Atlantic Illumination Entertainment Lighting

Lighting Essays



Opposition to using blue
lights for the backstage

by Richard Bonner

  I have a major dislike regarding the usage of blue lamps for the colour of worklights backstage during performances Yes, they look pretty and provide a nice atmosphere, but one exception(*) aside, they are impractical. The reasons are several:

    Notation Reading. Those persons that use blue ink on white paper to make notes in a script or on separate paper will find it fine until trying to read those notes under blue lighting. The paper will present a blue background making the contrast between it and blue ink much lower. If blue LEDs are used, the effect is even worse because LEDs radiate at a narrower range of frequencies than a blue-filtered light bulb. If the ink colour happens to match that of the LED, the words will almost disappear!

    Discerning the Colours of Script Tabs. It is very common for stage managers and script readers to use sticky tabs to denote certain aspects within a script. A very wide array of colours is now available, so with a complex script it is not unusual for that manager to use this full spectrum of tab colours. Under blue lighting, these colours will alter. Some will appear to be the same as others, or similar enough to be so close in shade that errors will be made -- especially between certain colours of blue and green tabs.

    Spike Tape Reading. Spike tape is used for a variety of purposes on stage, and sometimes off stage. Because this product also comes in a range of colours, under blue lighting some will alter (again, especially blue and green), to a point where they become harder to discern. Also, if blue ink has been used to write on the tape so as to further instruct stage crews, it will be hard to read under blue lighting, if not impossible.

    Night Vision. Ask astronomers, aircraft pilots, search & rescue crews, military personnel, or any professional that needs to work in the dark and preserve night vision. They will all state that they do not use blue lighting. This is because it affects their viewing when in dark locations. They actually use long-wavelength red light, but stage personnel cannot do that because this too would alter colours. Thus, a low-wattage, low colour-temperature, full-spectrum light source is the best compromise.

(*) The exception mentioned earlier regards those that like to mark scripts with highlighter pens using fluorescent ink. These colours will stand out under blue lighting, especially under blue LEDs. One can also get sticky tabs in fluorescent colours. However, the disadvantages outlined above outweigh this possible usage of blue worklights, in my opinion.


    For the shows where I have control over backstage lighting, I always employ low-wattage incandescent lamps in opaque-shaded fixtures in which the reflectors have been painted flat black. Why?

  1. Low wattage lamps are less bright, so light stays localised.
      (This better maintains night vision by
        reducing the expanse of lit areas.)

  2. Opaque-shades contain the light.
      (Light is more precisely controlled within a specific area.)

  3. Black reflectors eliminate spillage.
      (Lessens or removes light glowing
        into an audience and into the
        eyes of backstage crew members.)

  4. Low-wattage incandescent lamps radiate less blue.
      (Preserves night vision.)

    See: Worklight Kit for more thoughts.

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