Rob is a Lighting Designer and Lighting Programmer and currently Senior Lecturer in Technical Theatre Production. He is also the Editor of On Stage Lighting and teaches stage lighting practice.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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