then get a set of sample sheets large enough to fill a gel frame and set-up a small light lab to learn (along with your students!).  You just need a dark room with a white wall and one of your LED fixtures and one of your incandescent fixtures set-up side-by-side about 10-20 feet from the wall.  Swap-out the CTO filters to see which ones get the LED light to look as close to the incandescent light.  This is also a good time to observe the 'red-shift' of an incandescent lamp as it is dimmed.  Some LED fixtures can emulate this, but most cannot.

      Note:  You can also do the reverse experiment:  There are CTO filters that will shift the warm incandescent light upwards to a cooler CCT, too.  This is how the movie studios created 'stark white' from incandescent lamps before the introduction of arc lamps and LED lamps.
    3. Make-up is make-up.  If your lighting is consistent throughout your production process (design studio, costume shop, make-up mirrors, scene shop, and stage), then the likelihood of colors (scenery, costumes, make-up) looking correct in the final presentation is greatly increased.
    4. If you or your students are interested in video/film recording and playback, then there is a whole world of information available about calibrating cameras, video monitors, and video projectors to have accurate color capture and reproduction.  This is vital to achieving a consistent 'look' throughout the creation, editing, and presentation process (including animation!).  In film/video editing suites the color of the room illumination and the room surfaces affect what you perceive on the video display, just like it does in the make-up room.
    5. Houselights and the colors of the auditorium surfaces can all affect the perception of color on the stage.

      Many venues have color schemes that are counter-productive to the audiences' ability to maintain focus on the presentation.  This involves both surface brightness (bright colored walls and ceilings near the proscenium) and color bias (red or green walls shifting the color of the light reflected off of them - the darker the surface, the less the color shifting effect is).

      Many facilities have poorly designed LED houselight systems (both new venue and renovated venues).  If the houselight system specifier does not understand the basic concepts of stage lighting, then they frequently choose LEDs that are not a compatible CCT and/or CRI, so the houselighting will appear markedly different than the stage lighting.

      This also happens frequently with the LED aisle lights on the ends of the seat standards, where the houselights are a nice warm 2700K, and the aisle lights are a glaring 5400K (who'da thought that someone building products specifically for use in a theatre wouldn't get this simple concept?  Yet here we are!)  Fortunately, you can gel the aisle lights just like you can a stage lights . . . it's just a tedious process.

    Erich Friend
    Theatre Consultant
    Teqniqal Systems LLC

  • 3.  RE: Makeup looking "odd" under LED stage lighting?

    Posted 08-31-2021 13:31
    I get intensely 'thoughtful' on the topic of stage makeup. You might legitimately need it in a house of your size to bring out the actors' faces, and if so I apologize for my irrelevant comment. My house seats 200 and is intimate enough that, between the closeness, the cost of supply, and the COVID, we have not used anything but powder, blush, and lip color in two years (and the very occasional age lines). We have LED lighting too, and haven't had any comments like yours (yet).

    On one hand, I can be relieved at saving the makeup budget and the prep time pre-show. Then there's the 'teacher voice' that tells me I should not exclude this traditional 'essential' of doing a show.

    If you don't have that teacher voice, or are tempted to ignore it, maybe try it without makeup for a show and see how they look? Just make sure to powder those sweaty and oily faces!

    Josh Kauffman
    Teacher, Thespian Society/Drama Club sponsor
    Winfield City Schools
    Winfield, AL

  • 4.  RE: Makeup looking "odd" under LED stage lighting?

    Posted 08-31-2021 08:01

    Thank you for such a detailed, helpful response. I am open to learning about whatever makes the makeup/lighting marriage better, so I will run your ideas past our technical director who handles our lighting and will check out a number of your suggestions. I was hoping it was more of a makeup fix, but after reading your analysis, I can readily accept that the lighting has more to do with it than I thought. 

    Seriously, THANK YOU for such a detailed response to help educate me (and others on the forum) further about this process. Your time and ideas are most appreciated!

    Julie Hanisch

    Julie Hanisch

    MHS English/Drama Teacher
    MHS Drama Club Director/Advisor
    MHS Thespian Troupe Advisor
    Mukwonago High School, rm. 41
    605 W. Veterans Way
    Mukwonago, WI 53149
    262-363-6200, x25041


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