The growth of LED lighting has impacted the world in several ways—and now it’s changing the film industry forever. With LED street lights taking over Los Angeles—and soon New York—exterior LA-shot films previous to this change will become historical artifacts of obsolete high-pressure sodium street lighting.
Dave Kendricken explains in No Film School how outdated sodium vapor street lighting was the preferred look for some films. The setting of the 2004 crime thriller Collateral was moved from New York to Los Angeles, partially due to the unique visual presence at night. The orange tint, he explains, gave locations “starkly unique, artificially lit recognizability.”
Today, LED lighting may hinder a crime thriller like Collateral, but proves to be beneficial to photography and, in nearly ever case, better for cinematography. LED lighting has superior color rendering compared to high pressure sodium and mercury vapor. Filmmakers exposing by Los Angeles street lighting will be picking up very different imagery as before, even in the same locations.
And while the LED street lights improve filmmaking, they also reduce energy and help the environment. I, Dr. Bulb, discussed the benefits of LA’s LED retrofit in a previous blog post. Compared to existing high-pressure sodium lamps, the new LED lights reduce energy consumption by 63% and have a life of 10,000 hours, or 10 to 12 years. The existing high-pressure sodium lamps released 110,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide and contributed to the city’s light pollution. LED lights reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 47,000 tons. With savings from reduced energy use and maintenance, the city will be saving an estimated $10 million a year.
Although great for some thrillers, high-pressure sodium lamps and their unattractive orange glow offer nothing but nostalgia for the rest of us. Like typewriters, VHS tapes or neon leg warmers.