The Dramatic Impact of LED Streetlights on Celluloid

Los Angeles recently completed a comprehensive installation of LED streetlights—and New York City is not far behind. Among the unintended consequences of the new technology? Cities will now look completely different on film.
February 4, 2014, 11am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Dave Kendricken provides a fascinating examination of a pervasive change that might have gone unnoticed to the untrained eye—the new light spectrum emitted by LED streetlights. Taking Los Angeles as the most commonly filmed example (the city also recently completed a comprehensive LED retrofit of its streetlights), Kendricksen does a great job of balancing scientific explanations with the aesthetic descriptions of phenomena that will become more and more common as cities switch to LED lighting. The crux of the issue, from a filmmaking standpoint: “The interesting thing about non-tungsten artificial light sources is that they often produce a non-continuous or incomplete spectral output. This can affect the appearance of certain colors under that output.”

In case you’re wondering whether that’s a good thing for filmmakers: “The LEDs should very well prove a benefit to existing-light photography — better for the environment, and in nearly every case, better for cinematography.” (That news should come as a relief to urban designer, who have increasingly run afoul of the interests of Los Angeles filmmakers in recent years.)

To see the effect before your very eyes, Curbed LA has a display which allows you to swipe between before and after images to do a side by side comparison of the effect of the LED lights on the nighttime streetscape.

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Published on Saturday, February 1, 2014 in No Film School
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