Whether you’re doing gigs with your band or you’re a DJ doing drive-in shows, lighting is an essential component for the right atmosphere. But what kind of stage lighting creates that right kind of vibe for your event? Pars, blinders, strobes, moonflowers, derby effects, moving heads, scanners, lasers, halogen lights, LED lighting…it’s intimidating how many options there are to choose from. Guest blogger Bo Janssens helps you figure out your ideal on-stage lighting set-up.
Table of Contents
- First things first
- Types of stage lighting
- Fixed light
- Conventional (halogen) pars
- LED ’Pars’
- Single LED versus multi-LED chips
- LED bars
- Stroboscopes and blinders
- Lighting effects
- Smoke Machines: a great investment
- Traditional light effects
- Moving Heads
- Bonus tips
- See also
First things first
- I’ve decided to limit this blog’s content to the type of stage lighting suitable for parties, clubs and gigs.
- To avoid repetition, I’ll be alternating the terms ‘fixture’ and ‘armature’. Both refer to the housing rather than the light itself but are generally used to refer to the entire device.
Types of Stage Lighting
I would categorise stage lighting as follows:
Fixed Light (no moving parts)
- Blinders and stroboscopes
- Traditional lighting effects
- Moving heads & scanners
Conventional (halogen) pars
Until a couple of years ago, pars could be found in virtually every nightclub. Even though a lot of these par cans have been replaced with LED fixtures by now, you’ll still run into conventional pars on a regular basis. This has everything to do with the benefits these fixtures offer. First of all, they’re very affordable. Since similar LED fixtures with the same warm, white colour and light output will easily set you back five times the amount a halogen light would, the latter are definitely the least painful for your wallet. They also dim beautifully, whereas LED fixtures in a comparable price range struggle with the bottom 10% and tend to get a little jumpy. Halogen fixtures also come with a couple disadvantages. For starters, they’re extremely inefficient. About 3.5% of their electrical capacity is transformed into light, while the other 96.5% produces nothing but heat, which could pose a problem if you’ve got limited power supply. Moreover, the lifespan of a conventional par armature is rather short. Compared to an LED par’s 50,000 hour lifespan, a halogen par will only last you about a 1000 hours. Also, in order to get coloured light, halogen pars require colour filters, resulting in reduced light output.
The word ‘pars’ is in quotations because one of the lighting product specialists at Bax Music has recently told me it’s an incorrect term. The word ‘par’ refers to ‘par can’, which specifically refers to the armature or housing. The technology and the armature of an LED par looks nothing like that of the original halogen par, but since use of the term ‘LED par’ has become common practice I will continue to use it to avoid causing confusion. LED pars are actually the reason halogen pars are slowly but surely disappearing, though. Here are a number of significant benefits they offer over halogen pars:
- LED pars are extremely energy efficient. Energy lost to heat production compared to light output is next to none.
- They’re very compact.
- They’re quite robust. Halogen pars, on the other hand, are built using glass and a wire filament, which can easily break when the light takes knocks while operating.
- You’ve got a complete colour wheel at your disposal in a single device
- They come equipped with DMX functionality so you don’t need to hook up any dimmers.
- LED pars don’t heat up. You can place them on the ground for uplighting purposes without having fear of fire hazards.
Single LED versus Multi-LED Chips
LED pars come in different shapes and sizes: Single LED pars (budget pars) and multi-LED chip pars (for lack of a better term, since manufacturers often use their own terms). A multi-LED chip is very literally an LED chip containing multiple colours. These can be subdivided in a Tri-LED chip or RGB, a Quad-LED chip or RGBA/RGBW and Hex-LED chips or RGBAW-UV. RGBW chips include a white LED and are capable of a pure, white light. RGBA chips can produce a warmer shade of white thanks to the use of an amber-coloured LED. RGBAW-UV have both amber and white LEDS as well an additional UV LED, capable of blacklight effects. You can see the tri-LED Ayra Compar 20 RBG fixture in the picture on the left below and on the right, is the Ayra ComPar 1 with separate red, green, blue, amber and white LEDs. A multi-LED chip fixture can often be identified by it’s smaller number of larger lights (left picture). As you can see, a multi-LED chip armature produces a much more beautiful colour mix. The Ayra ComPar 20 RBG on the left produces a beautifully balanced magenta-coloured beam, while with the ComPar 1 on the right, you can distinguish between primary reds and blues. Single-coloured LEDs also cause a phenomena called ‘RBG shadow’. When white is mixed with RBG LEDs, you’ll end up with multiple shadows, each with their own red, green and blue shade. This occurs because the individual colours stem from different places and hit a given object at differing angles, making for a disturbing effect when you want to uplight a spotty or uneven wall, or set up lighting for theaters. Multi-chip LEDs naturally bypass this issue because they mix colours and aim them at a specific point. In my humble opinion, single LED fixtures are great for local youth organisations and small parties, while multi-LEDs are put to better use by rental companies, wedding parties and gigs etc.
Multi-LED chip (right) versus Single-LED chip (left)
Difference in colour mix quality multi-LED (right) vs single-LED (left)
The only difference between an LED par and an LED bar lies in the outer constructions. An LED bar provides a wider spread and is great for uplighting. I tend to vertically suspend them from a truss and point them towards the audience, creating a cool effect since the individual LED chips are placed a little further apart from each other. Some LED bars, including the Ayra Intenz 150CB and the Ayra LED Tri-Bar 12 RGB Pixel Bar, can be ‘pixel mapped’, meaning you can control individual chips. This way, you can customise each LED chips’ colour and dimming properties. This in contrary to an LED par, in which the full array of LEDs operate exactly the same way.
Stroboscopes and Blinders
Both effects are meant to emphasize or complement a (sudden) change or variation in the music being played, like the drop in an EDM track for instance. A blinder, as the name suggests, temporarily blinds your crowd and covers everything in a white wash. Stroboscopes basically do the same thing but with short pulses. The advantage of an LED blinder compared a halogen blinder lies in the fact that it can be used as a stroboscope as well. A halogen blinder can’t do the same thing as the wire filament needs a little time to warm up after it’s turned it on, and some time to cool down again after it’s switched off. This way, the light fades in and out when it should be producing quick, accurate flashes instead.
Smoke machines: a great investment
If you’re looking to expand your options and want to buy lighting effects, getting yourself a smoke machine (or hazer/fazer) also makes for a great investment. Smoke picks out and gives texture to your light beams in mid-air and creates a more interesting light show.
Traditional light effects
These types of light effects fill any room with moving patches of coloured light. The most well-known type is the so-called derby effect. Such a device features a set of moving lights behind multiple rows of lenses. The Ayra TDC 180 Derby LED is a good example. A derby light effect is my go-to effect and I would personally recommend anyone who already owns a basic lighting rig and is looking for their first lighting effect to get a derby. These are also great for that slow-dancing-effect, as an alternative to a mirror-ball – which is a little more complex to set up when you’re working as a mobile DJ. Choose a slow-rotation mode via DMX and you’ll fill up a room with slow-moving, white-coloured patches of light. Another type of light effect is the moonflower, that projects a rotating pattern of dots via a motorised mirror-filled ‘bowl’. The goboflower is a different version of the moonflower effect, where a gobo is placed between the light source and the mirror-filled bowl to create rotating patterns of shapes rather than dots.
Moonflower and gobo-flower effect
Moving heads are the type of lights you’ll find at virtually every event, festival and bigger kind of party. Moving heads produce powerful, moving light beams and are capable of projecting gobos (shapes) and colours. There are three types of moving heads: spots, beams and washes. Technically, hybrid moving heads exist as well but come with a serious price tag so I’ve decided not to highlight those in this blog. A spot moving head has a wide beam angle, which is essential when it comes to being able to clearly distinguish gobos but that’s not their only purpose. Spot moving heads are also used to split the cone of light emitted into multiple beams. In combination with haze or smoke, this can create a truly magical effect that adds more depth to your light show. Then there’s the beam moving head, which you’ll mostly find at festivals due to their narrow beam angle. A narrow beam angle results in a very compact, bright beam over long distances. Granted, you’ll need quite the number of beam moving heads but the result is impressive. The pictures below depict a beam moving head on the left and a spot moving head on the right. As you can tell, the spot moving head on the right produces beautiful, individual beams for gobos, though due to the wide beam angle, this effect will disappear a lot more quickly. The beam moving head has a rather large beam angle for its kind, seeing as expensive models have a beam angle of close to 0°. Lastly, wash moving heads look like LED pars because they’re designed to light up a surface, rather than provide some kind of spectacular, mid-air effect. More advanced wash fixtures come with a built-in zoom feature that allows you to control the beam angle.
A beam moving head (left) and a spot moving head (right)
The scanner is the predecessor to the moving head. Instead of rotating the entire armature, scanners shine their light on a small, moving mirror. The down side here is the fact that the mirror’s range is rather limited, while a moving head is often able to rotate more than just a full rotation (pan) and can also rotate vertically for another 180 degrees (tilt). Just like the halogen pars, scanners are quickly losing ground. Despite often featuring modern LED technology, their mobility is limited and they’re often bulky and heavy. However, the lack of moving parts makes them quite interesting in terms of pricing compared to a moving head.
A laser sets itself apart from other lighting effects by being able to create extremely thin, concentrated light beams that can usually be quickly and accurately controlled. These are often used in nightclubs and at festivals because the projected beams barely diminish in terms of output over their total distance and a single laser can fill up a huge space with impressive beams. It is the kind of effect that can lose it’s ‘wow-factor’ though, so you wouldn’t want to leave on for the entire show. I’m splitting up lasers into two categories: the kind with a step motor and the kind with internal galvos. Both describe the way in which the internal mirrors move. A step motor is only capable of low scan speeds and, since the projections themselves look like scribbles, only makes rudimentary movements (steps) work when you’ve filled the space with smoke. (More on that in the bonus tips section below.) Combine it with smoke or haze, however, and you’ll end up with a super cool effect of erratic, thin laser beams shooting through the air. Lasers without a step motor come with a galvanometer (or galvo) and can move at high scan speeds with great accuracy for the projection of things like text, figures or detailed washes. You could say galvo lasers give the best of both worlds. Not only do they allow you project erratic beams at parties, they also let you project logos or text on walls at wedding parties, for example. Please note: 1 Watt of laser power is NOT the same as 1 Watt of LED power. A single Watt, or 1000 mW laser can easily cause permanent eye damage if not properly used, thanks to an enormously concentrated bundle of light energy. In the case of a regular light source, the beams will expand and become wider, but a laser beam is a parallel and straight-moving bundle with all of its energy concentrated on the same, small spot.
Two quick bonus tips!
- Tip 1: Want to leave a professional impression? Get a hazer, not a smoke machine. Smoke machines blow thick, unsubtle clouds of smoke into your crowd. If you’re looking to make your light beams visible, you’re much better off with a hazer or fader (a hazer works on mineral oil, a fader works on regular smoke fluid). Hazers and faders use a built-in fan to steadily spread a thin mist which beautifully accents your light effects all night long.
- Tip 2: Want to cover and bathe a room in light? Don’t buy tens and tens of LED pars! I’ve recently discovered the powerful Ayra Intenz CB150 and it’s perfect to light up an entire room. For indoor use, I recommend you suspend it from something high so it’s not aimed directly into people’s eyes and dim it ever so slightly. An LED par only highlights a relatively small surface, while with its super wide beam angle and high light output, a single CB150 easily provides enough light for a single, large room and at affordable prices too. The picture below shows a single CB150 lighting up my entire back garden.
Do you have any additions, questions or opinions? I’d love to hear them! Feel free to leave a comment below!