What are Strobes and Blinders, and How Do I Use Them in My Show?

When it comes to creating a punch of light on stage or in the audience, professional lighting designers turn to strobe lights and blinders to get jaw-dropping effects.

These lights are awesome and create that extra level of lighting energy above the regular lighting rig at any big show.

But how do these fit into your lighting rig if you’re not a professional?  Do they make sense if you’re not on a big stage?

In this article, I’m going to define and give you examples of both types of lights, and then share how to get the same effects, even if you’re on a much smaller scale.  Let’s dive in:

What Are Strobes?

Chances are, you’ve got some preconceived notion that a strobe is either a professional-grade unit like the Martin Atomic 3000 or a cheap “Party-Store” strobe that you plug in and watch flash.

The truth is, while yesterday’s strobes relied on a hot Xenon lamp to flash quickly and brightly, today’s LED units can take a number of different form factors and sizes.

Take for example the Blizzard SnowBlind – a cool, thin line of super-bright strobe LED’s that you can tuck into your lighting rig discreetly.  Or the Chauvet Shocker 90 which is a small circular strobe with chasing rings.  Or you can go with something like the Elation Protron 3k, which mimic’s “traditional” pro-grade strobes and adds color!

As you can see, today’s strobes aren’t limited to any single form-factor!  In fact, most LED fixtures built today include the ability to strobe, and even if they don’t, you can make them strobe up to 25/hz from most lighting controllers – so nothing is stopping you from using non-strobe units as strobes…more on that later…but I am getting ahead of myself:

What Are Blinders?

Now that we’ve covered strobes, let’s talk about blinders.  The “blinder” light that you’re probably used to seeing at big concerts actually got its start as a video light.

That’s right, the 4-8 lights in a bank, pointed at the audience that has become the classic look of music festivals and touring lighting rigs actually was designed for lighting movie sets!

At some point, some smart lighting designer decided to point them at the audience and the rest is history – smooth, beautiful warm light that encourages the audience to sing when you turn it on and allows the artist to see the audience!

Blinder lights were an easy target for LED’s to take over because the traditional-style fixtures are very hot, the lamps don’t last long, and the thick cables to power them gets very heavy, very fast!

Today, we can find LED blinders of all types.  Some, like the Chauvet Shocker 2, look alot like the blinder of old – giving you that nice warm light, without all the power and heat!

Other blinders, like the ADJ Dotz Brick 3.3, give you full color to work with as you light the house.

Not only do these lights take less power than their predecessors, they also can react faster and chase in ways the older units could never dream of!

Strobes and Blinders for You

So let’s talk about YOU.  Do you need strobes and blinders in your lighting rig?

Yes – and No.

There are definitely some acts out there that will benefit greatly from dedicated strobe and blinder units.  But let’s zoom out a bit.

For the band, church or DJ working in medium size (say 300-1000 seat) spaces, having dedicated strobe and blinder units can be hugely beneficial in making a great variety of lighting looks.   Many of the purpose-built units that I’ve linked to above are perfect for spaces that size and larger.

But if you’re in a room that is smaller, or the budget is tight – your money is probably better spent with some regular LED par or striplights.   One trick I like to use and recommend to people that are starting out is this – take a regular LED light, and point it out towards the audience to use as a blinder or strobe.

When you use a regular LED light as a blinder or strobe, you can later repurpose it to light something else when you need it – saving you money in the long run!  And in smaller spaces, a regular LED unit is going to be plenty bright to create a pop of color – expanding your dynamic range of light!

About the author