Lighting Technician

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Lighting Technician


Lighting plays a crucial role in the "look" and "feel" of films and theatrical productions. It creates a mood and sets the atmosphere for the audience. Lighting technicians work behind the scenes of productions to create lighting and special lighting effects to enhance the visual impact of the show. They usually set up, maintain and operate light fixtures, control devices, and the associated electrical and rigging equipment used for television, motion picture, and theater and stage productions. Sometimes called gaffers, they use lighting fixtures, color filters, patterns, light modifiers and various methods of control and manipulation to create different lighting effects.

If the lighting does not create the desired effect, then the technician is not performing his or her job properly. At outdoor locations, a lighting technician could set up for a scene and then all of a sudden, the sun will disappear behind the clouds! When and if this happens, the technician must act quickly and change the lighting to either brighten or dim a specific scene. They must capture the director's vision, rain or shine. Also, there is a great deal of research involved in each project, depending on the subject matter and historical significance, etc. For example, in Steven Speilberg's "Schindler's List," the majority of the film is in black and white with dark lighting to create a gloomy, somber effect.

Lighting technicians usually specialize in a particular area -- theater, film or television. Some may also decide to branch out into other fields like architectural or industrial lighting or design new lighting products. Lighting technicians working on smaller productions may have a bigger say in the artistic qualities of the lighting and attend production meetings and discuss lighting needs and special effects with directors.

Lighting technicians often have to find electrical power sources and transport these portable generators or power transformers to and from the set. In addition to running the lighting, they often are in charge of all the electrical aspects of a film set. They organize the power distribution through many cables and wires, which one would see walking around a film set. In theater, they are forced to hide these wires behind stage.

Lighting technicians are also in charge of many other different kinds of equipment, including adapters, supporting fixtures and connectors, as well as the lights themselves. They may also deal with the maintenance of electrical equipment, which requires the use of hand tools and a specialized electrical knowledge. In order to stay competitive lighting technicians need to constantly update their knowledge and learn any new technologies that are being used in the film and theater industry.
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  Interests and Skills  
Lighting technicians must be visually creative and have the ability to concentrate on the lighting during a production. They are often required to move heavy equipment and must be able to respond quickly to technical problems while observing safety precautions in any film or production. Lighting technicians should be comfortable with heights, because much of the lighting is always set up at a considerable height.

They must be "team players" and have the ability to adapt to a variety of production styles and deadline requirements. Technicians must keep up with changes in technology, and lighting.The work is most rewarding for those who enjoy working with tools and equipment on tasks requiring precision.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Study the script and consult with the director to assess what lighting is required
  • Discuss production requirements with the camera operator
  • Select lights and equipment to be used and organize any additional equipment
  • Set up, focus and operate light fixtures and equipment
  • Control consoles and auxiliary equipment
  • Choose and combine colors to achieve the desired effect
  • Operate the lights during the performance
  • Use manual or computer control consoles to control lighting throughout a production
  • Use devices such as barn-doors, scrims and other attachments to control lighted areas
  • Perform routine maintenance functions such as replacing lamps and damaged color filters or patterns and maintain lighting equipment in safe working conditions
  • Explore new techniques and special effects
  • Working conditions for lighting technicians vary a great deal from one job to another. Lighting technicians generally spend a lot of time on their feet and the pace of work can become hectic. Last-minute changes are often required and safety precautions must be observed when handling hot lamps, climbing ladders or working on high voltage electrical cables and equipment. Lighting technicians are routinely required to lift and carry equipment.
  • Hours of work also vary. For example, those employed by large television stations generally work 40 hours a week, including some evenings and weekends. Technicians covering important events or working on television series may be required to work 10 to 12 hours a day, sometimes from remote locations and in bad weather conditions. Those employed in motion picture and theater productions may be required to work highly irregular hours, with short deadlines. Some travel may be required to film in remote locations or accompany theater and concert productions on tour.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Lighting technicians are generally employed by television stations, television networks, film production companies, cable companies, theater and dance companies, concert promoters and independent motion picture production and other freelance contracting companies. In motion picture and theater lighting, employment may be seasonal or short-term, and even seasoned workers may experience periods of unemployment between jobs.
  • Many workers are freelancers, particularly in theater; therefore lighting technicians must be able to handle an inconsistent money flow. The flip side is obtaining more freedom in your work schedule.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced lighting technicians in large organizations may advance to supervisory positions such as lighting director or designer. They may also move to become a video director or show designer. Further advancement generally requires postsecondary education (which may be acquired through specialized workshops and seminars). Lighting technicians can also move into positions dealing with operating, repairing and installing electronics.

  Educational Paths  
Many community colleges and technical institutions offer two-year programs related to theater and film production and technical lighting. This is not required by any theater company or film studio, however will weigh higher than those without education or experience.

Lighting technicians need a basic understanding of electricity, color theory, lighting equipment and light modifiers, and must be able to apply their knowledge in a variety of situations. In the past, most lighting technicians learned on the job. However, the field is becoming more and more technical and competition for positions is getting tougher. Again, most employers prefer to hire people who have related education or experience. Creative talent and training is a definite asset for lighting technicians who want to advance in the field.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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