Setting the Stage – The Basics of Stage Lighting

It doesn’t matter what type of venue you are putting on, be it a concert, wedding, play or poetry reading in a coffee house. A good stage lighting setup can make or break your event. Aside from the obvious of lighting up the stage, good lighting does so much more. It focuses the audience’s attention where you want it to be and create moods with the use of color. Not to be too dramatic, but good lighting can mean the difference between a performer looking beautiful or looking like they suffer from jaundice. Yes, good lighting is that important. Lighting is as much an art as it science.
Fixtures, rigging, Fresnel and profile spots make stage lighting seem endlessly complicated, so a good audiovisual company who knows their stuff can come in handy. Before you pick up the phone and talk to an audiovisual company, here are some basics about stage lighting that will help you convey exactly what you want at your venue.

The Hardware

Floodlight: A floodlight produces a wide spread of light and doesn’t have any controls to adjust the light. It is usually used to light up backdrops.
Profile Spot: These lights are used to showcase single performers. They can have both a soft or a hard edge. You can insert a Gobo, which is a metal disc with cutouts, and this can project shapes or produce a bunch of different effects.
Wash Light: This is a soft edged spotlight that can cover a lot of area. Wash lights can look very natural and there are lots of different categories within the wash light, but the Fresnel is used most often.
Par Cans: While originally developed for concert lighting, par cans are now used all the time. They create a bright with unfocused edges. The beam doesn’t have a lot of control and the spread of light can be uneven.

Positioning the Light

There are five different positions to put light, and which position you choose to use depends on your stage and the type of event.

1. Front Lighting is usually a primary source of light and you want it positioned so facial features are well lit and there are no shadows.
2. Back Lighting is used to get a three dimensional effect and it separates a performer from the background.
3. Side Lighting is used most often for dance performances. It highlights the body and profile.
4. Highside Lighting highlights the upper body, the head, neck and shoulders.
5. Down Lighting gives you the ability to light up the whole performance. Down lighting is usually broken up into a grid pattern so you can blend the light together. A natural looking light requires more than one light to achieve the effect.
Now that you are familiar with the types of lights and where they are placed, which types of performance they work best with is next. Lighting is definitely not a “one size fits all” solution. How you light a small stage for a solo performer is not the same as a ballet.

Stage Lighting Setup for Different Venues

How you light the stage at a concert really depends on the type of show. Classic music or symphonies the musicians tend to stay in one place, so a spotlight may be all you need. For bands and performers that move around on stage, you want more colored lighting with filters.

For a play, your audience needs to be able to clearly see facials expressions and the setting of the stage. Front lights work the best. The light faces the same way as the audience so that they see everything clearly.

Dance shows are all about movement and the dancers utilize the whole stage. The lighting should be simple and focus on the performers. It also needs to be able to follow the dancers as they move. Side lights work the best as they highlight the body of the dancer. You can play with colored filters to affect the mood of the show.
Now you should have an idea of the basics of lighting, including the types of lights and how they should be used. The stage lighting setup is as much a part of the show as sound or any other element. Hiring a good audiovisual company can help you make the most of the show, no matter the type of venue you have planned.


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