Lights: A primer for
are an important and usually
overlooked component of Halloween. I keep seeing bad and
applications of lighting. Here is a primer on different types of
lights and what you can do with them.
- These are usually CFLs these days and are widely
available in a lot of colors, even purple and amber (in addition to
red, green, and blue which can be found pretty much anywhere).
They are great for coloring small areas or
even doing entire small rooms. Example uses:
- Spotlights on ghosts in the
yard (you get a ghost of any color you like if you shine them on a
- Mood lighting a darkroom full of
crime scene photos in the
- Stronger than the party bulbs. As of this writing,
I'm only just starting to see colored floodlights that aren't
incandescent: red, blue, green, and yellow. However, if you can't find a CFL floodlight
colored like you like, here's a
pro tip: I went to Joann's on the way and bought "Gallery Glass" paint
"Kelly Green." That dries clear to make it look like stained
glass. Don't do this with an incandescent bulb though; it's too
hot and will cook the paint off. Floodlights are higher
wattage and are designed to spread light over large areas.
- Painting the graveyard in the front yard
an eerie green.
- Coloring the face of your house a
- There are a lot of varieties of bulbs capable of giving
off blacklight: large banks of lights, CFL bulbs, fluorescent tubes,
etc. Good for soooo many effects! See Blacklight primer for details and
techniques. Some example uses:
- Light up anything with
glow-in-the-dark paint such as the Countdown
- Light up glow-in-the-dark
toys/props such as the stars in our dining room.
- Fluorescent colors such as
posterboard will work as in our
lights - These are usually too small to provide much more
than an accent light wherever they're directed. However, this is
likely to change over the next few years as LED bulbs become more
reasonably priced. Example uses:
- I have small solar-powered LED
lights aimed at the gravestones
in the front yard so that they can be read at night.
- These are also good for lightning
effects if you have a light
organ (aka a color organ) that uses sound
to trigger them.
- There are several varieties of these sold
every year, and the stuff always looks bad. Don't bother with
it. Spotlights and properly-placed party bulb CFLs are far more
effective at creating an atmosphere. You want people to notice
the light that is cast, not the lights themselves.
and C9 Xmas lights - These usually come in strands of 25
bulbs, give or take. However, you can alter the number of bulbs
on a given strand (see links below) to better fit it to your
uses. These bulbs are very low wattage, so they're just powerful
enough to light up a prop without melting it or overwhelming it with
too much light. Example uses:
- The glowing skulls I placed on the
- A strand of small plastic pumpkins to light the
- Lighting up props from the inside
such as I did with Halloween Jack's
- I have seen people build blinking
eyes for use in their gardens or windows.
- These are good for a lot of different effects,
everything from being featured prominently to just having low-wattage
colored light distributed evenly. Note: Get the LED lights.
They are much more efficient and durable than the older incandescent
variety. Example uses:
- Around the flying saucer that crashed in
- On the underside of the pool table
to light up the floor in the dining room so folks could find their way
to the bathroom without tripping over anything. This distributed
without it diminishing the effect of the blacklights in the room.
- These are the only variety of incandescent bulbs I
still use, only because there are no CFLs or LEDs capable of the effect
as yet. Example uses:
- A lamppost I built out front out
of PVC that has a flicker bulb inside to emulate a gas flame.
- I put flicker bulbs in the
chandelier in the dining
- These are a great way to make a prop come
alive and stand out rather than simply sitting there glowing just one
color. An alternative to these is to use pumpkin lights that do
essentially the same thing. However, I've had bad luck with these
in that they're low-quality and tend not to last very long before one
or more color elements goes bad. The bulbs are more expensive but
worth it for their durability.
- In saucer dome/cockpit. They
made it seem to be pulsing with life rather than simply a crashed and
probably abandoned vehicle.
- To light up the haunted tvs.
- There are a lot of different size and shape
strobes, everything from bulb to cannon and a wide range of
wattages. Which you should get depends on your application.
- These work well inside of some
props. For example, I have strobe lights in several of the haunted tvs.
- As whole-room lights to create a
confusing and intense atmosphere.
- Place things in front of the
strobe so that it forms a silhouette through the window.
- I haven't tried this yet, but I
thought about having them outside of my windows, directed inward during
- Other than the sun, it's the original source of
light. Of course, be careful and realize you put your guests and
children at risk, so use them appropriately. Example uses:
- Real torches with monster heads on
the deck out back.
- Luminarias leading up the
walkway on Halloween night and the night of our party.
- Some lights are built into props specifically
designed to look like a kind of light.
- These can be purchased individually from any
electronic components store (e.., Radio Shack) or in bulk from eBay.
- Monster eyes. They are good
for eyes in skeletons, crank ghosts, and all sorts of other creatures.
- Sci-fi props. I have seen
these put to use in fake circuit boards, computers, etc. They can
also be powered by a circuit that animates them. Some xmas lights
have this built in.
Note: When at all possible,
don't bother with incandescent lights. They're hotter than
fluorescents or LEDs and in some cases will melt anything around them
if you're going to use them in or near props. It's worth it to
spend a little more for the modern technologies, and often those will
have additional advantages beyond the obvious things relating to
efficiency (e.g., less heat, last longer, and cheaper to
operate). Their efficiency is even more relevant for your home
lighting. If you haven't already, switch over to CFLs or even
LEDs throughout your house.
reading: Special Effects
There are a variety of circuits and modifications you can employ to
create additional effects.
- Light Organ - As
mentioned above, sounds can be used to animate lights, such as
artificial lightning being triggered by sound effects.
- Flicker Circuits - This
simple (and cheap!) device can create flickering lights inside of props
or to light up elements of the scenery
- These devices are better known for animating xmas lights, but
they can be used anytime and for more than just strands of
lights. They offer the ability to synchronize lights to music (or
just with one another even if you don't have a soundtrack). Many
effects are possible such as fading up or down, shimmering, or twinkles. They are expensive, but
the possibilities are beyond anything else.