Dancers – don’t wear black!

Black costumes absorb light and not reflect it, which means that a black costume cannot support 3D lighting – it will not clearly reveal the direction of the light source. Matt black is the worst, but no black is good so if you have to wear black, make it shiny black! It is a problem commonly seen in amateur and dance school productions, where the dancers are absorbing the light and looking like holes in the staging.

We see colour because the costume reflects that colour light and therefore the strongest 3D effects require a broad match between the costume and the side light in particular. Thus lighting white ballet tights with open white or pale blue shin lights can work well for the legs, whereas lighting coloured tights with a contrasting colour will lessen the effect.

Single colour costumes present the best effect, or bi-colour if there is the possibility of bi-colour side lights. Costumes that reveal rather than obscure the dancer’s figure and movement will likewise work better. Loose costumes can suffer from strong shadows if relying heavily upon sidelight, with the effect worst across the front of the costume.

Finally, if designing a dance production to actively exploit lighting (the best design concept!) pale single colour costumes respond best to the use of different colours, e.g. using different colour side light each side. Slightly shiny fabrics can better reveal 3D form under sidelight, providing maximum constrast at lower light levels.