Odyssey Imagery | Concert-o No

Concert-o No

March 05, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Have you noticed more recently that you are getting some ghastly looking photos at concert venues (and frequently in live theater)? Welcome to the digital age. Or to the not-so-many-incandescent lights-anymore age.

 

Those areas of smooth, detail free muck—that may not even be in the color you remember seeing—are thanks to the growing use of LED stage lighting. Good old fashioned incandescent lighting is analog and the LEDs are digital. The digital sensors in cameras were designed to deal with analog light. When the two now digital worlds collide, they don't play nice.

 

Under the old lights, gels were used to change the color of the light. They work by subtracting some frequencies (colors) from a fairly broad spectrum to achieve the desired color effect. There is a variety of light frequencies passing through the gel and onto the stage. With the LEDs, various colors are made by adding together (mixing) the amount and intensity of only three fixed and narrow parts of the color spectrum—specifically red, green and blue. No frequencies between these three are present.

 

All mainstream digital sensors are designed to record only red, green or blue at each individual pixel. The actual range of colors that show up in the final image is the result of software in the camera interpreting each pixel with respect to what adjacent pixels are seeing. That interpretation is different from one camera manufacturer to the next, and even between models from the same company.

 

The problem is the result of the three narrow bands of color being used to light the stage. If the camera's software doesn't interpret the three specific frequencies being used correctly, or the filters on the sensor pixels pass a slightly different frequency than the LEDs are projecting, then you get areas that will have no detail (like an overexposure) and may not even be close in color to what your eye saw—more than likely it will just be white. This is because there are no intermediate light frequencies present for the software to put through its calculations. It is less likely to happen when both incandescent and LED lighting are used together, since the spill from the old lights will help the camera figure things out.

 

So, don't think your camera is broken. There is no white balance setting for LED lighting (at least not yet). And don't expect to fix it by changing exposure compensation. That won't do it. You just have to accept it until somebody comes up with solution—like maybe standardizing the frequencies used by sensor manufacturers and LED light makers.


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