Stage Lighting Design

Your First Lighting Design How To – A crash course in 10 steps

On Stage Lighting recently had a number of questions on doing a first lighting design. If you have been given the job of lighting designer for your next school play, this crash course will help you learn the basics of the lighting design process. It won’t help you learn all the detail of how to do a complex lighting design, but the 10 steps will get you started.

  • Read the Script

    Read the script, first as an audience member. You are trying to understand what the play is about, characters etc. Forget about lighting design. You should then read the play again as the lighting designer, noting down changes in mood, weather, time of day. Anything that relates to the stage lighting. Professional theatre companies perform a “read though” of the script with the cast and all production team as the first part of the production process.

  • Discuss with others

    The director will have ideas and requirements of the lighting design. The director is your boss and you must make careful note of what they are hoping for.
    The production designer will be able to tell you about the set or scenery and where the action will take place. They will also have design ideas that you need to take on board.
    Write lists of all this – lighting design is a lot of writing lists.

  • Have ideas

    The director may have ideas for the lighting design, but you will too. Think about the mood, how to light the action or scene settings in the play. Come up with ideas about lighting colour, brightness and angles to enhance the play. Write another list of scenes or lighting cues (changes) in chronological order with your design ideas alongside. Make sure you discuss your ideas with the production team.

  • Get Information

    More lists. Find out technical stuff about the lighting equipment available to you, if you can hire extra lights etc. Write and inventory of all the equipment and other lighting resources such as how many dimmer channels are in your venue.
    Get or create a drawing of the venue with elements that relate to your lighting design such as rigging positions, power sockets and other technical details.

  • Attend Rehearsals

    Lighting design is a three dimensional job and attending some rehearsals will make sure that you understand the way the action happens and what the audience will see. As well as attending rehearsals, the lighting designer should take an interest in costume designs, fabrics and props. These are all effected by your lighting.
    A theatre company will usually have a “dress parade” for production team to see the cast members in the costumes that they will wear on the night.

  • Draw up paperwork

    Having made lists on pretty much every aspect of the play, the lighting designer needs to produce “the paperwork”. This includes: plans of the lighting equipment sited in the venue, lighting cue lists, equipment inventory, gel colours required and more. This wealth of information helps the lighting crew and production team put your lighting design into practice. If you are thinking of hiring extra equipment, read Stage Lighting Hire – What You Need to Know.

  • Focus the lighting

    If you are working on a school play, you will need to be involved with hanging the lights and getting them working. It is useful for the lighting designer to be around during the rig setup to make decisions, but it is essential for you to be involved in the focus. You will be in charge or making sure that the lights are angled and focussed correctly , and that the ideas of your lighting design are put into practice.

  • Plot the show

    As lighting designer, you may be required to operate the lighting control on the night. Even if you have another “op”, you will need to make decisions on how to set the lighting cues – brightness and other lighting changes with the director. The lighting plot is where you get to realise your lighting for the show.

  • Make Changes

    Tweaking your lighting design, by changing the brightness of cues or tidying up the focus is the final part of the production process. This happens during the last days of final rehearsals. Making big changes to your lighting design at this stage does not go down well with the rest of the team, but thinking about how to perfect your show ready for the audience is good.

  • Go to the bar.
    All good lighting designs end with the satisfaction of a job well done and some hard earned socialising with your crew. After the first night of the play has ended, the lighting designers work is done. Congratulations and we hope that this crash course to the lighting design process helped you on your way.
  1. ardyn

    hi, i thought this site was very useful. I am a drama student and i am very interested in the importance of lighting effects to incorporate on stage. Do you have any techniques? such as a ‘wash’? thanks

  2. Andrew Shirley

    Cheers for all the info, just thought I would let you know some of your links in the article are broken. (They seen to have a duplicate “http://” which Firefox doesn’t like)

  3. mirla

    Me encanto esta pagina estoy agradesida. Me permito preguntar algo de intere para mi, como haria para que la iluminacion diera la sensacion de rejas que bañen al personaje o este caso a la actriz gracias seria de gran valor para mi.

  4. Eric


    I am currently working in stage lighting design for over 5 years in my home country, Macau. As i didn’t carry any certificate so far and would like to ask if any distance course or short course that can offer in uk that i can apply.

    Thanks for your help.

  5. Ishani

    It is indeed a very good site for beginners. Ido lighting at Collegiate level drama competitions and have been learning everything abt lighting from this site only… Thanks a lot for sharing your invaluable information

  6. mark

    Rob, Thanks for all that you have done and do for our industry. Your give back attitude has served many well. Keep up the good work
    Best Regards,

  7. Brock

    I think what you typed was actually very logical.
    However, what about this? what if you added a little content?
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    course in 10 steps | – Stage Lighting Tutorials, Information and
    How To is kinda plain. You ought to glance at Yahoo’s front page and see how they create article titles to grab people interested.

    You might add a video or a picture or two to grab people excited about what you’ve written. In my opinion, it could bring your website a little bit more interesting.

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