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Paul's Top 10 Strobe Tips

The strobe light is one of our most popular devices for special lighting effects. Strobe lights are a staple of nightclubs and dance companies, and are frequently used in musicals and plays. I've discussed how the stroboscopic effect works in a previous article, so this week I'd like to focus more on getting the most out of your strobe light.

The Top Ten theme is really more for my own amusement; tips are not really presented in any order of importance or usefulness. If it helps, imagine me behind a desk with some blue cards, a gap in my teeth and a bad haircut.

Anton, a drumroll if you please...

10) Most strobe lights are speed-adjustable, meaning that you can vary the number of flashes per second that the light emits. The fastest setting is not always the best for every situation! Play with the speed until you get the look you want.

9) If you're planning to use multiple strobe heads you should consider buying a system that is linkable. This allows you to have all the strobes flashing synchronistically. If two strobes are flashing out of phase with each other, they will cancel out the "slow motion" effect.

8) Try to position your strobes so that the effect is achieved without blinding your audience. In a nightclub, use high placement with steep angles. You may need to use more units, but your crowd will appreciate it. In stage productions, try to position the strobes so that they illuminate the stage and not the audience. One exception to this is when you're using strobes to momentarily "blind" the audience (e.g., to cover a disappearance or appearance).

7) When using strobes in any venue that is open to the general public (theatre, Halloween walk-through, nightclub) it is advisable to post a warning at the entrances. There has been some debate over whether theatrical strobe lights will actually bring on seizures in persons with epilepsy. There has been almost as much debate over whether or not posting a disclaimer will absolve the venue of any liability in the event of an incident. Regardless, I feel that it's just polite to let people know what they're in for, especially if it's something that could cause them discomfort.

6) Strobe lights are a special effect. The word 'special' implies something that is not commonplace. When you use something too much it becomes commonplace. Do you see where I'm heading? Use your strobes sparingly, or you risk boring your audience. If you're using a strobe effect for every other scene (or dance number, or song) perhaps you should consider investing in a few additional effects. Could a similar effect be achieved with a police beacon or rope light?

5) Special effects lights work best by themselves. By this, I mean that your strobes will give the best effect when they're not competing with lots of ambient (room) light. Try to dim any other lights as much as possible when using the strobe, and you'll notice a huge improvement in the look of the effect.

4) Strobes do not have to be an all-white effect! The Techno Strobe in particular has colored lenses available that allow you to create a cool blue, hot yellow or creepy red strobe effect. Consider the mood that you're trying to create with the strobe effect and choose the lens color accordingly.

3) Remote control can make your life much easier. Using a strobe in a club or DJ setting can be a royal pain if you have to plug in the fixture every time you want to use it. Pick up a remote control for your strobe and keep it next to your mixer to "punch up" a fast dance. If you're using strobes on stage, you can run your strobes from a non-dim circuit on your lighting controller. While this is a convenient solution for most applications, running from the light board will not allow you to adjust the speed of the strobe during performance.

2) On stage, try backlighting your performers or dancers with a strobe. Too many times, I've seen a so-so effect and disoriented performers as the result of placing the strobes along the front of the stage. Try mounting the strobes behind the performers and somewhat high up to avoid blinding the audience. The result should be the slow-motion effect with the performers mostly in silhouette. If you need more light on the performers' faces, mount the strobes as sidelights.

And the number one tip for getting the most out of your strobe....

1) If you replace your car's headlights with strobe lights it will look like you're the only one who's getting anywhere!

Goodnight everybody! 

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