Intro to Lighting and Lighting Design

Materials Needed:

Lighting worksheet, note cards, lighting powerpoint, lighting YouTube clips


Learning Objective:

Students will demonstrate their basic comprehension and understanding of lighting/lighting design by taking notes and participating in a discussion.


Hook (3-5 minutes):

Ask students what they know about lighting. Can you think of any shows where the lighting was memorable? Why was it effective? Students may also talk about different types of lights, its effect on mood- it will just depend on what they know.


Activity 1 (30 minutes):

Hand out lighting worksheets. The worksheet contains basic information of much that students would need to know about the technical aspects of lighting. Journey into the auditorium and to the light booth. Give students a chance to look at all the different types of lights that the theater has- most theaters will have most or all of the types of light shown on the worksheet. With this worksheet students will be able to see the diagrams listed and match them to the actual lights. Students should both look at how the lights hang in the theater as well as up close. Show students any lights that may be in storage or sitting around the space. The worksheet (and the key) detail ellipsoidals/source 4 lights, par cans, scoops, fresnels, and strip lights. Show them the barn doors and how they function, as well as the purpose of both gels and gobos. Explain that most are used for soft lights and that the ellipsoidals are used for hard lighting. What are the benefits and drawbacks of hard light/soft lighting instruments? What does the light look like? What about cost differences?


It is a good idea to give students a brief explanation of the voltage, wattage, and amperage associated with lighting and electricity, as well. If you’re going to be a lighting technician you have to understand these things so you don’t bust circuits and lights. It’s important for students to take notes over these things and commit them to memory so that students can be prepared for the upcoming tech olympics which will take place on the final day of the unit. Also, like we’ve discussed across the unit, it’s so important to be well-rounded artists. Not every aspect of design/tech theatre has to be your favorite, but it’s important to know a little bit about everything. Learn as much as you can! You never know what you’ll end up doing or where certain skills will be called upon. It may become necessary some day for some reason that you help with lighting, sound, or any other area of tech theatre. You may not be an expert, but the more you know the better. You never know where else these skills could be useful or come into play in your life!


Go up into the light booth and take a look at how the board works. Students should be aware of the different lighting areas of the stage- briefly show them how they might light these different areas instead of having a general wash the whole show. They should also see how lighting the cyc works. Why might you want to light the cyc? What does that add to the mood or feeling of a show? Bring down one of the electrics so that students can see how the lights hang. Show them how to hang and focus a light. You may also choose to have the students choose to do this, as well, but we typically leave this for advanced tech students.


Activity 2 (30 minutes):

Next move back into the classroom to discuss the heart and soul of lighting. The most important thing to understand about lighting is that it can tell us everything about mood, characters, and relationships. I use a lighting powerpoint made based off of lighting in film, but I think you will find that the principles still apply directly to theatre.


What can you tell about these pictures. Two are of Frodo from The Lord of the Rings in the spider’s cave (featuring the light of Earendil) where everything is dark except for the bright light given to him from Galadriel. The other is a warm picture of the council at Rivendell. (Knowledge of the LOTR franchise helps, but is not requisite in any way for this discussion.) What can you tell about the difference between these two places? Which seems safe? Rivendell features warm light and is beautiful- it seems comfortable and peaceful. And, in fact, in the film Rivendell is a sort of safe haven within the world. In the dark photos Frodo is in terrible danger which is totally indicative by the lighting. It makes us feel uncomfortable. It is only when he remembers the light of Earendil that he is saved. Again, it is the light that pierces through the darkness and saves him. It acts as a symbol of safety, as well as the division between good and evil. Questioning and discussion will help them see the symbolism and analysis that goes behind lighting.


The next slide shows two people in black silhouette against the bright, harsh light of a window. (The image comes from Catch Me if You Can.) What can you tell about what’s happening? What can you tell about the relationship between these people, or the mood. Students will be able to tell that the mood is tense, and that there seems to be some sort of emotional strain between the characters. We can tell this because of the harsh lighting and shadows in the shot. If it was warm, soft light instead of the harsh light in the photo the mood would be different. What type of stage light would we use for harsh lighting?


In the next few pictures featured ask students what they can tell about the character, mood, and setting based on the lighting. How does it make us feel as an audience? Why? What effect does it have.


Briefly talk about 3 point lighting, which functions differently on a stage than in film, but still definitely exists. There has to be a main light source, a fill light for shadows (unless you want shadows for some sort of thematic/mood reason), and a backlight to add dimension and at times an intentional glow.


The next few slides of the powerpoint emphasize the difference in look and feel of soft and hard lighting. What can we tell about the characters/setting/mood/etc. because of the lighting? When would we use hard lighting or soft lighting? What lighting instruments use soft light, and which use hard? (Continue to reiterate these questions as students solidify the different types of light and lighting instruments in their mind. This repetitive process will also help them think like a lighting designer as they analyze what types of light will create different effects/moods on stage. See how soft lighting is so warm, beautiful, and calming? It makes us feel a certain way and comes with certain assumptions, meaning that when everything is lit with soft lighting we often assume the best instead of the worst in characters/settings/moods, etc.


What effects do side, top, back, and bottom lighting have? What do they tell us about character, atmosphere, and mood? How do they do this? If someone is lit light this what assumptions do we make about them? What power does lighting have? How important is it to design lighting that fits the mood of the story, as well as the atmosphere of the world, and the relationship between the characters? Throughout this discussion feel free to have students first discuss in pairs or small groups before they share with the class, especially if they are showing difficulty forming responses.


Activity 3/Assessment (10 minutes):

Play “Behind the scenes- Lighting Design by Don Holder” clip by Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark on YouTube. How does the lighting in this musical match the mood/feeling of the comic book? How is it true to the world? What does it tell us about the show and about the characters? Share your thoughts with a partner. Call on a few students to share with the class.


Play Steven Cleburg Lighting Process video from OCLPhase2 on YouTube. This video talks about both aspects of lighting design and more technical aspects like light plots.


As an informal assessment pass out notecards and have students complete an exit card that will ask them to critically analyze what they’ve learned today. They should complete the following questions:


1. Name 2-3 things you learned about lighting from the video that you didn’t know, or that we haven’t discussed.
2. How does lighting affect mood? When might you use soft lighting, and when would you use hard lighting?
3. What SM skills do you think it takes to be a lighting technician/designer?