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Lighting Misconceptions Pt. 1

Have you ever seen a stage production with fantastic lighting? You've seen incredible moving lights that seem to dance across the stage or beautiful colors that cause different scenes to become apparent or others to fade. Well, all of that has been specifically designed, aimed, and calibrated for specific purposes. The lighting at a professional production (be it theater, concert, speaking engagements, etc.) is always done with a specific purpose and general technique to create a powerful and engaging experience for the audience.

One of the most basic misconceptions in lighting design is that all of the lights you want to see on stage should come from the front. If you have a mixture of white/skin tone lights and colored/effect lighting, they should all point from the front of the stage, right? Wrong. In lighting, there are 2 basic types of lighting, front lighting and effect lighting. And you’ll see why they don’t all need to be out in front of the stage.

First and foremost on any stage I want the people or objects on the stage to be visible. To achieve this goal I use a high-brightness, white or skin-tone light with an adjustable zoom or lens. With this type of light the goal is to hit a desired area with what is typically referred to as brightness. In the same way that a typical light fixture in your home provides light to see by, front lighting makes the stage area visible. Usually, these lights are high power and adjustable since they are usually shining over a long distance.

The second type, effect lighting, is where all the colored, moving, or alternate light sources are contained. In lighting design I rate my overall brightness by the front lighting, and here’s why. Effect lighting is meant for depth and texture. That means effect lighting is going to be changing. During one scene I may use a color scheme that evokes a cooler mood (blues, deep greens, soft white), where in another I would want something exciting and vibrant (reds, yellows, bright greens or purples). Since these lighting schemes are changing and can have a varied brightness of their own, the stage needs to always be bright enough without them. Because I want these to create depth, my basic lighting scheme would incorporate the effect lighting directly over the stage shooting down or from a little ways behind, or directly on the stage shooting across or towards the audience.

In a church setting, I would set my front lighting on the ceiling with enough distance out to make the light beam hit the musicians/pastor flat enough that their nose or eye sockets don’t cast a shadow, but also high enough to not blind them. I would then use whatever effect lighting I have to create a glow behind the people on stage. Putting a vibrant light color behind a worship team during an upbeat song creates an exciting atmosphere visually to match the music.

You can do a lot with a small amount of lighting if you know how to apply it properly. For the DIY crowd out there, you can create some stunning visuals if you really take the time to apply these basic ideas. If you’re looking for some great lighting ideas, send us a message and let us know what you’re looking for. Check out our galleries on Facebook to get a sample of what we can do!

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