Stage Lighting Design

Stage Lighting Tutorials – Stage Lighting 101 Review

There are some good free stage lighting tutorials on the web and the daddy of them is Stage Lighting 101 by Bill Williams. Bill Williams has a pedigree as an international lighting designer, lighting author and teacher and his work is a must for beginners.

On Stage Lighting brings free modern lighting information, and lighting basics for beginners, to the internet. Not wishing to duplicate information provided by established stage lighting tutorials, we choose subjects that are contemporary in the lighting industry. Stage Lighting 101 is the basics of theatre lighting design. This guide to stage lighting may be Web 0.5 and the articles complex but take a moment from looking at the Wunderlites catalogue. Have a look through the essential basics of theatre lighting that this guide has to offer.

Update: Since this article was first compiled, the Stage Lighting 101 content has moved to a different server.  Stage Lighting 101 by Bill Williams can now be found at

1 – Introduction to Stage Lighting

This tutorial starts with some of the history and evolution of stage lighting design. It also explains the job of the lighting designer and some of the elements of lighting design, including the qualities of light such as intensity, colour and “movement” (meaning changes of the light quality). Physical light properties such as lighting colour theory, primary and secondary lighting colours and additive/subtractive colour mixing are introduced.

2 – General Stage Lighting Design Methods

The stage lighting tutorial introduces the basics of lighting design theory such as visibility (being able to see the action on stage) versus mood lighting (pretty obvious). The idea of single source (one light) and multiple lighting sources are explained plus the concept of lighting the “action” using areas. This “area lighting” method is common in theatre lighting design. Lighting sets, scenery and backgrounds is outlined along with “specials”, the lighting term for highlighting specific features in a performance.

3 – Applied Lighting Design Methods

This tutorial is split up into separate sections covering different lighting design disciplines such as theatre, dance, opera, film and TV lighting as well as lighting outdoors, architecture, landscapes and museums. Each lighting section explains the considerations relevant to each subject, plus some pointers on common practices and lighting techniques.

4 – Professional Lighting Procedure

An important stage lighting tutorial to help you understand the structure of the professional lighting design process, this section starts by explaining the job titles, such as set designer, lighting designer, producer, chief electrician etc. The lesson continues with a flowchart of producing a lighting design – from reading the script through to the opening night.
The section shows the tools of stage lighting design communication such as lighting plans, sections/elevations (side view technical drawings) and lighting design paperwork. As well being both creative and technical, lighting design also involves detailed paperwork such as equipment lists, filter inventories, dimmer schedules and cue/plot sheets as this lesson explains.

5 – Stage Lighting Fixtures

This tutorial is all about the hardware that produces light. Luminaires or lanterns (just words for lights) are split into their basic family types, such as ellipsoidals (profile spotlights in the UK) fresnels, PC, floodlights etc. Understanding stage lighting equipment is important in the design process and, though a lot of information to take in, the Stage Lighting Fixtures section is well written even if the images of stage lights are not of the most modern equipment. Only basic information on modern automated lighting is included. Although intelligent lighting is an important part of modern stage lighting design, the basics of stage lighting hardware remain the same – however the light is produced.

6 – Stage Lighting Mechanics

The Stage Lighting Mechanics tutorial covers all the physical properties about lanterns, beam angle/spreads, illuminance and electrical power calculations. Not the most exciting part of stage lighting, understanding of the simple physics (even if you can’t remember how to do the calcs) is still important for a successful designer. Using these lighting calculations, a lighting designer can work out which fixture to use and where to hang it. Without this understanding, the lighting designer would have to resort to trial and error – not the most productive method. The basics are not hard to understand if you can cut through all the angles, lumens and watts.

7 – Lighting Design Education

The last section of Stage Lighting 101 is a brief set of notes about learning the basics of stage lighting design. Formal training, with some examples of a stage lighting lesson, versus hands on experience is detailed. While the idea of learning about boring old angles and beam spreads might not appeal, given the option of playing with the more affordable intelligent lighting toys, it is part of the job.

Take a look…

The new stage lighting designer would do well to try to understand what Mr Williams and LD’s of his generation have to teach. Lighting in the 21st century is a mass of technical wizardry, cheaper equipment and rapid development that make learning it an expanding list of things to find out about. Making time for the “old school” stuff is even more difficult.

The basics of lighting design remain the same. As we progress technically – let’s hope that “technical” doesn’t replace “design”.

  1. Uta

    hi there, I have studied devised theatre and really enjoyed the lighting side of things. Never really had any deep introduction to lighting and we had to make something out of nothing or just improvise. I have helped with a few small studio shows from friends but now I really like to learn some more without having to do a 3 year course. Are there any good short courses??

  2. Rob

    Hi Uta

    Let us know where you are based and maybe the On Stage Lighting readers could suggest some short stage lighting courses.

  3. Kris

    Hello, im a student director of my college opera company and i would like to know if there are any short classes based out of the Ft. Lauderdale area in Florida so i can get a better understanding of lighting. do you have any suggestions?

  4. amber

    I am a high school student who is beggining light designing this year and I am clueless of where to beggin. Any help is needed. Thanks.

  5. Zacheus

    HI Suthip,

    There are a part-time Stage lighting part-time course at Hong Kong, I joined before, really good for beginner.

    Wish can help you!

  6. David

    First of all, that you in advance for your time reading this and replies.

    I am doing the lighting for Oliver! and the venue we have has limited back-lighting capability.

    During the opening workhouse scene my challenge is, without using blues which I like to reserve for night scenes, is to cast a sense of gloom and depression.

    My initial thoughts are to top light with blue from the battens and front light with a pale green blended with some amber from the balcony rain. I’m also planning to throw in an industrial window gobo from center stage towards the apron.

    The stage is painted flat black, the backdrop is an industrial looking interior coloured light creme, and the tables and benches are a dark mahogany wood. The costumes worn by the workhouse boys are a drab brown-gray.

  7. Rob

    Hi David,

    Doesn’t sound like you need help with ideas. I like the sound of a window gobo and sickly looking colours. Your window gobo might have more impact as a high side light, rather than the backlight angle you mention.
    Don’t forget to consider the what “real” light sources in the workhouse would be and what angles they would shine from. Candles, fire etc.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Thanks for stopping by.


    HI GUYS,

    THANX GUYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  9. David

    A dimmer (dimmer pack) is the physical box you plug your lighting instruments into. Dimmer packs controls the voltage (and as a result the intensity) to an instrument and are addressable (this translates into a channel number) and are ‘daisy-chained’ together back to the light board.

    The channel is a unique address number associated to each dimmer pack and often to each plug on a dimmer pack if the pack has more than one.

    Useful Wikipedia links:

  10. Matt

    Does anyone know of any short lighting courses in the UK? Preferably in the North West?



    PS Sorry to add to the growing list of request for short courses around the world!!

  11. harout

    hi, i need help with lighting along with projection… i’m in a dance group and we wanted to have a separate background with each dance, so we’re gonna have a special kind of a slide show with each dance. now what’s worrying us is that when we have the slide show via projector we’re affraid that it won’t be obvious with the stage lighting (because then it won’t be dark enough to see the screen). is there a special way/technique that will let us have both stage lighting and a backgroung via projector at the same time without causing the slide show not to be seen? (sorry if i made it sound complicated) i would realy appreciate your help.
    thank you

  12. Rob Sayer

    Hi Harout, this should be too much of a problem for a dance show. If you were planning to project from the front, the image will obviously end up being broken up by the performers on stage, so rear projection (or some really careful planning of angles) makes a better job of it.

    The key to lighting the performers and not ruining the background is to use lighting angle that don’t end up actually lighting the screen too. In most situations, this means top light (from straight over head) and side light / cross lighting (across stage) which is ideal for lighting dancers anyway.

    The other thing to control is the relative brightness between the projector and the performers, which usually means attenuating the stage light or getting a brighter projector.

    Thanks for your question.

  13. deepa


    Im based out of zurich, switzerland and would like to know if there are any specific lighting courses with respect to dance. Am a performing artist and choreographer and am looking forward to learn the aspects of lighting for dance dramas (Indian classical dance)

  14. mallik

    Hey i am india i realy want to.know how muchlights must be used for foh depending on stage how calculate lights as foh cutlightht backlight n colours pls.suggest me

  15. Wes

    What is the best way to light sections of stage, and the performers on it, using pars, in a concert setting?

  16. Peter Roberts

    Hello, history question:
    I saw an inventive (to me at the time, anyway) modern dance company in NYC in the early 70s which made extensive use of slide carousels and colored images to light the dancers – dissolves, etc. side booms, top, front, etc. Can you tell me anything about which company it might have been, and who the lighting designer might have been? I’ve been searching the web for images that might prod my memory, but so far… luck.
    Thank you very much, you have a great site, keep up the illuminating work!

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