Basic knowledge about Stage lighting and moving head

About stage lighting

By Aolait Lighting | 01 September 2017 | 5 Comments

Basics of Stage Lighting

Be it a rock band performing in town, a choir holding a worship concert in the church, a group of actors casting a play in a theatre or a motivational speaker delivering his speech, one thing, which is stage lighting, quickly comes to mind. Each of these applications has specific light requirements, but at least all can still be discussed in a general forum like this.

Why lighting is important

First and foremost, the audience must clearly see the actor, as this is the very purpose for which they are gathered in the tent, theatre, church, arena, stadium or even outdoors. Failing to illuminate the actor defeats logic as to why a designer would invest so many resources in lighting the premises. This doesn’t mean a constant or continuous lighting of the actor, but rather a proper lighting when the audience needs to see the actor. Lighting also sets the audience in the desired mood for the day. A funeral service certainly needs to be somber, as opposed to a wedding which should be much cheerful. In the case of a play, lighting majorly gives a good indication of time and place for a particular scene. Aesthetics is also enhanced by lighting, on top of stage decor. Any audience would certainly be captured by a well-lit stage.Lastly, lighting helps in the reinforcement of certain aspects of a show that the director wants to be keenly captured by the audience, say costume or isolating two persons of interest from the rest of the crowd.

Designing the placement of the lights

Generally, to achieve the best view, the actor should be illuminated by two lights, each from a position 45 degrees above and to each side of the actor. These are known as the front lights. The 45 degrees angling isolates the actor from the background and enhances the shadows on the actor. Placing a light directly in front of the actor is not a good idea as it washes out all shadows and results in a flat face.

In addition to the front lights, it’s advisable to consider down lighting or backlighting. This provides a three-dimensional appearance of the actor and enhances the separation of the actor from the background. Backlighting is generally not as bright as the front lighting unless one wants to achieve some other special effect. Another extra not-so-necessary consideration is side lighting. This is appropriately done at a very low or high angle. To achieve interesting effects, try playing around with these general angles. 

It is good to note that these directional lights may result in some parts of the stage not being well lit up, or even formation of sharp shadows of the actor. To counter this, it’s good to provide wash lights which produce a less directional beam than the headlights. 

Stage Light design is definitely specific for any given event. No two applications will have the same lighting requirements, though some general aspects can be shared. Questions to ask yourself at the design stage include: What are the ideas and plans of the actor as regards stage lighting. What kind of atmosphere would you want the stage to depict? Will this present opportunity or impose restrictions for the lighting? What are the colors or color combinations for the costumes? Exactly where will the actors sit or stand on the stage? What are additional effects desired which can be well achieved by lighting? What spaces and events need to be defined or enhanced by the light? To answer all these, it would be good to go through the whole script in case of a play. If it is a band, at least know the type of music intended to be performed. A close analysis of all these will guarantee you successful lighting. 

Lighting fixture

A number of lighting fixtures exist for the front lighting, backlighting, and side lighting. Ellipsoidals are the most common type of light used for backlighting or accenting. They normally are designed to be adjustable from a definite sharp edged beam to a more diffused light. They also come with shutters to crop any undesired spill of lighting. A similar fixture to this is the Fresnel, which has a softer edge to the beam of light which is adjustable from narrow to wide but has no shutters to crop lighting. Followspots are used manually to light up an actor who moves around the stage constantly and in an unpredictable fashion. Floodlights are normally used to produce the wash effect. The intensity can normally be adjusted to make the light softer and less intense than the headlights. Cyc lights also produce an even wash of light but are specifically designed for vertical surfaces. Along the edges of the stage, strip lights can be installed to provide additional illumination. The latest technology has now offered us led lights, which have a color changing capability according to some preset cycle. These lights can also be automated to move in an arc as well as tilt and pan to achieve strong aesthetics and thus capture the audience.

Controlling your lights 

A constantly lit stage would obviously be boring and less captivating to the audience. The actor may also suffer heat exhaustion were he/she to operate at full brightness for three full hours. These lights also consume quite an amount of power, and therefore it’s unwise to maintain them throughout the show. These loopholes are adequately sealed by dimmers and controllers. Dimmers are normally plugged into the main power at the performance stage. To dim a particular light, the amount of power sent to that light is reduced appropriately. Controlling is achievable by the light board, which is also known as the control console. This is what determines the amount of power that goes through each individual dimmer. These two working simultaneously will adequately dim lights whenever required. 


This should be done in the neatest way, preferably hidden under plaster or well encased. Cables running all over the stage should at all costs be avoided. Accidents like tripping over cables are common and these may result in short-circuiting or electrocution. 

In a nutshell, lighting is an art that requires an artistic individual to bring something desirable. Coupled with the right control equipment and lighting fixtures, the audience will certainly be impressed by the performance and the message will well be put across.

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