Wednesday, Jun 26, 2013

On May 22 Paul Owen explained stage lighting theory using working samples & the controls in the auditorium at Paddington RSL Club. It was one of the nights where torrential rain fell on Sydney. We waited for the rain to ease but alas the light hearted stayed away.

The theatrical lighting designer works with the director, set designer & costume designer to create atmosphere & the time of day in response to the text. An architectural lighting designer concerns themselves primarily with the illumination of buildings, surfaces, interiors etc with the objective being to obtain sufficient light for the building and balancing the factors of initial cost, operating cost, appearance & energy efficiency.

For both without light there can be no vision; and without vision, no perception. 



Where brightness focuses the audience's attention,  colour influences mood.RED is hot and exciting, ORANGE is warm but strange, YELLOW is cheerful, GREEN is weird, BLUE is cool and sombre, MAGENTA warm and romantic, LAVENDER restful and soothing and PINK is active and flashy.

The more vivid (saturated / lacking white) the color, the more pronounced the effect; the more pastel (tinted / nearly white), the more delicate and subdued the effect. Where a romantic solo would be enhanced by flesh pink and special lavender; a hard rock concert might be accentuated by dark magenta and yellow green.


Directional Control

Results are achieved by controlling the angle of incidence of the light beam as it travels from lighting instrument to the performer / prop / scenery. 

A single light source, directly in front of, and 45 degrees above the performer is the barest method of lighting. This condition is typically produced by a single Follow. This results in a flat faced actor.

A pleasing appearance can be obtained with the use of a warm tinted light source 45 degrees to the left and 45 degrees above the performer, the "key" light; is coupled with a cool tinted light source 45 degrees to the right and 45 degrees above the performer, the "fill" light. Together they yield a natural depth, free of harsh shadows, that flatters the facial features.

Back lighting highlights the hair and shoulders of the performer, causing them to stand out from the background.

Lighting from the footlight location produces an unnatural ghoulish effect.

Appropriate combinations of brightness, colour, change rates and direction are used to accomplish the desired theatrical result.


Lights in Relation to the Stage

Front lighting is used mostly for visibility and colour. It is also used to isolate an individual person or set piece.

Side lighting  is often used with bolder colours to accent

Back lighting is often used to create depth on the stage. When used from low angles back lighting can also give a sense of a silhouette.

Down lighting can be used to create the illusion of depth. Down lighting also works very well to isolate one person from another.

Background lighting is a very bold style of lighting. It is brighter than the rest of the stage. It is a very powerful way to create a picture.


Tips for determining the effect of coloured light on scenery & costumes 

There's hardly anything that will happen on stage that can't be done beforehand, in miniature. Use swatches of the costume fabrics, tack them up on your painted wood or flat board and shine the filter-equipped light on to them.


Makeup & Light

The famous "Bastard Amber" is one of the most popular theatrical colour used because it flatters most makeup by adding life to the flesh tones. Blue filters transmit little red, so red and pink makeup appear grey and dead under blue light. This is important since makeup normally is pink or "rosy" in tone. Care should be exercised when blue light falls on the actor since it tends to give makeup a cold look.



Profiles are the most commonly devices used in stage lighting. The edges of the beam are softer or can cut off part of the beam to leave an area unlit by the use of shutters. Profiles can accommodate gobos.

Fresnels and PC’s are used generally for colour washes. The edge of the beam on the fresnel is always soft whereas the edges on a profile can be changed from harsh to soft. PC stands for ‘plano-convex’ which describes the lens which has a smooth surface and outward curve. It is used when the beam of light must have a hard or well defined edge. The PC provides a wide range of beam angles useful from onstage, side stage and auditorium lighting positions.

Cyclorama Lights generally have an asymmetrical lens & are used on very large clothes or backdrops.

Par Can is a flood light which gives a broad, general beam of light and covers a wide area. They are also easy to focus.

Followspots are designed to follow an individual actor, to give the actors mobility on stage. 


Dimmers and Lighting Consoles

Consoles vary from small preset boards to dedicated moving light consoles. The purpose of all lighting consoles, however is the same - to consolidate control of the lights into an organized, easy-to-use system, so that the lighting designer can concentrate on producing a good show

Preset boards are the most basic lighting consoles and also the most prevalent in smaller installations.

Memory-based consoles have become very popular in almost all larger installations, particularly theatres. This type of controller has almost completely replaced preset consoles as controllers of choice. Memory consoles are preferable in productions where scenes do not change from show to show, such as a theatre production, because scenes are designed and digitally recorded, so there is less room for human error and less time between lighting cues is required to produce the same result.

Moving Light Controllers are another step up in sophistication from Memory Consoles. As well as being capable of controlling ordinary luminares via dimmers, they provide additional controls for intelligent fixtures with attributes such as the orientation (pan and tilt), focus, colour, gobos etc.


Paul Owen is director of DTS Australia.

[text : Paul Owen & Julie Van Der Ley]