Books On Stage Lighting – Reading List

Learning about stage lighting sometimes seems a mystery to those who are just starting out. Lighting design and technology can seem like black magic with all it’s strange terminology and jargon. Learning all about stage lighting is best done in a variety of ways, not least hands on experience in theatres or concert venues. Reading books on stage lighting is a great way to study the theories and practice as well as learning new stage lighting terms. Check out  our Reading List.

Here are five of the best books on stage lighting that have been chosen by On Stage Lighting as having their own unique qualities and would be useful to anyone wanting to learn more about the subject. These books have all played a part in the lighting education of the On Stage Lighting team at some time.

Update 2012:  We are adding to this page and compiling a stage lighting reading list on this page, with some detail on specific good books in the subject area.  If you have a particular favourite, please add it to comments with some detail about what you regard as good about the book.  The original five are further down.


Stage Lighting Reading List

Listed below is a growing reading list of books on stage lighting that are recommended by On Stage Lighting, based on my university reading list.

Books For Beginners: Stage Lighting Basics

These books are best for the absolute beginner, although many are still useful once you have progressed in your lighting learning.  At university, I classify these as particularly appropriate for Level 4 (first year undergraduate) students.

  • Stage Lighting Handbook.  Francis Reid (2002) : Routledge.  The most ubiquitous of all stage lighting basics books, relevant to learning lighting design for theatre using conventional fixtures.  With updates to include modern equipment.
  • Stage Lighting – The Technician’s Guide. Skip Mort (2011) : Methuen.  Very good at explaining the basics in a “Stage Lighting For Dummies” way. Accessible and with additional DVD covering lighting design and systems.  Great for schools (up to Level 3) or early years Higher Education students with little or no lighting knowledge.
  • Performance Lighting Design: How to…. Nick Moran (2007) : Methuen.  Nice and clear on the basics, visual with images and diagrams. Good explanations on the techniques for focusing a general area cover and producing lighting designs and paper communication.  One of the most accessible available.
  • Stage Lighting Guide. Neil Fraser (2011) : Crowood Press. Written by RADA lecturer Neil Fraser, the book starts from day one and contains practical exercises with a focus on learning by doing.  Another such book is:
  • Discovering Stage Lighting. Francis Reid (1998) : Focal Press. Reid introduces a series of practical exercises designed to take the reader through a journey in the basics of lighting design.  Requires access to equipment and a suitable space to get the best from it.  Not a book to just read.

Moving On:  Intermediate Lighting Books

These books are particularly relevant to those building their lighting knowledge to the next level.  At university, I suggest these for Level 5 (second year undergraduate) students.

  • Stage Lighting Design: The Art, The Craft, The Life. Richard Pilbrow (2010) : Nick Hern Books. A beginner could own this book alone and be satisfied with it.  I feel Pilbrow’s book is good for developing stage lighting enthusiasts as it contains many gems that won’t be spotted by absolute beginners.  Also with interviews with other lighting designers, the book considers the “work” of a lighting designer as a professional.
  • Focus on Lighting Technology. Richard Cadena (2002) : ET Press.  A look at the technology behind modern lighting.  Cadena is an author that habitually tackles technological developments and theories and gets them into print.  With the speed of development ever increasing, this is looking harder while keeping current but this books is good for the developing technician.
  • Automated Lighting … Richard Cadena (2010) : Focal Press. Not many books attempt to gather all the bits and pieces after the explosion of moving light technology.  This book is good on concepts, technology and history and techie geekiness.  It will not teach you how to be a Lighting Designer with moving lights, and doesn’t seek to cover moving light programming in depth.
  • The Automated Lighting Programmer’s Handbook Brad Schiller (2010) : Focal Press.  The only book really dedicated to the fairly new  discipline of moving light programmers, this book contains great information on the basics and recent history of programming.  In modern theatre, understanding automated lighting programming is becoming a must.  Interesting diary on the Sydney Olympics, the book contains information very much on how the author works, so isn’t completely comprehensive on modern programming techniques but is a near as you will find.
  • Concert Lighting Systems John Vasey (199 : Focal Press) Looking at the business of touring and temporary systems, this books contains useful information about using portable dimming and lighting systems, basic rigging and safety.  Not so much a design book, one of the good ones about the business of life on the road and the equipment you take with you.

Advancing Your Learning in Stage Lighting

These books are particularly relevant to those with a good grounding in the technology and the basics of lighting design and wish to move further.  At University, I suggest these books to Level 6 (final year undergraduate) students.

  • Light Fantastic: The Art and Design Of Stage Lighting Max Keller (2010) : Prestel.  This oversize, full colour book is great for lighting design students that want to be inspired and prefer plenty of visual media such as large colour photographs of lighting designs in action.
  • Lighting and the Design Idea Linda Essig (2004 ) : Wadworth. This books is full of different elements, including information on US lighting practice and equipment.  The real gems in this book are the early sections on the development of ideas and the artistry behind lighting design, rather than plonking fixtures on a plan.  I suggest this for lighting design students that wish to push their design development on.
  • A Practical Guide To Stage Lighting Design Steve Shelley (2009 : Focal Press) Although this book can be useful at any stage, I feel this contains some great information that is best understood by those with a bit of lighting history.  The book also covers the “business” of lighting and is great for advice to anyone as they get nearer to entering the industry as a professional.


We’ll keep adding to this stage lighting reading list over time.  Don’t forget to comment on any books you feel are useful for On Stage Lighting readers.

The Stage Lighting Handbook by Francis Reid (6th Edition)

– Francis Reid’s book has been the foundation of many lighting designers education for many years. Demonstrating the theories behind designing lights for the theatre, it has been updated to include information relevant to the modern world of lighting while still retaining all those simple lighting principles that will never change. The Stage Lighting Handbook is probably the most “famous” book on stage lighting design that there is. More reviews…

Verdict: An absolute “must read” for anyone interested in learning, and progressing in, stage lighting. Also available in the US at

Lighting And Sound (Theatre Manual) by Neil Fraser (Phaidon)

– This book is part of the excellent Phaidon Theatre Manual series which are all well worth looking at if you have a passion for learning about “backstage” stuff (I owned the whole series when I started out!). Lighting And Sound is split into two parts covering the two different subjects and gives you an excellent grounding in the basics of theatre lighting. Lighting design principles are well explained with some nice illustrations and there is a useful glossary of theatre terms. The sound section gives you a good introduction to theatre sound although if you have a little experience, you will probably want to get a more in depth guide.

Verdict: The book is just right for anyone taking their first steps in technical theatre and is the best “introduction” book. Also available in the US at

Concert Sound and Lighting Systems by John Vasey (3rd Edition) (Focal Press)

– Concert Sound and Lighting Systems is a great way to understand the particular subject of lighting for live music shows. The “rock and roll” scene, as it is still known, has history and techiniques that have grown up outside of theatre lighting design. It also has different problems and solutions. This book does not pretend to be a guide to the first principles of lighting design, but explains the techniques and processes involved in lighting live concerts. Particular attention is given to aspects of touring and quick set ups and introduces an important part of temporary stage lighting systems – rigging. Concert Sound and Lighting Systems shows you techinques that are also highly relevant to modern award shows and coropate events.

Verdict: If you want to learn live concert lighting, touring events or corporate shows, this book has loads of useful information that you just don’t get in a theatre lighting manual. Also available in the US at

Automated Lighting: The Art and Science of Moving Light in Theatre, Live Perfo……. by Richard Cadena (Focal Press)

– This book has a ridiculously long title, but maybe for good reason. Intelligent Lighting has been a huge driving force in lighting for the entertainment industry for quite a few years now. Where it was once a weird luxury, it is now as much a part of stage lighting as a 500w fresnel. The crossover between theatre, live shows, concerts, television and corporate events means that the lighting design boundaries now blur. Automated Lighting? Everyone is doing it.

Despite the march of moving lights into everything we do in the lighting industry, not many of us have taken the time to write a comprehensive book on the subject. It seems such a huge undertaking to even try to cover this exciting subject that has made the art and technical aspects of stage lighting SO much bigger. Richard Cadena knows his stuff and his book is a brilliant guide to moving lights, design concepts and just the business of using all these funny “waggly mirrors” and “nodding buckets”. In the modern world of lighting, you have to know this stuff too.

Verdict: Great to understand the subject of intelligent lighting and progress further in the brave new(ish) world. Also available in the US at

The Automated Lighting Programmer’s Handbook by Brad Schiller (Focal Press)

Programming “the desk” in stage lighting is now, more than ever, a special skill. In the old days, when you only had to worry about dimmers, the skill came in remembering how to get your “memory desk” to boot again after you had moved it to the stalls for the lighting plot. With the prevelance of automated lighting things have got a lot more complicated. The modern programmer must not only know how their lighting console behaves but now make lighting design decisions, organise their data efficiently and understand how each model of their intelligent fixtures works. Add to this the “we’ve got no time to program” ethic that most shows (well, the ones I work on, anyway) seem to run on today and you soon realise the range of skills needed to program and control automated lighting.

Brad Schiller is a professional moving light programmer with an impressive CV. The Handbook contains lots of useful tips on programming, organisation and design. Importantly, it also explains exactly what it is like to work as a moving light operator and how the role fit’s into the modern show. There is also some interesting advice from many other well respected operators in the industry and his diary as a programmer for the Sydney Olympics really brings the whole subject to life.

Verdict: If you think that you might be interested in working in this field this book gives you an accurate idea of what it is like. It also will help you with your own programming, even if you are working on smaller shows. Also available at in the US at

I hope that you have found this article useful and, by the way, we don’t have any links with Focal Press. They just publish a lot of stage lighting books.


17 thoughts on “Books On Stage Lighting – Reading List”

  1. Hello,

    I’ve got a little predicament in that i cant get any experience working on the rig due to health and saftey and not being allowed up ladders. Is there a course i need to do this or what do you advice?

    Thanks In Advance
    Jimmy Thew

  2. Hi Jimmy,

    If you work in a regular venue, find out what their Risk Assesment, Insurance and H&S policy says on working at height. If they have an minimum age that you don’t meet,or are in an educational environment, you might not be able to do much to persuade them to change their policy.

    If you need “adequate training” to work at height then find out what is meant by that. There are training courses for working at height and use of ladders and these are designed to meet the needs of an employer who must demonstrate , somehow, that you have had this “adequate training”. Again, it is down to the venue’s policies.

    Pretty frustrating for you, I am sure!

  3. Greetings – I’m very flattered that you consider my book, “Automated Lighting: The Art and Science of Moving Light…” one of the best on stage lighting. Thank you for the kind comments. I have a new book called, “Lighting Design for Modern Houses of Worship” that is due out in January 2008 and another called “Electricity for the Entertainment Electrician and Technician” due out in late 2008. I hope you have room to expand your recommendations to seven books! ;) Please visit my web site at
    Best regards,
    Richard “Swami Candela” Cadena

  4. Hi Richard

    Glad you could stop by the On Stage Lighting site. Books on stage lighting such as yours still play an important role in learning the craft. The constantly evolving technology means that we need writers like yourself to keep modern works coming. Not forgetting the “Old Masters” like Francis Reid.

    We look forward to reading the new books and I am sure you will wish to direct your students to On Stage Lighting for their online lighting fix!

  5. Hi Rob,

    Thanks so much for linking me to this page! Glad to see we have a favorite in common. =) I am going to get my hands on The Automated Lighting Programmer’s Handbook with my next paycheck. Thanks for the recommendation!

  6. I’d recommend one book … its outdated technically, but not artisically and describes the craft for an outsider (you can explain to your mom and your girfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband/whatever what it is you do) The Magic of Light by Jean Rosenthal .. a great Broadway designer of the 60’s

  7. Thanks for your suggestion, Jerry. That book is highly spoken of, although I haven’t read it myself. One of those that you will soon only be able to find in the secondhand bookshops, I expect.

  8. I would like to recommend another book. It’s Max Keller’s LIGHT Fantastic, 1999, ISBN 3.7913.2162.5. The best allround book, with the best photographs I’ve ever seen in a book, scenes and equipment. It might look outdated, but it is certainly not.
    Just try to find it and have a look.
    Regards Yeroen
    PS. Like the site, just found it a few weeks ago. Keep it up.

  9. while I do not recommend Neil Fraser’s Light and sound (too basic and often boring) here is my top5

    Light Fantastic – Max Keller
    The Magic of Light – Jean Rosenthal
    Stage Lighting Design – Richard Pillbrow
    A Practical Guide to Stage Lighting – Steven Louis Shelley
    Automated Lighting – Richard Cadena

    I am also waiting for Cadena’s Electricity for Entertainment Electrician & Technician (we should find this a nickname) Reference and the 3rd edition of James Moody’s Concert Lighting

  10. Thanks for you suggestions, Carlos. While Neil Frasers book is fairly basic, the whole Phaidon Theatre Manual series is a great intro to all the disciplines. I even had the Costume and Wardrobe book and enjoyed reading all of them.

    I was probably about 12 years old, though. The book is still a good jump off point for young people IMO.

    I reviewed the Richard Pilbrow book a little while ago when it became available in the UK as a paperback edition.

  11. Hi
    I was hoping you could give me some advise please, I help at my childrens dance school, two shows ago I took over the lighting well say took over I am the first person to take it on, I have to admit I have really got the bug and love doing the lighting only problem is I am learning through mistakes and getting realy frustrated, we have got 8 par 64 cans and three 2000w lights (sorry dont know what they are called) to control them all I use a basic foot controller for the par cans and turn on the 2000w on on and off by the plug which is a nightmare.

    Do you know of any courses I could do to learn what equipment I need to buy to learn how to improve our lighting and to be able to fade each light rather than just turn on and off.

    many thanks

  12. Hi

    I am currently a student in my final year of A-Levels. I am studying performing arts and film studies. Thought performing arts i have had the chance to use the school lighting equipment. It has always been something i have been interested in. I would like to get a carer as a lighting technician but have no idea of how to go about learning it or getting experience. Any advice would be very helpful.

    Thank you

  13. Hi There, i am an event producer. I produce fashion shows, launch parties and other live events. I always have a lighting designer but i now feel i need some knowledge of my own. Simply because it is my job to visualise the event and brief the designer and then check the positioning and effects during the dress rehearsal. Which is the most simple, comprehensive book i can read that will basically come with a glossary so i can quickly look up lighting terms and references if i need to and that i can confidently contribute to a conversation with my lighting designer?
    Thank you in advance, sarah

  14. Its so amazing knowing that you can get almost everything you need to know on line,I have studied lighting from stages,live concert,films,musicals etc.This books will definitely do a good job on my lighting skills.

  15. Pingback: Best Stage Lighting Books – Reading List – Stage Lighting Online Tutorials, Information and How To – Moving Image Blog – Enrique Munoz Jimenez

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