How to keep your iPad from lighting up your face while performing

Tutorials

I have written a lot about the benefits of using an iPad as a score reader in performance: the speed, flexibility, organization, and annotation tools are obvious, not to mention the hands-free page turning. However, one common concern is that the iPad’s backlight just looks weird from the audience. It can cast the players face in a blue-white glow from a very unflattering low angle. No one wants that. The good news is that there are tools and settings on your iPad that can help.

In this video and article, I’m going to cover three different tweaks you can make to your iPad’s settings that can minimize the weird-lighting side-effects from putting a backlit screen a couple of feet from your face in a mostly dark room.

 

The best part is that these are all features of the operating system, so it doesn’t matter whether you’re using forScore, Newzik, or even the Books app.

Adjust Screen Brightness in Control Center

Control Center brightness slider
The simplest solution is just a swipe away in Control Center.

Swipe down from the top right corner of your screen to access Control Center, a group of quick settings for your iPad. One of the controls you’ll see there is a tall rectangle with a sun icon, which you can slide up and down to make your device’s screen brighter or dimmer.

Ordinarily, your screen’s brightness adjusts automatically to match the brightness in the room, which means under stage lights, your iPad’s screen is likely try to compensate by presenting its maximum brightness. But because music notation is about the highest-contrast thing you’ll ever open on your iPad’s screen (black and white in most cases), you can probably get away with something much dimmer than that.

Accessibility Shortcut: Reduce White Point

You may or may not be aware of a group of settings you can add to your iPad provided in Settings > Accessibility > Accessibility Shortcut. These were added to help those with low vision or hearing, but can be useful for lots of situations.

Accessibility Shortcut settings
You can add as many Accessibility Shortcuts as you want in Settings.

One that we can use is called Reduce White Point. Once you have turned this on, you can switch it on by triple-pressing the either the home button or the sleep/wake button (for iPads without a home button). From there, you can tap Reduce White Point, and you’ll notice that the range of the brightness slider that you adjusted previously can now go much lower. So low that you may have difficulty reading the screen at all! To turn it off, just triple-press again and uncheck the setting. (Note: If you only have one Accessibility Shortcut turned on, you won’t need to select a shortcut from the list. It will just turn on immediately on your triple-press.)

This can be very helpful in situations like theater or opera where you are in a particularly dark setting as a performer, and the excess light could be a major distraction for the audience.

Accessibility Shortcut toggles
Once turned on in Settings, these toggles are available throughout the system.

Accessibility Shortcut: Smart Invert Colors

Another Accessibility Shortcut to try is a little weird, but I think you could get used to Smart Invert Colors given a bit of practice. Just like Reduce White Point, this can be added in Settings > Accessibility > Accessibility Shortcut and turned on and off with the same triple-press gesture as last time.

A score with inverted colors
Inverting the colors on your display is the most drastic intervention, and in the right circumstances could also be very effective.

When you turn it on, things might look a little weird at first! Every color on your iPad flips to its opposite, just like a photographic negative. For your scores and parts, this means the page is black and the print is white. As I said, this would have a definite adjustment period, but I think you could get used to it, and by having most of the screen black, it will be throwing off a lot less light onto your face and the stage around you.

Wrap-up

If this is a problem you have in your performing and rehearsing, I would recommend trying each of these in the order I’ve presented them, with the simplest option first and the most extreme intervention last. None of these is a perfect solution, and there will always be very good reasons to use paper over screens, but hopefully the strategies I’ve described here can help to alleviate this common concern.

From score to screen: preparing your music for digital surfaces

On the Scoring Notes podcast, David MacDonald and Philip Rothman discuss the pros, cons, challenges, and opportunities in reading and preparing music on a screen, and delve into the benefits, pitfalls, and technical considerations you should know about if you want to make your music pixel-perfect.

Scoring Notes
Scoring Notes
From score to screen: preparing your music for digital surfaces
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Comments

  1. Derek Williams

    Some great tips there, David, thanks!

  2. k_b

    I do actually like the face of a singer been lit by a tablet,
    Especially if there is bad stage lighting one will see the singers expressions better and makes one actually understand the words better from a distance.
    So an iPad can actually help the communication between the artist and his or her audience.

  3. Alex

    Thanks for the helpful article.
    It could be added that in some cases someone may need to turn off auto brightness in order to maintain a constant set brightness level. This can be done here:
    Settings > Accessibility > Display & Text Size
    Or ask Siri about it.

    I will also add that I use the on-screen AssistiveTouch button all the time, as I hate pressing physical buttons on mobile devices. I also hate swiping on my iPad, as it has a poor oleophobic coating, and it is unpleasant for my fingers to move along the surface of the non-slip screen. I have deeply customized this button to fit my needs. First, I made it almost as transparent as possible. Secondly, I added the functions I needed to the menu in the right order. Here’s how it looks for me:
    https://i.imgur.com/iAug2RL.png

    In addition, I have assigned a double tap on this button to turn off the screen, and a long press on this button to take a screenshot. This way, I completely got rid of the need to press any physical buttons. Pressing the Home button three times in the center of the screen is much easier than pressing a tight, narrow button somewhere on the end, which, in addition, can “misfire”, as happened in your video when you accidentally turned off the screen. In general, for me, the AssistiveTouch button is a “golden” button. I can’t imagine using my iPad and iPhone without it.

    P.S. Smart Invert looks cool in forScore. ) I knew about the existence of this feature, but I didn’t really think about it. And although I don’t have a problem lighting up my face, I still want to try using this mode. )

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