LED Stage Lighting Guide
LED stage lighting has gone from strength-to-strength over recent years and has become the go-to option for the majority, if not all your stage lighting choices. Offering amazing value for money and packed with the latest, more-environmentally friendly technology - it's easy to see why. In this LED Stage Lighting Ultimate Guide we will delve into the history of the LED, the different kinds of LED lights and show you some excellent examples of each kind to get you on your way in upgrading / updating your stage lighting setup to LEDs in a well thought-out way this year.
What is an LED?
An LED means a ‘light-emitting diode’ which is a semiconductor light source that emits light when a current flows through it. Scientifically speaking - Electrons in the semiconductor will recombine with electron holes which releases energy in the form of photons. Achieving different colors of LEDs corresponds to the energy of the photons - which is determined by the energy required for the electrons to cross the band gap of the semiconductor. LED lights are known for being advantages in almost every way over traditional incandescent lights. Such advantages have helped to make LEDs the popular modern choice for stage lighting. These include lower energy consumption (so more environmentally friendly), longer lifetime, improved physical robustness, smaller in size and much faster switching.
A Brief History of LED Stage Lighting
The first LED was discovered back in 1907 in a cat’s whisker detector at Marconi Labs - the world’s first diode. But it took until 1961 in Dallas, Texas when James R. Board and Gary Pittman invented a near-infrared, low-intensity light from a tunnel diode. By 1962, the first commercial visible spectrum (red) LED product was released. Infrared LEDs are commonly used in things like remote-control circuits such as a TV remotes for example. The first visible-light LEDs were low-intensity and were only red in color. These early LEDs were used mostly as indicator lamps which replaced small incandescent light bulbs.
The first blue-violet LED was made at Stanford University in 1972 but it took until 1989 for the first commercially available blue LED to be released. At this time, green LEDs were also invented. By 1993, another breakthrough occurred when high-brightness blue LEDs were invented in Japan using GaN and this eventually led to the invention of Blu-ray technology. The next big breakthrough in the history of the LED lighting was in the invention of the first white LEDs in 1996 by the Nichia Company. Although white could be achieved beforehand using red, green and blue LEDs together - that resulted in poor rendering and poor intensity. So the breakthrough was being able to emit powerful white light with a single diode using phosphors.
Today, LED lights are quickly replacing all other kinds of stage lighting. LED lights are even able to create beam lights similar to that of an expensive laser projector. While not quite as hard-edged, LED beam lights are impressive, require a lot less power and can now be used with gobos too.
The Different Kinds of LED Lights
There are three main kinds of LED stage lights in today’s stage lighting industry. They are commonly known as - Moving LED stage lights, - Par & Flood LED stage lights and - LED Bar stage lights. However, in the case of PAR LED stage lights the term ‘PAR’ is being used somewhat incorrectly because PAR means Parabolic Aluminized Reflector (as were in the older kind of PAR lights) of which there are none in an LED PAR light. Par LED cans are made with a printed round circuit board with LEDs mounted on it. However, the PAR LED Can lights do resemble a traditional PAR can from the outside and are often listed as such even though nowadays they are fully LED technology inside. In this guide we will discuss each kind and show you some great examples of each.
Within each main category of these stage lights you can commonly find 3 different kinds of LED arrangements - They are Tri-lights which consist of red, green and blue diodes only, Quad-lights which consist of red, green, blue and white diodes or Hex-lights which consist or red, green, blue, white and UV diodes which usually come at a the higher price-point but can achieve mind-boggling LED stage lighting displays. And with COB ‘chip on board’ LEDs allowing for even brighter LEDs than ever before, now is a better time than ever before to improve your lighting setup with modern-day LED stage lighting.
Moving LED Stage Lights
Moving stage lights, also known as moving head lights, are a type of lighting equipment that can be moved and aimed in different directions. They are commonly used in theater, concert, and event productions to create dynamic lighting effects.
To use moving stage lights, you will first need to set up the lights and position them on the stage. Make sure they are securely mounted and plugged in. Next, you will need to control the lights using a lighting console. This is typically a separate device that allows you to control the intensity, color, and movement of the lights.
Once you have set up the lights and the console, you can begin programming your lighting cues. This involves creating a series of instructions for the lights, such as when to turn on, what color to be, and where to move. You can program cues manually by adjusting the settings on the console, or you can use pre-programmed effects.
When creating a lighting cue, you should consider the overall mood and atmosphere you want to create. For example, a slow, sweeping movement of the lights can create a sense of tension, while fast, sharp movements can create a sense of excitement. You should also think about how the lights will interact with the performers and the stage design.
When it's time to perform, you will need to operate the lighting console and execute the cues at the appropriate time. It is important to pay attention to the performers and the audience to make sure the lighting effects are working as desired.
In summary, using moving stage lights involves setting up the lights and the console, programming cues, and executing them during the performance. It also important to consider the overall mood and atmosphere you want to create and how the lights will interact with the performers and the stage design.
Moving Wash LED Lights
Traditionally wash lights were placed in a static position until moving LED wash lights began to appear on the market. Not only were they cheaper in price, but they allowed the stage designer to be able to re-focus on the fly, and boasted a very impressive zoom range as well. And due to the new maneuverability of the wash light head, you can now use wash lights to spin around as a ‘crowd blinder’ and even to do some cool wash effects such as creating awesome ‘aura’ zones. So the more modern LED moving wash lights are not only being used to simply light up your stage but also to create eye-popping visual effects for your audience. Another benefit of having moveable LED wash lights is if you need to change up your lighting setup to suit different stage acts that may require a totally different lighting setup such as at a music festival for example.
Moving LED spot lights
It’s increasingly important that modern stage productions require the use of moving spots & profiles. Spot lights have long been the light of choice to direct the audience’s attention on certain subjects on your stage. But as artists and actors need to move more freely around while performing, it’s important the spot lights can follow them around with precision and clarity. Nowadays, the best spot & profiles are a super-bright high-powered LED, as much as 300W inside a moveable head. The results are an even field of light and the ability to use gobos, color wheels and prisms to create amazing LED stage lighting effects.
Beam LED Moving Lights
Some fans of laser stage lighting are now moving over to LED powered ‘beam’ lighting technology as it is certainly improving all the time. Great LED beam lighting is brighter than ever now, meaning even at long distances, it’s now possible to create hard-edge beam lighting similar to lasers but without causing blindness and damage to cameras. Such moving LED beam lighting are now a staple at music festivals and night clubs. Luckily though, there’s a wide range of beam LED moving lights on the market today that don’t cost as much as high-end professional laser lighting fixtures.
Hybrid LED Moving Lights
As we move into a new era of LED stage lighting, manufacturers are becoming more creative and one thing we are seeing more of in the industry are hybrid LED moving lights. Some of these incredibly versatile lighting fixtures can change between being a beam, spot and wash light and can transition between them seamlessly as well. This is pathing the way for more hybrid LED lights in the future that not only mean more creative lighting displays are possible but also really help out the overall expense of modern stage lighting too.
Par / Wash LED lights
The most common type of wash lighting fixture is the Par can. Par means ‘parabolic aluminized reflector’ and yet modern LED Par-style stage lights do not include a parabolic aluminized reflector, the term ‘Par’ is still commonly used to describe this type of flood / wash LED light. Modern LED pars typically have a circular beam which has a spread that’s stated in degrees. Use Par wash lights to evenly ‘wash’ backdrops, scenery or the front light of bands for example.
Flood LED Lights
Flood LED stage lights can be defined as high-intensity, very broad beamed lighting fixtures that are used primarily to illuminate outdoor areas. They are often seen used in sporting stadiums which can be held in low-light conditions naturally. But with the help of modern low-energy consumption flood LED lights the sporting event can be artificially lit to perfection. Flood lights will typically have a reflector and a U-shaped yoke to suspend or support the lighting fixture. Flood LED lights typically range from around 120W to 320W in strength and the latter are never normally used indoors due to the high level of flux. The 120W flood LED lights are suitable for indoor stage use however.
LED Bar Stage Lights
One of the most cost-effective ways of achieving great stage lighting, especially for beginners or if you’re lighting a small stage is by purchasing LED bar stage lights. Popular with DJs, churches (see our Guide to church stage lighting here) and small nightclub owners, LED bar lighting has revolutionized what can be achieved on a lower stage lighting budget. So as the name suggests, strip LED stage lights consist of many individual LED lights which are mounted upon a narrow, circuit board or ‘strip’. They generally operate on a low-voltage power and are therefore better for the environment than when buying individual lights.
Modern LED bar stage lights will come with several DMX modes and with several operational modes. This means that you can expect fantastic stage lighting effects right outside the box when you play music - perfect for DJ stage lighting. It also means that strip LED stage lights are a versatile ‘all-in-one’ solution because due to their various operational modes, you can use them as a wash lights or as a beam lights with impressive beam angles. You can also control colors with built-in color macros and dimming control. Some LED bar stage lights even come with a strobe setting too.
We hope that we’ve given you a good introduction to the world of LED stage lighting in this Gurus Guides post. The world of stage lighting is ever-changing but it seems that there’s no stopping the dominance of the LED in modern stage lighting. And as LED stage lighting is better for the environment than traditional kinds of lighting, we feel confident that LED stage lighting is here to stay. And remember that getting the right balance of stage lighting for your stage can take time. You don’t have to try to purchase everything you need in one go - instead, take your time and build up the best stage lighting experience slowly but surely. And good luck!