Lighting for a stage is an art form. It’s used to light up a performance venue and make an impression on an event, providing visual direction and shaping the environment. Stage lighting is a complex subject. In this post, we’ll go over some of the fundamentals of stage lighting that anyone working in the live performance industry should be aware of.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF STAGE LIGHTING?
The goal of stage lighting is not limited to a single goal. Stage lighting can help you capture the attention of the audience and enhance a stage production in a variety of ways. The right stage lighting can do the following:
- Illuminate the stage: The most basic goal of stage lighting is to illuminate the performers, sets, and props so that the audience can clearly see everything onstage. Inadequate lighting can detract from a performance.
Dim lighting, for example, will make it difficult for actors’ facial expressions to be seen — even by audience members seated close to the stage.
Illumination is also important for the performers onstage, as it allows them to see where they’re going and to see the other dancers, actors, or musicians.
- Highlight various areas: Stage lighting can also help you direct the attention of audience members. The majority of a stage may be dark in the most dramatic cases, with only one spotlight shining on a focal point.
In many other cases, the lighting designer can begin with a wash that covers a large area and serves as a base layer of light. They can then use accenting to direct the audience’s attention to a specific area, such as a speaker in the foreground.
- Set the scene: Lighting can also assist you in creating the desired visual in a scene. In some cases, this entails using lights to create optical illusions.
You can use a moving light to make it appear as if the sun is rising, or you can make the stage dark when an actor flips a prop light switch in a room. Backlit scrims can also be used to create the illusion of a starry night, a sunny day, or even a fire.
- Control the mood: Stage lighting can also have a significant impact on mood. The goal is to match the lighting to the content of the show in order to elicit the appropriate emotions in the audience.
A soft, warm glow for a happy scene in a play, or dim, cool hues for a sad ballad during a concert, could be used. Different colors are associated with various moods.
Blue, for example, is frequently associated with sadness, whereas red is associated with intense emotions such as love or aggression.
TERMINOLOGY OF STAGE LIGHTING
To better understand the topic of stage lighting, it is helpful to become acquainted with some stage lighting terms for items and concepts that are frequently encountered in this field:
- Lantern: Though they are commonly referred to as lights or lighting fixtures, the lighting units used in stage lighting are also known as lanterns. In Europe, the term luminaire is more commonly used.
- Lamps: In a domestic lighting context, a lamp is the correct term for what you might call a light bulb. The bulbs that go into light fixtures are always referred to as lamps in stage lighting.
A wash is a broad swath of lighting that provides consistent coverage across a stage. It is also known as a fill. Floodlights are commonly used to produce a wash.
- Intensity: Lighting professionals use intensity to describe the brightness of a stage light. A brighter light will consume more electricity. When the electrical supply is reduced, the light becomes dimmer, or less intense. Diffusion is the process of dispersing light in order to soften it.
An intense beam with hard edges is the polar opposite of diffused light. To soften the light, lighting designers can use diffusion material, which is similar to a colourless gel.
Barndoors are sets of two or four metal flaps that attach to the front of a stage light to cast a broad, soft beam of light. The barn doors shape the light and create a harder edge where the light stops, ensuring that the beam does not illuminate areas that should remain dark.
- Shutters: Similar to barn doors, shutters are built into ellipsoidal lighting fixtures. You can manipulate the shape of the light and block certain areas by moving the shutters. A gel, also known as a colour filter, is used by lighting professionals to change the colour of a light beam.
Gels are made up of clear sheets with a translucent coloured plastic sheet in the middle. You can use the same light to cast many different colours by sliding different gels into the colour frame on a light.
A gobo, also known as a pattern, is a thin metal disc with a pattern cut out, similar to a stencil. The light will cast a pattern on the stage if the gobo is placed in a holder in front of a light source. This pattern could be used to create an image, such as a city skyline, or it could simply be used to add texture to the light.
- Snoot: A snoot, also known as a top hat due to its appearance, is an opaque, cylindrical accessory that can be worn over a light to reduce a flare or stray light from lighting fixtures.
A cyclorama, also known as a “cyc,” is a large cloth backdrop used on a stage. It’s usually concave and arcs from one side of the stage to the other. Lighting equipment can be used to project light or images onto the cyclorama.
STAGE LIGHTING FIXTURE TYPES
Lighting fixtures of various types are used in stage lighting design. Because each type is intended for a specific purpose, most stage lighting setups will include a variety of lanterns. Among these fixtures are:
- Elliptical: An ellipsoidal reflector spotlight emits a bright, well-defined beam of light that is ideal for use as front lighting. You can adjust the focus with soft or sharp edges, use shutters to shape the lighting, and keep light from bleeding into areas you want to keep dark. These lights can also hold gobos and gels, allowing you to create patterns and colours.
- Followspot: A follow spot is a type of spotlight that casts an intense, focused beam of light to draw attention to a performer moving around onstage. Because they are traditionally operated manually, these lights are especially useful when you don’t know which path a performer will take and need to respond in real-time. The operator can adjust the size and intensity level of the beam, as well as the colour, in addition to the positioning of the follow-spot.
- Fresnel lens: These lights bear the name of their creator, Augustin Fresnel. The lens of these lights is made of concentric rings, which makes them unique. The light is brightest in the centre ring and becomes softer as it approaches the edges. These lights are ideal for washes, but they can also produce narrower beams of light with a soft edge. These lights do not support shutters or patterns.
- Can PAR: A PAR can (parabolic aluminized reflector) is a common fixture in stage lighting. PAR cans are cylindrical metal casings that house sealed-beam lamps. These lights are designed in a manner similar to vehicle headlights. They don’t have the precise focus or zoom options, but they can be adjusted to create horizontal or vertical beams. You can use gels to create coloured lights and choose between standard and LED options.
- Floodlighting: A floodlight is a large fixture that can be moved horizontally or vertically by an operator. Because they lack lenses, floodlights are defined solely by the reflector and lamp type. Light is equally distributed above and below the lamp’s horizontal axis in symmetrical floodlights. The light spreads much further in one direction compared to the other in the horizontal axis of asymmetrical floodlights. Floodlights, like PAR cans, cannot support patterns, beam adjustments, or other accessories besides colour gels and diffusion.
- Cyc Light: Keep in mind that a “cyc” is a large fabric backdrop. A cyc light, then, is an open-faced fixture that casts an even wash of light across a cyc or another type of vertical surface. These lights can be positioned on the floor or hung close to the background to effectively cover it in a sheet of light.
- Strip Lighting: Strip lights can be used as cyc lights as well, but they are wider than most cyc lights. They are made up of several lamps organised in a continuous line. Many led light engineers use strip lights to add a lot of colour coverage to a stage. They may also permit colour mixing. These lights are available in both standard and LED versions.
Lighting positions are a fundamental stage lighting concept to grasp. The following are the primary lighting roles that creative people consider when creating their designs:
- Front illumination: The primary source of illumination for an achievement is the front lights. Front lighting is frequently used to provide a wash for the entire stage. Fixtures that figure forward toward performers’ faces are a good place to start, but they will make an entertainer appear flat.
- Backlighting are also required to create a much more dimensional appearance in which the actor stands out from the background. Backlights are placed behind the entertainers at the back of the stage. Backlights can be positioned vertically at various points. PAR can fixtures are particularly effective for backlighting. You can create the appearance by changing the colour and intensity.
- Downlighting: Downlighting is yet another way to add aspect to stage lighting. The intensity of based on the functionality can vary. It’s worth noting that some designers use the term “downlighting” to refer to lights that are placed at the feet and throw light upwards, while others refer to lights that are placed just above stage and shine directly down or down at a viewpoint.
- Side as well as high side lighting: To highlight entertainers from either side, lamps should be placed at the stage’s horizontal edges. High side lighting is defined as side lighting that is placed high enough to shine on the performers’ heads and shoulders. These lights are essential for displaying actors’ facial expressions clearly.
COLORS AND TEXTURES OF LIGHTING
Designers can greatly impact the visuals and environment of a producing using colour and texture tools. As previously stated, gels enable lighting engineers to change the colour of lights. They can also layer or merge gels to create different colour variations. Lighting designers may use one of the following approaches when using different coloured lamps to illustrate a scene:
- Monochromatic colour schemes are limited to various shades of the same colour. This is a good option if you want to keep the light sources simple or highlight a single colour.
- Complementary colours are those that are opposite each other on the colour wheel. Putting these polar opposites together helps to create contrast. You could, for example, pair blue as well as yellow or red and green. Complementary colours should not be layered because they will result in muddy hues.
- Triads: For more visual variety, creative people can use 3 different colours in a scene. The colour scheme is known as a triad when these colours form a triangle on the colour wheel. You could, for example, mix red, green, and blue, or cyan, magenta, and yellow.
- Adjacent colours: A lighting designer can achieve a faded look from one colour to the next by pairing adjacent colours — that is, colours next to each other on the colour wheel.
- Cool or warm colours: Combining colours of the same air temp can also evoke a specific mood and colour theme. Combining red, orange, and yellow, for example, can create a warm atmosphere.
Colored lighting can set a mood or add to the overall vibe of a scene, but that’s not all. Color changes in lighting can also act symbolically and be linked to specific themes or characters in a show. In an interview, a lighting designer for a “Swan Lake” production noted that, while the show’s colour palette is mostly white, the brightness integrates a bit of blue whenever the Swan is onstage.
Texture is yet another important way for lighting designers to have an immediate impact on the visuals in a scene. Lighting designers can change the look of a scene by using section gives a brief overview with patterns on them. Even in productions with minimal sets, the right lighting pattern can make the performers appear to be in a jungle, a city, outside on a starry night, or in a church with a stained-glass window.
THE STAGE IS BEING DIVIDED
You may be wondering how creative people plan the lighting for a theatre production at this point. This is a lengthy process that begins with the script being read and ends with the live performance. A designer can begin to develop a plan after becoming acquainted with the production in terms of the characters, plot, and set that will be onstage.
This strategy will begin by dividing the stage into zones that will require independent lighting control. The lighting designer will designate general segments that are evenly distributed across the stage for productions that use the entire stage for most scenes. The most basic example is a centre segment with side segments on stage left and stage right.
There will be more definitive, natural area designations for the lighting designer to start with in productions with more segmentation is performed sets and scenes that take place at different parts of the stage. For example, a narrator may appear on stage from time to time to speak, or a soloist may stand to perform during an orchestra concert. You would like this area to be its own.
The way a designer designates areas depends entirely on the production and the set, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each new production on which a lighting designer works must be built from the ground up.
Lighting designers often think about colour in terms of warm, cool, and neutral lighting in the early stages of their design. They can also begin to think more specifically about individual colours if they know their colours will vary significantly from one area of the stage to the next.
FIXTURES FOR HANGING LIGHTS
Installing light fixtures is best left to a reputable expert who has the necessary tools and knowledge of how to hang stage lights. The most important factor to consider is safety. Professional lighting installers will typically use lighting clamps to secure lanterns to a steel pipe or truss. To secure the lights to the pipe or truss, installers will use a safety cable that wraps around both the strut and the lever or handle of the fixture.
When possible, all illumination cabling should be run overhead. Some pipes, known as internally-wired bars (IWBs), are equipped with sockets, allowing you to power your lights more easily. When running cable across the floor, it’s best to create a recessed track for the cable so it doesn’t become a tripping hazard or an impediment to moving sets.
The positioning of lights is determined by how the creator has segmented the stage and the lighting angles desired. There will most likely be several light clusters surrounding the stage. Some lights, such as a followspot, are not hung at all. They are self-contained and can be positioned anywhere in the theatre or arena.
HOW TO COLLABORATE WITH A LIGHTING DESIGNER
As an experienced lighting designer and lighting design professor points out, there is no exact formula for the lighting design process or who collaborates on a production because each one is unique.
When it comes to lighting up a stage, lighting designers are the experts, but directors or others working on a production can help the lighting designer do their best. When working with a stage lighting designer, keep the following in mind:
- Begin early: Begin communicating with your lighting designer as soon as possible. This includes sharing a script, a show video, or any other materials that will help them understand the content of the producing. Lighting design takes time, so don’t put off working with a lighting designer until the end of rehearsals.
- Communicate your objectives and preferences: If the writer, choreographer, director, or composer has specific artistic goals in mind for the lighting, communicate those goals. These could be broad lighting objectives or more specific objectives. For example, you could talk about a colour shift that should occur during a scene. If you have specific lighting preferences, make sure to communicate them to your designer so they can take them into account.
- Allow them artistic freedom: While you should consider your own goals, it’s critical to give your led light team enough flexibility to truly develop the lighting for the show. Special lighting developers are likely to have creative insights and technical expertise that you do not, and they can use this specialised knowledge to create something spectacular.
ILLUMINATED INTEGRATION CUSTOM STAGE LIGHTING DESIGN
A good production can be transformed into a memorable performance with the right lighting design. Light can enhance a play, concert, musical, dance, or worship service by using the right angles, intensity levels, colors, and textures.
Illuminated Integration is a design-build audio, video, and lighting (AVL) company that can help you build a stage lighting setup from the ground up or upgrade your existing setup.
We’ll meet with your team for a comprehensive consultation to discuss your lighting design project goals and parameters, as well as learn more about your venue.
We can then create a unique lighting design that is tailored to your stage and goals. We’ll even install the system and provide ongoing support, turning our services into a turnkey solution. Contact Illuminated Integration today to learn more about our custom AVL designs.