With professional laser control and programming easier than ever, lighting designers and live event producers can add lasers to lighting rigs and use them to them enhance any array of traditional moving-head fixtures. So if your team is set on adding the allure of laser light to your next event, tour or gig, here are a few things to know to ensure that the laser element of the show is as safe as it is impressive.
Lasers make different light
We'll spare you the physics lesson, but the main point is that lasers produce extremely tightly focused light. A typical lighting fixture may have a beam spread of as little as 0.5 degrees whereas a laser beam can commonly be as small as 0.03 degrees.
Because laser beams are so sharp and tight, they maintain their energy over a long distance and an extremely small area. That's what gives them the potential to be hazardous. See the graphic below.
All this brings about 3 key tips to know before incorporating lasers into your lighting rig and programming them in concert with other light fixtures:
1) Do not use lasers to audience scan or send laser beams into the crowd.
Lasers are not eye-safe, so beams should always stay 10ft/3m above any surface on which audience members can stand. Do not program or rig your laser systems to send laser beams into the crowd.
A very, very small percentage of laser systems are suitable for audience scanning, and chances are if yours is set up for audience scanning you will know it because you or your company had your laser system specially made by a reputable manufacturer so it can safely audience scan. Otherwise, don't audience scan with lasers.
2) Be mindful of termination points and zones
Related to the previous tip, laser beams need a suitable place to terminate. Most commonly this means a hard, non-reflective surface such as a wall, screen, mezzanine divider or other fixed structure. Avoid windows, mirrors, chandeliers, and flammable materials.
This also means that you can't shoot beams into the sky. Laser beams can blind pilots and there are severe penalties for sending unterminated beams into the open sky. In some cases, it's possible to attain approval for this, but it requires advance work directly with the proper airspace authority (such as the FAA in the U.S.).
Even if you are producing an indoor show, you must also be mindful of termination zones because lasers can damage cameras and optical sensors. That's one way to really anger the venue owner or the band's official photographer!
3) Communicate with your team
Just because systems like X-Laser Mercury make laser control from a lighting console super easy doesn't mean that anyone can just go ahead and practice or program the laser effects without knowing the details mentioned above. Make sure your team knows that lasers are a part of the rig and if operating the lighting desk, all operators should at the very least know the guidance above.
There are also a few key hardware/setup components necessary for a safe and legally compliant laser show, of which the broader production team should be aware. For example, all laser projectors need a functional remote stop.
You can check out the full list, "5 Things You Need for a Safe and Compliant Laser Setup" by clicking here.
In summary, there's no need to be intimidated by adding lasers to your lighting rig. With how fast and easy it has become to program lasers in line with your other fixtures, now is the perfect time to add this unique effect. And by sticking to these simple guidelines, you'll find that following the proper laser protocols will flow naturally with the rest of the safety guidelines on stage, set or scene.
If you have any questions at all about adding lasers to a production or how to make laser seamlessly integrate with your existing lighting control solution, simply contact us. We're happy to help!