Stage Lighting Design Basics

In order to understand basic lighting design for a stage play, you need to analyze its script, have the knowledge on how theatrical lighting instruments or lighting fixtures operate and also know the best way to use each type of your lighting instruments. The main objective and goals of a lighting designer’s is to allow the stage play audience the ability to view all of the action performed on the stage. Below are some of the steps that would help you learn all the details on how to do complex designing.

What you need to do:

  1. Script Analysis
  2. Lighting Instrument Selection
  3. Positioning of lighting instruments
  4. Usage of color lights
  5. Light Plot
  6. Attend rehearsals
  7. Make changes and fine tuning your lighting design

Stage Lighting Design


  1. Firstly, you need to read the script of the stage play whether it is dance piece, musical, or concert type or go through notes for the non-scripted performance before you start to do discussion with the director and production team in order to know the play’s general concept. Other things that you need to take into consideration are the mood of play, atmospheres, locations and times of day. You should also take note for any specific lightning needs for example isolated lighting, onstage lamps or even time and season changes, which requires special lighting.
  2. Apart from that, you also need to consider the venue of your stage play because this will help you determine the number of lights that you need and which is the best location to place them. Study the lighting bars location, which will also provide you with ideas on where to hang your lighting instruments. You should also consider whether you can place standing lights on the floor or even use rig vertical pipe that you can hang from the sides of the stage.
  3. Different types of lighting instruments behave differently based on the type of the lighting. You can choose ellipsoidal reflector spots (ERS) whenever you need to display pattern projection, sharp edges or even tightly controlled beams. If you decide to have a soft-edged light, you need to use Fresnels and PARS which is also known as Parabolic Aluminum reflectors.
  4. The positioning of your lights must also be placed at strategic area. For example, lights which are aimed straight at the stage will make any objects on the stage looks flat.
  5. In order to increase the three-dimensional appearance of an objects or actors, you need to have angling lights from slightly off each side positioned toward the front of the stage and also add some lights from the back, top and sides of the stage.
  6. If you have an overlapping color wavelengths of lights the color will in the end cancel each other out, for instance when you mix amber and lavender light will result to you having white color lights instead of brown color lights.
  7. Lighting designers need to have the knowledge of interacting different color of lights during any stage play.
  8. To have a proper or a good stage lighting, lighting designers must draft each of the lighting instrument into sketches of the stage where you will know the positions where you can position the lights and hang it accordingly, the sketching of the stage and also props or furniture being use.
  9. This draft is also known as the light plot and should also indicate how each of the light being use is plugged in, what color being used and how to control the lightings instrument.
  10. Make sure you make rehearsals of the performance and also the output display of your lighting instruments which will enable you to see whether the lights are all in working condition.
  11. Although you are only a lighting designer, you should also take interest in the costume designs of your stage play, fabrics and props being used because all of these items will provide direct effects by your lightings.
  12. Always fine tune your lighting instruments accordingly by changing the brightness of cues or tidying up the focus which is the final part of your production process especially during the final day of rehearsals for your stage play.
  13. Fine tuning things at the last minutes might not be agreed upon with your other team members, but try to discuss with the team and find the best solution which is best for your audience to enjoy and feel good about the play.

Image Credit:

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Additional Reading:

Stage Lighting Design

Scene Design and Stage Lighting