Open Forum

LED lights and makeup

  • 1.  LED lights and makeup

    Posted 01-28-2019 14:08
    going from the middle school cafetorium with halogen lights I've pieced together for the last 25 years to a brand new state of the art theatre with LED lights. Any helpful hints for costuming and /or makeup!?

    Mary Todd Kaercher
    Mound MN

  • 2.  RE: LED lights and makeup

    Posted 01-29-2019 06:26
    As in any situation I would suggest seeing these items in the light, make sure to include your lighting designer in all design discussions, the LEDs have some wiggle room to adjust the look of make up and costumes, play play, play

    once you define a white color light you like keep it

    Jerry Onik
    V.P. Theatrical Supplies and Equipment
    Omaha NE

  • 3.  RE: LED lights and makeup

    Posted 01-29-2019 07:54
    We did the same two years ago in our cafetorium.   The lighting designer who installed them spent a few days training myself and the students, though the most helpful thing to me was programming several color mixes on the board and saving them on the submasters so that we can easily mix during tech rehearsal (I do parade of costumes as early as I can to get a good read on the colors and give myself time to find something else if needed).
      I recommend printing out/ordering the manual for your board and keeping it on hand. Ours is 20 years old and we didn't have/need the manual with the old can lights, but it has been a lifesaver as we adjusted to the new tech!

    Rebecca Hardin
    Secondary Drama Teacher
    The Christian School ta Castle Hills
    San Antonio TX

  • 4.  RE: LED lights and makeup

    Posted 01-29-2019 16:44

    Consider revamping your Dressing / Make-up Rooms so the surfaces are color-neutral (white/gray, no color tint) on the floor walls, ceiling, and countertops; and replacing the lighting (both overhead and around the mirrors) with high Color Rendering Index (CRI >90) lamps that are a close match for the color temperature of your LED lights (most theatrical LED lights are ~2800-3000K, but some aren't!).  This will make make-up application and design easier.

    Similarly, redo the Scenery Shop and Costume Shops the same way, as this will make choosing fabrics and scenic paints much easier.

    (Insert shameless plug here: we consult on the particulars of achieving these goals and the design of make-up / dressing mirror lighting.)

    Erich Friend
    Theatre Consultant
    Teqniqal Systems

  • 5.  RE: LED lights and makeup

    Posted 01-31-2019 13:07
    So many issues here.  I'm not so much addressing Mary directly here – it seems like she has come up with a workable situation – but more so anyone who is reading this with an interest to get a full LED system installed in their theatre.  Think twice.

    Here goes a mini lighting lesson for anyone considering installing a full LED system…


    It doesn't matter what the light source is. Light color affects your costumes, sets and makeup regardless of what source it comes from – whether you have gelled incandescent lights for areas, washes, etc or whether you have 'color-changing' LED instruments for areas and washes.  A green light will always make a red costume look black, regardless of the light source, because…physics.

    I agree with Erich – and I endorse his shameless plug! Hire him! – make surfaces in your shop and dressing rooms a neutral color as he described.  And another shameless plug, my LITT course on lighting has a lesson called "Gels; Lighting Sets and Costumes".  You can see the course info at:


    Not that you would often use a "white" LED light, but, when you dim a "white" LED light it doesn't become warm like incandescents do.  Think of a fire.  An incandescent lamp has a filament which burns.  It's a 'black burning body' - like a fire.  The hottest flames are in the middle and they are "white".  The cooler flames are on the outside and they look more "amber".  When you are in the bright sun you see "white" light.  When you are around a fire place you see "amber" light.  It's not only physics, but it's also human psychology.  When you dim a "white" LED light, it decreases in intensity, but it stays "white".  In fact, it looks pretty dull and grey.  If you've ever seen an eclipse you'll know what I mean - that eerie light that dims but doesn't 'warm'.

    So while you're likely to be using a plethora of colors with LED lights (which is the AWESOME thing about them!), and not "white" be aware of this dimming phenomenon. For this reason I never recommend LED lights as area lights.  They are great for cycs and side washes, etc, but not for faces.


    As Jerry mentioned in his comment "once you define a white color light you like keep it".  Once a lighting installer sets a color for the "white" area lights, unless you know how to change the colors, it's likely not to change, which will in turn affect the color of your sets, costumes and makeup.  When I design with incandescents I typically use R51 for area lights (if it's not a McCandless set up), but if M…(that Scottish play) comes along, I might use something like R02, as I want it to be more 'dingy' looking.  If I'm designing a musical I'll use R30-something, because I want it to look haaaappy!  Yes, you can make these changes with LEDs too, but only if you know how, but not if you will forever be keeping a color that a lighting installer once set up for you.

    You should also be aware that because changes in the area light colors changes the set, costume and makeup colors, you should be able to change your "white" light (there really is no such thing as "white" light in the theatre).  Which is why it's important in production meetings for all designers to discuss the color "palette" of the production.  You want your area color choices (be they incandescent or LEDs) to enhance the set, costume and makeup colors, not dull them.  If you just have one color area light that you're always keeping, then, yes, it may look great for some set, costume and makeup colors for one play's color palette, but dull for another play's color palette.


    Which brings me to this point, for those of you reading this with an interest to install your own full LED system, heed Rebecca's words:  "The lighting designer who installed them spent a few days training…the most helpful thing to me was programming several color mixes on the board and saving them on the submasters so that we can easily mix during tech rehearsal".

    For all that training, and for all the state-of-the-art instruments and light board, she is now using the board as a manual board.  Rebecca likely has an Element or Ion light board(?), but instead of being able to use it to it's full potential, is now using it as a manual board, because after days of training, it's still too complicated to use. This isn't any fault of Rebecca's, it's the fault of the system that doesn't provide Drama teachers with a lighting "coach" (from another discussion) to educate her students on lighting theory and technology.

    This scenario is almost exactly the same as a situation that I had with a middle school theatre, which I relay in my book High School Theatre Operations.  Here's the excerpt for you (the board I refer to is an Ion): "I've seen too many theatre designs go to complete waste and not used to their full potential because the design was not suitable to the users' abilities or budget. For instance, one school I worked at had a (mega overkill, ultra expensive) state-of-the-art light board installed with a complete system of programmable LED lights in their 100-seat theatre. I suspect the architect was concerned about energy and environmental design, and rightly so, but the system was so complicated that no one had used the theatre's lighting system for the first year and a half of the school's operation. For a start no one knew how to turn off the stage lights (all of the lights had been left programmed to come on when the board was turned on and they didn't know how to create a blackout) let alone operate the lights individually. So my techs and I re-hung and focused the lights and programmed the whole system for them in a simpler format that they could operate manually. That system will never be used to its full potential in such a preliminary learning environment and cost the school district hundreds of thousands of dollars."

    I did exactly what it seems Rebecca's lighting installer did – set up some 'looks' that were most likely to be needed on the sub faders, so that the user can now control the board manually for their performances.  And this was because this state-of-the-art board was installed without any thought to staffing – who would run and maintain it, who would teach the students every year, who would provide lighting for productions.  Ideally every high school theatre would be staffed by tech "coaches" to deal with and teach all this technology, like their sports department is staffed by sports coaches, but this one was not, so, as I mentioned, no one had used the lighting system for the first year and a half.  That's crazy!

    For the record, I'm not against the technology, I'm against admin and architects installing high-tech systems in their high school theatres and then not providing the ongoing staffing for their operation and education.  (Providing a quick training for a high school Drama teacher and a few students doesn't cut it - unless that teacher is already "technologically inclined").


    I understand one of the reasons why architects want to spec all LED systems in school theatres – because of the energy savings – but when you think about it, when do you ever have all of your productions lights on, and for how long do you have them on during the day?  Even a long tech rehearsal only runs a few hours of the day.  (If you do have all of your production lights on – get some worklights – get LED worklights!  I once worked in a theatre that would throw a switch that turned on all of their production lights, which they used as worklights all day.  I calculated they were using around 120,000watts of power, not to mention the expense of burned out lamps and gels.)  Yes, in that case LEDs would have saved them power.


    If you're reading this and thinking about getting a full LED system, that's great, it certainly seems to be the wave of the future, but only do so if your school or district has planned ahead about providing your students with an education suitable for the system – it may be you who knows how to use it and teach it every year, or a CTE Tech Theatre teacher, or a Theatre Manager and/or technicians.  As I mentioned, Mary has come up with a workable system. But if you are considering installing a full LED system, but don't have that future ongoing support from your district, sure, get some LEDs for you and your students to learn from, but a whole state-of-the-art system that's just going to become a manual system with set color choices because no one has been provided to operate it, is money better spent on other things in your program.

    Beth Rand, EBMS
    Educational Lighting Designer
    School Theatre Operations Coach
    Westminster, CO

  • 6.  RE: LED lights and makeup

    Posted 01-31-2019 14:34
    Thank you so much! This is exactly what I was looking for. We have LED costume shop and makeup mirrors that we can program to match our light pallet AND a 20 year old former student and currant college student who attended all the trainings, haunts the pac at night and loves teaching students and teachers what he learns. I'll let you know how many times I want to hang him from the battons from now until April, but he knows stuff. 
    Mary Todd Kaercher