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Lighting can be very important for many types of event. It can provide illumination to see by, can suggest moods, can emphasize shape and texture and can direct the audience's attention to the area you want. Once the purpose of the light has been decided the correct equipment to create it must be selected and carefully positioned and controlled. This short tutorial is aimed at explaining the basics about lighting - the tools at your disposal and some of the fundamental design principles. We hope it will give you the necessary information to get you started but we are always on hand to help and advise if you get into difficulty.
For other technical articles on various aspects of lighting and sound take a look at our Tips'n'tricks page.

Wise man once say - "If all the world's a stage, I want better lighting!"

We will start by examining some of the tools you have to work with - the lighting fixures and lamps, control equipment and rigging. We will then briefly discuss how a show is built using the physical tools and the creative elements.

Choosing Lighting Fixtures

There are a variety of different lighting Fixtures (aka Lanterns, Lights) at the disposal of a lighting designer. These can be split into 4 basic categories : Wash Lights, Spot Lights, Beam Lights and Flood Lights. These can also have other names but we'll work with these for the present.
Wash Light Produces a soft edged beam which looks quite natural. Beam size can normally be adjusted and multiple sources blend together easily. There are a few sub-categories of these; fresnels, prism-convex and pebble-convex. The Fresnel is probably the most widely used of these.
Spot Light Also known as a Profile Spot, this has a more complex lens assembly and allows you to focus the beam so that you can have a soft edged beam like the wash light or a hard edged one. Most Profile spots allow you to insert a Gobo - a metal disc with cut-outs - to breakup the light or to project shapes and images. This can produce a variety of effects.
Beam Light The Beam Light is a little different as all the optics (reflector, lens, etc) are contained in the lamp (aka bulb). This brings the cost of the fixture down but the lamps are a little more expensive. The most common example of this fixture is the Parcan. These lamps produce a very intense beam of light which can be very effective although there is no control over the beam and the spread is a little uneven. Used extensively in Rock'n'Roll due to the intensity of the light which works well with strong colours.
Flood Light Last, but not least, the flood light. This has no adjustable controls and produces a very wide spread of light. It is normally only used to illuminate backdrops.
The choice of lantern will then depend on the application. Wash lights produce a more natural light and are therefore suited more to theatre and film. Live music favours a more intense and visual form of lighting and therefore beam lights are the normal choice along with spotlights for effect.

Power Requirements

An important factor to bear in mind is the amount of electrical power required to use these lanterns. They are rated much higher than normal domestic lamps with power ratings between 500 - 2000 Watts. It is important that you do not try to overload the mains supply at the venue. The following table gives the approximate current requirements for the most common lamps. All ratings assume a 240 volt mains supply.
Lamp Power Rating Current Required
500 Watts 2.1 Amps
650 Watts 2.7 Amps
1000 Watts 4.2 Amps
1200 Watts 5 Amps
2000 Watts 8.3 Amps
Bearing in mind that you may be planning to run the lighting rig off a 13amp socket, it is easy to see that you will not get many lanterns running without blowing the fuse. One way around this is to use more than one wall socket. The typical ring main in most buildings is rated at 32 amps. However. other services in the building may already be using some of this so you will need to do some checking to see if the available power is sufficient.
Some venues are better geared to temporary lighting rigs and will have provided separate supplies. This will normally be in the form of one or more CEE-Form outlets in a combination of 32 or 63 amp, single or 3-phase. In such cases you will require mains distribution apparatus (Distro) to adapt this power to what your rig requires. We have a variety of such equipment on our hire stock.

Dimming and Control

Next comes how you want to control your lighting rig.
If you just want to provide basic light then the lighting can be plugged straight into the mains (bearing in mind any power restrictions as above). To allow control and creativity you will need to employ some kind of dimming or switching.
Dimmers allow the voltage being fed to the lamp to be varied and hence the output of the lantern can change to. Dimmers come in various shapes, sizes and configurations. The most common form for touring use is the 6 Channel Dimmer Rack. This provides six independently controlled channels. Each channel is rated for a particular load and care must be taken not to exceed this. For example, if each channel is rated at 10 amps then two 1200W lamps could be run on each channel or four 500W lamps.
Obviously, the ability to handle a high power on each channel means that the power input must also be large. A typical 6 x 10amp dimmer rack will require 60amps. This will normally then be fitted with a 63amp CEE-form connector. Smaller ones may have a 32amp plug. If you plan to use such equipment, always ensure that the venue has the correct power supply arrangements.
Control of lighting requires a control desk which sends electrical signals to the dimmers to set their levels. These may range from a simple 6 slider panel to an 'all-singing, all-dancing' state-of-the-art computer control system. Generally, if the lighting requires only basic dimming and the changes are not too complex then a manually controlled board with faders will be fine. If you require lights to 'chase' in sequence or the 'cues' are very complex and numerous then you will be looking for a control desk with memory and effects capabilities.


So, you've decided on what lights to use and how you will power and control them. The next step is where to put them.
There are several options when it comes to 'hanging' or 'rigging' lanterns.
They can be hung from bars. By 'bars' we are referring to 48mm pipe - the same type used for scaffolding but generally made out of alluminium alloy to make them lighter. A 'Hook Clamp' is used to attach the lamp firmly to the bar.
Safety Point: For health and safety reasons a safety chain or strop must be fitted to all lanterns as a backup should the main suspension device fail. This secondary method of suspension must be of a suitable type and SWL (Safe Working Load) rating for the lantern. We can advise on what is appropriate.
Trussing is commonly used now to hang lamps. It is comprised of aluminium alloy tubing arranged in a triangular or square box section. It is considerably stronger than a single bar and is manufactured in many different permutations to allow for many types of rig. It is commonly used for touring productions as it is quick to assemble and can be both supended (flown) or free-standing.
Stands can be used to set up lighting where no overhead bars or truss is available. Stands can support a single lamp or several lamps using a T-bar, a horizontal bar which attaches to the top of the stand. Care must be taken not to overload the stand. Too much weight can cause it to fail. Also take care locating the stand as it can be a tripping hazard.
Finally, lamps can be set of the floor or on other objects. Some lamps can get very hot, however, so some form of low stand is commonly in order. Again, you should take care to avoid placing such lamps where they may be a hazard to people.
Safety Point: Bad rigging is one of the greatest causes of accidents in this area of the industry. There are now many Health and Safety regulations relating to this which must be understood and observed. We would strongly recommend that all rigging only be carried out by properly trained and competent personnel.


Its no good simply hanging a few lanterns and turning them on - the result would look patchy and would more than likely fail to light some of the desired areas. Each lantern needs to be 'Focused' to point to the correct place with the desired beam angle and focus. This can often be the most time consuming aspect of setting up a lighting rig and quite often you will re-do some of the lanterns several times until you are happy. However, when done correctly, the lighting should be seamless and look fantastic.
The position of the lanterns relative to the performer can have an effect on the look and feel of the lighting. The most natural positioning is to have the lantern above and in front of the subject at about a 45 angle. Too close above their head and you will get a lot of shadows under noses and chins. Too far in front and you will cast a large shadow behind them and possibly onto unwanted areas of the stage or set.
In practice, a single lantern cannot provide a natural light. Multiple lanterns are used to achieve this. For example, two lanterns above the subject at a 45 angle - one to the left and one to the right both pointing in towards the subject. Two lanterns much further away out front in the same left/right configuration to remove some of the shadows cast by the overhead lanterns. Finally, some lighting behind the subject directed down or even backwards to cancel out unwanted shadows behind the subject. Careful positioning, focusing and mixing of these sources should produce a relatively even and natural light for stage work.
Of course, sometimes a more 'unnatural' effect is desired. We have already mentioned 'Downlighting' where a lantern focused directly down will create large shadows under the face, etc. Very effective for eerie looking lighting. Backlighting is also extensively used. It can put objects and people into sillouette and create that 'halo' of light around them - most noticable in the hair. Side lighting at 90 to the subject is also very impressive. It accentuates the shape and form of objects and people and is extensively used in Opera and dance where this depth is used to great effect.


Now that you have hung and focused your rig, you need to use all the fixtures to light your show. This part of the process is known as the Plot.
during the 'Plot' various lighting states are created to light the performance area. These lighting states are referred to as Scenes or Cues. Some shows may require just one lighting state (or Cue) whereas others - like some West End shows - use hundreds. During this process, the Lighting Designer (LD), the Lighting Operator and the Director will sit down and go through the show building each lighting state and recording it as a Cue for recall during the show run.
The choice of control desk is often influenced by the number and frequency of cues to be used. Simple shows with a limited number of Cues and plenty of time in between can be handled by a manual desk, with the lighting operator manually setting up the levels for the next Cue and then Cross-Fading to the new state. Desks with a memory facility make life much easier, though, and are now much more common. These make life for the lighting operator much easier and allow much more complex shows to be programmed.

Get out and do it!

Hopefully, this has now given you a better insight into lighting. We have taken a look at the tools and some basic techniques. The best advice we can give now is to try things out and learn what does and doesn't work. Lighting is an art form and therefore there is no definitive right and wrong. Start simply. Don't try to create 'Phantom of the Opera' at your first attempt. Always strive to ensure that the subjects are properly and evenly lit before getting too creative. And don't try too many new things at once. It will use up too much valuable set-up time at a show. Go to other shows too. All the best lighting designers pinch ideas. If you see something good, try and work out how it is done and then you can adapt that for one of your own shows.
And of course, we are always there to advise where to start and to help when things go wrong. So, go on. What are you waiting for???
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