Lighting Colors


Students will demonstrate an understanding of lighting color by placing themselves in a color wheel, and by participating in an activity with gels and lights.


Materials Needed

Labels for every student in the class with black, white, primary and secondary colors written on them (both lighting colors and pigment), a few colored objects, (anything, apple, flower, paper…) as many different colored gels as you can find, and an overhead projector or flashlights.

Hand out is included as well if you would like them to take notes.  

Color Wheels Worksheet


Lesson Directions

When the students come in, tape on their chest a big round colored piece of paper (regular primary colors, light primary colors + black, & white)


Step One (Transition /Modeling): Have the students create two color wheels with their bodies by placing themselves in a circle according to the label they have been given. One wheel will be for light colors, the other for pigment colors. Have students find partners to create secondary colors, and place themselves in the appropriate place in a circle. Black should be at the center of the pigment wheel. (When you combine the complimentary colors you get black). White is at the center of the light wheel. (When you combine the colors of light you get white.) Help them find their correct place in the circle.


Step Two (Transition/Instruction): Once they have created the wheel, explain that in theater the primary colors are different than for pigment (in paint/art). The primary colors are such because they are closely related to color sensitivity of the red, blue, and green cones in the eye.

1) Primary Colors = Colors/hues that cannot be derived or blended from any other hues (Blue, Red, and Green in light)
2) Secondary Colors = These are a result of mixing two primary colors (Violet/Magenta, Amber, and Cyan in light)
3) Complementary Colors = Colors opposite each other on the color wheel (ex. amber and blue) that in pigment would create black, but in light they create WHITE.


Have different sets of colors raise their hands. (Raise your hand if you are a primary color, secondary, complimentary of red in light, complimentary of blue in light etc.)


Step Three (Instruction /Check for Understanding): Have students sit somewhere on the floor. Ask if anyone can explain how our eyes see color. (When you look at an object, it reflects the light that it does not absorb, thus color of the light wave. That light stimulates nerves in the eye that then relay the information to the brain. The received data is interpreted as the “picture” you saw. The cones are divided into 3 primary groups: those that respond to wavelengths of that light that correspond to red, blue, and green, respectfully. Draw a diagram on the board to give them a visual. Then demonstrate it with people.) If light is dim, the color sensors/cones do not transmit (i.e. dark moonlit night everything looks various shades of gray. In the daytime, the light is brighter and brighter colors are transmitted.). As an example, turn off the lights and hold up a colored object, a colored piece of paper, or look at the shade of someone’s clothing. Have the students see if they can tell what color the object is in the dark. Then turn the lights on and see if they were correct. Ask what is being absorbed by the colored object and what is being reflected (i.e. green glove=green reflected, all else absorbed)


Step Four: Transition/Instruction/Modeling- Talking about color, there are different terminologies:
1) Hue-quality that differentiates one color from another (blue vs. green)
2) Value-relative lightness or darkness of a color (pale blue=high value; dark brown=low value)
3) Tint-color with a high value (create by mixing a hue and white)
4) Shade-color with a low value (create by mixing a hue and black)
5) Tone-a color of middle value


Step Five: Transition/Instruction- With that, theater lights are not perfectly white (the lenses filter out some waves). In order to create different characteristics of light, gels are used. When using gels, there are two ways to mix light.
1) Additive-a gel is placed in front of a light. It will absorb all waves except the color of the gel (it is allowed to pass through since it accepts those wavelengths).
2) Subtractive light- 2 or more gels are placed in front of a light. For an example, use red and blue. Knowing the properties of light, the red absorbs all waves (including blue!) except red, which it passes through. When it hits the blue gel, it cannot pass through b/c the blue gel only allows blue light to pass through. The blue waves have already been absorbed by the red gel and cannot even reach the blue gel. Thus we see black, or the absence of light.



Play around with gels using a projector. Ask the students what will happen if… (Example: If I place a red gel here with an amber gel on top, what will happen?)