LA's New LED Streetlights are Changing the Way Movies Look

In late 2014, the city of Los Angeles finished the "largest LED street lightreplacement project" in the world, as Forbes reported then, swapping 141,089 streetlights from sodium to LED lighting. (LEDs are more efficient and last much longer, so the city will save massively on both electricity and maintenance costs.) But LEDs, which cast a bluish light, look radically different from the old, yellowy high-pressure sodium lights, meaning a pretty straightforward municipal decision will translate into a completely new film aesthetic in one of the most-filmed cities in the world. (New York is planning on switching its lights out for LEDs too.) At No Film School, Dave Kendricken writes that "In a sense, every night exterior LA-shot film previous to this change is rendered a sort of anthropological artifact, a historical document of obsolete urban infrastructure."

Kendricken explains that non-tungsten artificial light sources, like LA's new streetlights, "produce a non-continuous or incomplete spectral output," so some colors just won't show up at all in anything filmed (or, more accurately these days, shot on digital video) under these lights (even with gels or post-production color correction).

So both types of streetlights have their aesthetic benefits, and certain filmmakers may prefer one or the other, but the difference is obvious and at this point pretty much a done deal; the way the world (and LA) will see Los Angeles at night has changed forever.