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Discussion Starter #1
Hey folks! Great forum, I am new here. I'm more of a lighting geek and I wanted to start getting into decorating this year so I thought I'd say hi by posting a little about what I know about lighting and visual perception that can make your haunted house more creepy.

You know how lone, naked, cool white fluorescent lamps have a cold and alien feeling at night? There's a reason for that. It's hardwired into the human visual system.

Basically, the dimmer the total light we are seeing, the redder our brain expects it to be. The brighter the light, the bluer we expect it to be. There is a name for this which I will be forever indebted to somebody if they can remind me because there is an entire Wikipedia article on it. Anyway it makes sense - we grew up as a species with fire at night, rosy red sunsets, and brilliant sunlight during the day.

So, how to take advantage of this for creepiness factor?

There are a couple effects that are real easy to pull off and then others that take a lot of fiddling. A couple years ago I helped a friend go all-out for a Halloween party and we did the interior, she had a tile kitchen so we lit it like the 'Saw' movies (which are too much for me but the visual design...?) and then one of the rooms was a Capone-era mobster room. I will discuss creepy morgue-like and hackle-raising effects of using light that is bluish, and retro-looking light that resembles early Edison incandescent light (either in glow or the actual bulbs) but is LED. You might for example use this in a haunted barn or something where you want it to look period.

I'll make a 2-part post that follows about lighting both these types of environments.

I do have specific products to recommend but unless people are cool with it I'm not going to put links in unless people ask me to as I am new here. :)
 

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MORGUE-LIKE, CLINICAL OR INDUSTRIAL ENVIRONMENTS

Let's say you're building a morgue or a Saw-like environment or some other indoor tile-and-fluorescent type butchery scene. What is the typical stereotype you think of? Bright. No. You don't want to go too bright, you want to use the same color of light (or bluer) that is used in industrial and clinical lighting, but dim enough that it gives a creepy vibe and casts spooky shadows.

This is one of the few places I still advocate the use of fluorescent bulbs. Aside from warmth (color temperature) of light, the quality of the light is also a big part of the creep factor. There is something called Color Rendering Index (CRI) - for your own home you usually want this as high as you can get it, but in a creepy blue-green-white lit environment, IF color is not important to the rest of your scene, you want CRI as LOW as possible because it distorts color - just how old fluorescent bulbs make skin look dead and green.

Another advantage of fluorescent here is possibility of flicker. If you can get a dud bulb which flickers or makes the other bright bulb (e.g. in a 2-lamp fixture) flicker you are good to go for creepy atmostphere! :) DO NOT attempt to hack fluorescent ballasts if you don't know what you are doing. The only safe way I know how to induce flicker in fluorescent lamps is by using old dead or dying bulbs that throw the ballast out of whack. If you have fixtures which are quite new they may be able to compensate, try to look for ooooooold fixtures with "magnetic ballast". If it hums, it's magnetic ballast usually. Those are way easier to make flicker.

FLUORESCENT SCENE LIGHTING

Remember you want a HIGH color temperature, a LOW CRI (unless accurate color is important to your scene for some reason), and to UNDERLIGHT the scene compared to what it would be in real life. For example, in a real morgue if they were using T12 fluorescents they'd probably have banks of 4 tubes x 8 feet in the ceiling. In that case try going for clusters of 2 tubes x 4 feet - it underlights the scene, makes more shadows, and the 2 tube x 4 foot "shop lights" can be had for pennies on the dollar these days.

Color Temperature to consider:

  • 4100K "cool white" - common in offices. I would go for a higher color temp except if you need accurate color, Cree makes a really great LED replacement for 4100K fluorescents. I would only use this if you need accurate color (perhaps on what's on the morgue table?)
  • 5000K - this is pretty common "daylight" white. Get the crappiest tubes with low CRI you can find. A CRI below 80 would be great, they really look monstrous.
  • 6000K and up: here we're getting into the "stark white" light which you might want to use (while still under-lighting the area) in brighter scenes. Again, go for terrible CRI here.

Fluorescent technologies:

  • T12 - now being phased out along with some incandescent bulbs due to poor efficiency, these are the big old tubes from a ways back before T8 started taking over. Fixtures are easy, lamps might be hard to get new.
  • T8 - These all have electronic ballasts which reduce the ability to induce flicker with dead bulbs, but they are common and easy to find. If you can't do T12, do T8 for things like overhead lights.
  • T5 - best use is for accent lighting. It may be hard to find 5000K bulbs in T5, but they don't put out a ton of light so 6000K may look creepier. This is the size of bulb used in the crappy dollar store fluorescent light sticks.
  • T5HO - these are high output lamps that I would only use if you need a lot of light. They're small enough that they look less uncanny at night because the brightness is concentrated over a smaller tube surface.

LED SCENE LIGHTING

The LED market is filled with scads of "cool white," "daylight" and "stark white" bulbs for your every spot, flood, ambient, tube or tape purpose. You can also use standard light-bulb replacements in cans to cast light (or shadow) upwards - never forget to throw light around on walls and ceilings to make things look all twisted and weird.

Essentially, I would advise just go for low cost and low CRI here, BUT, if you want your different low CRI LEDs to look similar, buy them from the same manufacturer. Unlike in most fluorescent lamps, lamp color in LED can vary dramatically between manufacturers, especially on the cheap end.

Remember to underlight, and the more light you have, the higher your color temperature (the K number) should go, but don't ever light the scene to where the blueish light doesn't feel creepy or look a little "off" - that means it's lit too bright (unless that's your intent, in which case I would consider over-lighting with a different technology such as 2200K LED or even sodium lamps if you really wanna go crazy!)

There are some REALLY great standard bulb replacements in LED at 6000K right now by Pac Lights, they are actually the latest most efficient technology, pretty cheap, but "the most efficient" any given day usually has to make compromises in the name of power efficiency, and this often means poor color rendering. (tl;dr to get more efficiency, one way is to stick more green in the mix because the human eye is most sensitive to green, but this distorts the light and lowers CRI.) The Pac Light stark blue-white LEDs with a CRI of 75 do not disappoint, bleaching out skin tones and bringing out dark circles under everyone's eyes. Look for the Pac Lights "MCOB" daylight lights at a very reasonable price per bulb. They even have a 40 watt equivalent, which is sure to look awful in, say, a bare socket in a grungy room... :D

Any questions so far? I will write a retro lighting with LEDs post later ... :)
 

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Discussion Starter #3
RETRO, VINTAGE OR OLD-STYLE INCANDESCENT LIGHTING WITH LED

Say you want to make a room look like a Prohibition-era mob hideout, or a 1930s detective office, or you have a haunted barn to light. The technology to do this pretty convincingly with LED (including bare and Edison-style "filament" lamps) is finally arriving.

As with the last post, color temperature (the "K number" of an LED lamp, or the "warm" and "cool" in "warm white") matters here. TL;DR: never go higher than 2700K, and try to go lower.

Nowadays the "standard" "warm white" or "soft white" incandescent light bulb is about 2700K. So, CFL and now LED manufacturers have imitated that and produced a ton of 2700K-3000K "warm white" lamps. But, 2700K was NOT always the standard. You may recall in a lot of vintage and film noir the light seems more yellowy. Those of you who grew up with incandescent street lights remember it too. Light bulbs burned a little cooler back then due to the materials used, and thus were a little more yellow-orange in color.

My general guide would be to use 2700K for the brightest parts of your white light display (e.g. floods and spots - Feit Electric makes some really great 2700K floods that have a CRI of 93 and really great color, especially the reds which most LEDs lack). Try to find 2500K, 2400K or even 2200K LEDs for other portions of your display that are e.g. area lit (bare bulb in socket, crusty hanging downlight, light over a door or entrance to a barn, ambient light that is bounced off other things).

Nearly all these LEDs are "filament" LED bulbs with clear glass or plastic housings and little or no electronic base, because the "filament" type LEDs require fewer electronics than regular ones. (They are also subject to 60Hz or 120Hz flicker much more often, which can give your scene a creepy vibe at a possible cost to migraine sufferers - this is a problem similar to early fluorescent lamps, actually.) So, you have some good options for medium (E26), intermediate and candelabra base. There are even 0.5W 2400K LED bulbs that are the size of a night light bulb which put out much more light which are GREAT for jack-o-lanterns and small decorations where an open flame is not desired but the golden color of flame is.

These bulbs can be found pretty much anywhere you can find LEDs. I do like the FuLight and AGeco brands but need to do some more research in this sector (I am replacing the final incandescents in my house with LEDs, the ones I use for mood lighting). I can offer some specific suggestions for use in candelabra and intermediate sockets. I still need to find more low-K bulbs in medium base but I know a few are out there.

Happy scene lighting! Any questions... just ask! :D
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Wow thanks for all the info creep light! I had to read it a couple of times since there is so much great info. Do you have any pics of the things you are talking about above? I think it would be great to see examples.
Sadly I don't have examples of the halloween party setups we did because we kinda winged it and then the pics from the party went byebye with our external hard drive :confused:

I could get some pics of the "mood lighting" I have in my living room, lol, I'm using the "retro" style lighting there, filament LEDs with a 2200K-2400K color temp mixed with normal lighting, gives it a really relaxing feel. Many bars and restaurants out here are using the incandescent filament lamps that look similar but are REALLY inefficient.

The best way I can describe the "Saw" or morgue-like room is, think of any crime drama or horror flick where there's a morgue - you'll see the lighting is blue-white, but it's often dimmed down (often in post-production) and the scene may be lit to cast shadows up on walls, in corners on the floor, etc. You can very easily do the same in your own home by using the blue-white fluorescent and LED lamps, but keeping it dim enough to give that "uncanny" or hostile/cold feeling.

I wish I had those pictures now, our Dick Tracy mobster room was cool too. :(
 

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Hi,
It's great to have your expertise to draw on!

I know lighting is so key to effects. I'd like some outdoor lighting design advice. General mood setting (always a creepy setting in my haunts) and 'spot lighting' of outdoor props/characters to maximize the creep factor. Placement, colour, product suggestions all welcome.

Thanks!
 
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