Lighting Designer

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Lighting Designer


Lights! Camera! Action! When it comes to the movies, we don't really pay a lot of attention to the camera work, and we don't really notice the lighting. We go to the movies for the action, because that's the part that counts. Right?

Wrong. The crews that help put movies together all contribute in important ways. The lighting designers are no different.

Lighting designers create the lighting and effects for theater, dance, opera, television, video and film productions. They can also be involved in lighting museum exhibits, public parks, and large buildings. They might do the lighting at dances, religious occasions, public events, concerts, fashion shows, and festivals. Wherever lighting needs to be dramatic, and highlight a person or monument, lighting designers have a hand in the project.

Lighting designers are responsible for setting the mood for each scene or environment. You know that scene in your favorite movie where the sun is gleaming in through the curtains and the actors awake to a glorious, mid-summer day? That scene was filmed in January, with dark snow clouds covering the sun, nearing dusk. It was the lighting designer who managed to bring the warmth of summer to the scene through a careful placement of lights and colored gels (plastic that fits over the lights, altering the shade of the beam).

Each production will require different lighting. A fashion show will need complimentary lighting, designed to make the models and the fashions attractive and alluring, while a mystery play requires spooky lighting, especially when the villain appears. The lighting designer meets with the director, or whoever is in charge of the project, and discusses the moods, emotions, and actions in each scene or event. The designer then develops a plan what will change the lights whenever the tone changes.

Lighting designers often work as technicians, setting up and running the lights. This requires a good technical knowledge, a comfort with heights, and a good sense of timing.

Lighting designers usually specialize in one area. Some enjoy the drama of a life in theater, while others enjoy the normalcy of a career in designing lighting for parking lots and public parks. No matter where they apply their skills, however, all lighting designers are innovative artists who share a love and understanding for the complexities of light.
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  Interests and Skills  
Successful lighting designers need to be interested in theater, film, and television production, and the use and possibilities of dramatic, theatrical light. It is important to be safety-conscious, and work well and efficiently, even under pressure. Lighting designers should be creative and innovative in their designs, as well as practical, precise, and organized. They need excellent communication skills, and feel comfortable expressing themselves to directors as well as to large groups of technicians. They should also be in good physical health, with normal color vision and good hearing. Finally, lighting designers must be comfortable with heights.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Read the script and consult with the director
  • Discuss production requirements with camera crew
  • Research time period, safety precautions, natural environment
  • Establish a lighting plan, drawing it out for the technicians
  • Select lights, color gels, and other equipment to be used
  • Supervise the hanging and focusing of lighting instruments
  • Attend technical and dress rehearsals to supervise the lighting and make changes as needed
  • May operate lighting system
  • May maintain and repair the equipment
  • Explore and experiment with new techniques and special effects
  • The typical day for a lighting designer will vary, depending on the working environment. Each lighting designer will spend some of each day assessing the thing to be lit, be it a stage, a live action scene, or a park or building. They will use their knowledge and experience to develop a design that will enhance the area. They will meet with interior designers, architects, gardeners, directors, actors, and lighting technicians. There is lots of opportunity for travel, especially for those designers who are involved with touring productions.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Lighting technicians work in a variety of environments. Television studios, on film sets and outdoor film locations, small theaters, and huge concert halls. They design the lighting for public parks, monuments, museums, corporate functions, and large buildings. They are employed by lighting companies full-time, where they work at a variety of venues. They may work as freelancers, on contract to venues, theater companies, governments, and film production companies. They work high up in lighting booths during shows, outdoors in all weather conditions, and in offices and design studios. Their hours vary, depending on their employment situation. They can often work long hours, often 15-hour days for a week or more at a time, if they are involved with a touring company or a film crew. Those who do social events, concerts, and the theater work weekends and evenings.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Lighting designers can find work with large theater companies, or they can open up a freelance lighting business. They can become set designers, stage directors, and camera technicians. They can become interior designers, architects, or interior decorators. They can do lighting in dance clubs, or travel with a DJ to weddings, school events, and social functions. They can teach theatrical design in colleges, universities, private schools, or high schools. They can apply their knowledge of artistic principles and technology to any number of environments.

  Educational Paths  
There is no set path to becoming a lighting designer, however starting right away as a volunteer lighting technician with one's school theater department, community theater, church, synagogue, or temple is always a good idea. Aspiring lighting designers should also start paying attention to the lighting at public parks, in movies, plays, and television shows. Watch for lighting cues, pay attention to where the lights are focused, what colors they are, and how they move.

As for formal training, one should consider a college diploma or a university degree in broadcast arts, engineering technology, fine arts, theater, or theatrical design. Pursuing a master's degree in fine arts, will help one advance to highly sought after positions within 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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