How I think about creating effective lighting.

Effective Lighting

I think there are some really key factors to be considered to produce effective lighting:

  • Where are we?
    • Are we inside?
    • Are we outside?
    • What time of day is it?
    • The time of day alters the angle the light comes from?

Where would the light be coming from in real life

  • If we are inside
    • Is the light coming from outside?
    • where are the windows?
    • Is the sun shining?
      • Sharp edged shadows
      • areas of intense light
      • Projected shape of the window frame
      • Is it overcast
    • Diffuse light source little shadow if any?
      • more uniform light but less intense
      • Is it partially overcast
      • combination of both;
      • Sharp edged shadows
      • areas of intense light
      • Projected shape of the window frame
      • Diffuse light source little shadow if any
        more uniform light but less intense
  • Is the light coming from inside?
    • where are the light sources?
    • If the source is a single point
      • Sharp edged shadows
        areas of intense light dropping of the further away from the source
        Are there multiple single point sources
  • If we are outside
    • Is the sun shining?
      • Sharp edged shadows
        areas of intense light
        Projected shape of buildings outlines
        Multiple broken shadows caused by foliage
    • Is it overcast?
      • Diffuse light source little shadow if any
        more uniform light but less intense

So to mimic reality, these are the looks we need to produce using the lighting we have. Some times when we don’t have infinite gear available, the action must be arranged so that what we do have can be used to its best

  • Would the natural light illuminate the performers sufficiently?
    • Yes it would then no problem
    • No
      • it would leave the audience with no focus
      • May be fine at the beginning or end of as scene to set the feel of the space but dose not pull the audience into the performance
      • Think about locally highlighting the performers or the performance area to get around the problem

Do we want to enhance the emotions of the performer?

If you don’t and you have the gear I think your missing a big chance to really improve the character of the show.
Lets say we have a scene in a dungeon , lit in a blue wash with an amber highlighting to mimic a burning torch which is not in direct view. We have a performer who’s state of mind would normally be expected to be despondent, so you might think to highlight him in a lighter shade of blue with more intensity. But at the moment he is in a better place , he has forgotten where he is and he is thinking of his home and family .So, instead of the blue highlighting, it would be much more effective to use a warmer colour like pink, Then the guard opens the door and comes in with the executioner and the emotion of the performer changes, the whole blue stage wash comes up in level and the performers highlighting changes from pink to a cooler colour like steel. For a bit of atmospheric stuff have a look at Artiste projection services work with Zoe Muth.

All fine and dandy for drama and then comes the musical show.

The same type of thoughts still apply to produce the right feel but in addition you now have rhythms, verses and choruses.

So now we have to think about what this does to the lighting and in particular the point at which cues are triggered.

Should the lighting reflect any of this?

Certainly in prop band or rock band performances I think it is crucial. The cues must correspond to the change from a verse to chorus or chorus to verse to give a dynamic feel to the performance. if you want to increase the power of the link between the music and the lighting, lighting cues on the beginning of a bar gives even more drive. If you want to up it still further, you can put in sub cues that put in highlights on every beat.
Have a look at lots of the TV shows X Factor and the like where they have lots of lighting which in many cases has cue which have no correlation to the rhythm. What a missed opportunity .

The best lighting operators for this type of musical show need to think like drummers , they must have rhythm.

General coverage.

For drama we want to accentuate the depth of the performers facial features and stop them looking flat this has two advantages ,it makes them more real not like a cartoon and it makes there speech more obvious. To accomplish this think about different colours coming from each side and different angles.

Highlighting specials.

Just to bring out the performers presence, a soft edged highlight is great . the harder the edge the more obvious it becomes. The tighter the pool of light is the more individual the performer becomes.

Back drop, (cyclorama ).

good for creating a general colour feel and good for lighting with gobose , to create a feel for where you are , for example break up gobos for forest.

About John Maggs

I have been in the industry and supported many events for many years. I pride myself in providing a personalised service and deliver a first class service.