What Can Be Controlled?

In order to accomplish the bold statement of the purpose of lighting design, you must have the ability to control the light.  How else can you manipulate it to your artistic vision?  Having your vision controlled by the equipment is unacceptable.  You must be able to control the equipment.  Here are the essential elements you should be able to control.


The actual amount of light coming out of the unit.  In simpler terms, how bright or dim can you get it?

In technical terms a conventional lamp is controlled via a combination of lighting controllers (desks) and dimmers.  LED fixtures are controlled only with DMX Controllers (desks).  You can also reduce the intensity of a fixture with neutral density gel and with screens often referred to as scrims.


From heavy saturation to delicate tints, the difference really matters.  Color is the strongest visual element to the light.  John Gleason once said, “If I cannot bring the light to full, I have chosen the wrong color.”  There are almost one thousand different colors of lighting gel that you can choose from.  The right color is just waiting for you to pick it.

Hint – you will be much more successful in choosing the color you want as opposed to trying to mix different colors to get there.  If you are mixing you will limit your intensity control of that color.  Always have a color swatch book with you so you can easily view your color options.


It is important to consider where the light comes from.  Sometimes, where the shadow goes is even more important.  When doing a sunset, the light has to come from the direction that the sun is setting.  If a light is coming from the table lamp, then the highlight should be on the side of the face nearest the table lamp.  If the light is coming from the fireplace, it will not be believable unless the color and movement of the fireplace isn’t on the same side of the performer as the fireplace.


What shape is the light – circle, square, broken line?  What texture is the light?   Is it a solid shaft or dappled broken shapes?  Sometimes the shape helps keep light off things that you do not want lit. To control the shape of the light, the first thing to consider is the choice of the fixture itself.  Some lights will produce a circle, an oval or a rectangle.

A good way to achieve the shape you want is to start with the correct geometry of the light.  For example, if you need a specific size circle, consider an ellipsoidal.  Once you have the light, either use accessories that are built into the light or add an accessory to the light to accomplish your change.  These accessories would include gobosbarndoors and irises.  Going back to the ellipsoidal example, while ellipsoidals generally begin at a specific size circle to the light, they can change diameter of the circle with an iris, and change the shape to a square with shutters.  Use these accessories to make the light the shape you need.


Sharpness refers to both the light and the shadow. Is the light in a sharp focus or a soft focus?  More importantly, is the shadow crisp or is it fuzzy?  Some lights let you control your sharpness and others do not.

Learning what the different paint brushes (lighting units) can do makes it so much easier to be successful.  Why guess which brush is right?  You should know which brush is right!  Once you know that, if you have to use a wrong brush you will know why it is wrong and you will be able to manipulate it in a successful way.

This free online resource is sponsored by the StageLightingStore.com.

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