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THE COLOR OF WHITE LIGHT
BY JOSEPH TAWIL

A question often asked and argued by lighting designers is what is white light. Directors from time to time demand white light for their productions. As is so often the problem in describing colors white light means different things to different people. The director may be suggesting the naked instrument, with no color filters. Theatrical light sources are usually incandescent and range between 2800 and 3200 Kelvin. Sunlight might be a better white light with a Kelvin of about 5600, but how will we get that on stage? (As the theoretical black body's temperature is raised it glows from 1800 K, candle light, thru 2800 and 3200 K, incandescent, to 5600 K nominal daylight). So what does the director really want when he demands white light and if you don't use any color filter what will your production look like?

Every light source has color: if it did not it would not be visible. If it radiates energy in the visible spectrum, it has color. Let me suggest that what the director really means by white light is "no strong colors." He wants the show to be lit with a palette that is not saturated, and no vivid suggestions of strong colors. He/She is probably looking for a "realistic" look that is not obviously (read theatrically) colored. The director may also be requesting that the color temperature of the incandescent lights, usually around 3000 Kelvin, be raised to simulate daylight (popular in opera lighting). Thus the use of filters developed for the film industry which are called CTB's. Rarely does the director ask that the color match the daylight as it would seem too blue in the theatre. The director may be asking for white light but is actually describing a color. If the only color you choose to use is from naked light sources the lighting will probably look very flat and the separation of actor and scenic elements made difficult. You will also lose one strong component of telling the story with light.

There is a way to please the director, giving him the quality of light requested, and still allowing the lighting designer to use color to enhance the scene. There are many subtle colors that can be used to create mood, depth and hi-lights in a scene without suggesting strong colors. You can even select traditional warm and cool colors to light the acting areas which the audience (and director) will not read as theatrically colored. Explore GamColor's subtle tints to make your lighting look "realistic" or like white light without looking flat and spiritless. There are suggestions of subtle tints that can enhance your production without making the lighting look theatrically colored. The colors I have selected are from the GamColor swatch book and if you have one at hand it will be helpful as you read on.

If you want to have that daylight look there is a selection of blue GamColor filters that will make incandescent spotlights look more like daylight. For a very subtle blue shift start with G870 Winter White or G872 Opera White. If you desire a stronger daylight ambiance step up to G885 Blue Ice or G842 Whisper Blue. More saturated blues in this family can be used to back and side light for a bolder sculptured appearance. G860 Sky Blue, G882 Southern Sky, and G847 City Blue are progressively more saturated.

The desire for a "realistic" look might also prompt the director to request white light, meaning no color filters. If uninspired is defined as realistic, then this could be an approach. However, this solution will limit the ability of the lighting to help reveal the plot as it develops. There is a way to create the "realistic lighting" that a director requires and still use the dimension of color. Subtle warm and cool GamColor filters can be selected that will not read to the audience as theatrically colored. They will provide a natural feeling that the lighting designer can build on. Let me suggest some of the many choices by hue groups, or color family. Pinks so unsaturated but effective are G109 Naked Pink, G108 1/8 Antique Rose, and G107 1/4 Antique Rose. Look at G327 Pale Sepia, G338 Forever Amber, G363 Sand, G364 Pale Honey, G435 Ivory. For more pale colors, G440 Very Light Straw, and G510 No Color Straw.

For a "realistic" or white light look try combining some of the pale colors listed. Select a warm and cool combination to model the actors. Warm and cool are relative terms. Colors can be separated into warm and cool categories and they can be warm and cool relative to each other. You might pick a cool blue and a warm pink, for example, G870 Winter White and G109 Naked Pink. You might also select two warm colors such as G108 1/8 Antique Pink and G435 Ivory. The G108 will appear warm when compared to the G435. These subtle colors will model the actors and make them more visible to the audience without being obviously chromatic, and the lighting will look very realistic. You may wish to add more hi-lights to separate the actor from the scenery. To add that emphasis, choose a GamColor just one step more saturated but still in the family you have selected (see color family chart).

Working within a tight family of related color the lighting designer can achieve the modeling and mood that is needed to tell the story without making the lighting obvious to the audience. When the lighting must be naturalistic you still have a range of color choices to help complement the costumes and scenery and to enhance the visibility of the actors on stage. Explore the subtle but effective range of light tints that you will find in the GamColor palette and discover the rich variety of choices at your disposal when the situation calls for "realistic" or white light.

Here are some examples of GamColors, listed in categories by hue and in ascending order of saturation. The palest colors are at the top of the list. I suggest no formulas, only possible combinations for you to consider for your show. Every production is unique: the costumes, scenery and make up have been selected to tell the story and the colors selected for the lighting must complement and enhance those choices.

Cool Blues 870 Winter White 872 Opera White
885 Blue Ice
842 Sky Blue
847 City Blue
888 Blue Belle
920 Pale Lavender
Warm Pinks 104 Broadway Rose
109 Naked Pink
108 1/8 Antique Rose
107 1/4 Antique Rose
106 1/2 Antique Rose
105X 3/4 Antique Rose
105 Antique Rose
Warmer Ambers 363 Sand
364 Pale Honey
365 Warm Straw
338 Forever Amber
340 Light Bastard Amber
410 Yellow Gold
Warm Straws 435 Ivory
440 Very Light Straw
433 Double Ivory
365 Warm Straw
Cool Greens 515 Lime Yellow
510 No Color Straw
525 Lime Sun
535 Lime

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