While costumes and background scenery typically capture the most attention during productions, lighting is integral in bringing events and stage stories to life. Stage lighting can drastically change the mood and feel of a play or music production. Like sound, lighting can create ‘organised chaos’ or evoke ‘thoughtful emotion’ with different higher-frequency visual wavelengths.
In fact, light is an artistic aspect of a performance, just like music and sound. So, as an artful expression, how does one appreciably enhance their event with the proper lighting? How does one choose the right lighting in the same manner a musician decides the suitable scales and rhythms to match an event?
This in-depth article answers these questions and provides some valuable tips on the different stage lighting that can be deployed for events.
Why is stage lighting important?
As a core component of modern-day productions, stage lighting is indispensable for several reasons:
Clear illumination makes it easier for performers to relay their art form to the audience. Our eyes are the first medium of interaction that serves as a bridge between performers and audience. In this regard, the central core role of stage lighting is to ensure maximum visibility for stage performers.
The tone and mood of an event can easily change due to lighting. Stage lighting can be matched to the content of an event to transmit the right emotions to the audience. For example, a soft and warm light glow can relay a happy scene, while dim and cool hues can help amplify a sad ballad during a music concert.
Specific colours are typically associated with different moods. For instance, red is associated with intense feelings of love, while blue is usually associated with sadness. Furthermore, stage lighting can complement effects such as rain or a storm to improve their believability. For instance, using flashing lights during a thunderstorm scene.
Stage lighting can help set a scene for the narrative one wants to sell. For example, a moving headlight can create an optical illusion of the sun rising in the morning while backlit scrims can create the illusion of a sunny day, starry night, or even a fire.
A subtle spotlight can also emphasise the role of a performer. Thus, stage lighting can set principal actors apart from the rest of the stage.
Stage lighting can be used to direct an audience’s attention to a particular performance aspect. The correct light can highlight artwork or an architectural feature on a set. Addtionally, they can be set to distinguish indoor or outdoor settings, the time of the year, and even the time of the day.
What type of lighting is needed on stage?
Different types of stage lighting can illuminate the stage or create a particular mood or atmosphere, depending on one’s desired outcome. For example:
Front lights typically serve as the primary source of illumination during an event. Front stage lights can produce soft, diffused, shadowless, or hard, shadow-producing light, depending on the desired effect. They can also come in handy to control the presence of shadows.
Backlights create depth and help separate a performer from the background. However, to deliver a more dimensional appearance where the artist pops from the background, you typically need both backlighting and downlighting.
Downlighting is often used to wash a stage area with soft or harsh light. They are usually installed at the bottom of the stage to shine light upwards towards the performer. As a standard, downlighting typically requires a bit of overlap to have enough exposure.
Side lighting is primarily deployed to highlight the sides of a performer’s body, especially when they are walking. Side lighting also helps fill in gaps left by front lighting. With these gaps filled, performers’ actions and movements may appear much more realistic.
High side lighting
High-side lighting illuminates the top of the performer’s head, neck and shoulders to enable audiences to see their facial expressions. High-side lighting is typically mounted between 30 and 60-degree angles to illuminate the upper part of one’s body or any stage items.
Two primary forms of high-sided lighting are high-sided left and high-sided right. These can be combined to accentuate a performer’s elbows, legs, top of the head and middle of the chest.
Types of stage lights
Light is scientifically defined by its frequency and amplitude. However, in the context of stage productions, the different stage lights utilised in events can be distinguished by their intensity, form, colour, direction, and movement. Here is a list of the most common stage lights.
A cyc light is an open-faced fixture that produces an even wash of light over a cyc (a tall piece of fabric) or a vertical surface. Cyc lights can be positioned on the floor or hung close to a backdrop to cover the backdrop in a sheet of light effectively.
An Ellipsoidal is a narrow beam angle light that highlights specific subjects or elements on a stage. Usually, multiple ellipsoidal units are used to draw the audience’s attention to a particular aspect of a performance. Ellipsoidal lights typically come with adjustable focus and can be combined with gobos to project logos or patterns.
Floodlights are stationary lights that are not automated or controllable but provide outstanding illumination. Stage floodlights deliver wide beams of light that ‘flood’ an entire stage. They fill the stage with soft, evenly distributed illumination so the audience can clearly see everything they’re meant to see onstage.
A followspot is a unique spotlight that casts an intense, focused light beam to give extra focus to a performer moving around a stage. These lights are handy when one isn’t sure what path a performer may take and needs to respond in real-time since they’re traditionally operated manually.
Furthermore, the operator can adjust the beam’s intensity level and size and easily change the colour with built-in panels.
Fresnel lights were originally designed for lighthouse uses. However, over time, they became a key component in stage lighting. Fresnels have concentric rings on the lens and are an excellent choice for washes. They can also produce more narrow beams of light with a soft edge and are great for offering high-definition shadows.
Moving head lights are the most dynamically versatile stage lighting fixtures for augmenting stage performances. Moving heads offer a wide variety of beam angle ranges. For example, wash (the widest), beam (the narrowest), spot (wider than beam though thinner than wash), or hybrid (a combination of the three beam angles).
In practice, moving heads are sophisticated as they are motorised and operated with a joystick-like gear to manipulate colours and focus adjustments. Furthermore, moving head fixtures can be supplemented by various unique colours and gobo patterns.
Parabolic aluminised reflectors (PARcan) are unique stage lighting fixtures that create narrow profile spots and a large floodlight. They are typically stationary and are characterised by a barrel of light that is distinctly can-shaped. Because of their durability, they are a constant fixture in nightclubs and even commercial studios.
Strip lights usually provide a multi-coloured, effect-driven type of lighting suited to many music genres. They vary in size and are typically employed by DJs to highlight aspects of their audio output or equipment.
Blinders are used in productions and concerts to produce sudden bursts of bright light. They are available in a range of sizes and configurations, from small LED panels to high-output fixtures. Blinders can be easily controlled, allowing lighting designers to create complex sequences and dramatic effects.
What makes good stage lighting?
Customised lights based on event or performance
Good stage lighting has to be intentional and based on a theme. Each event or production may have disparate lighting needs based on the theme, set design, and desired atmosphere. As such, customised lights can be designed to fit these unique needs.
Knowing when to use various types of lights
Choosing the suitable types of lights and knowing when to use them can help bring your artistic vision to life by providing greater control over colour, intensity, beam angles, and effects. Remember, lighting intensities and effects may be crucial in setting the mood, evoking specific emotions and enhancing the overall storytelling.
Knowing the basic lighting positions
Strategic positioning and programming of stage lights can help draw the audience’s attention to the focal points of a production, enhancing the overall visual impact.
Remember, always employ lighting designs that are flexible, adjustable and adaptable to different scenes and settings within a performance.
Creating lighting zones
Creating lighting zones can enable you to achieve a balance between light and shadows. Appropriately managing this contrast helps create depth, dimension, and visual interest on stage.
Visit the venue beforehand to determine how many lights are needed
Planning is essential to achieve excellent stage lighting. Always do a site survey and visit to determine lighting angles and the number of lights you may need to create a cohesive visual experience.
Angle the lights correctly
Always angle the lights to match the evolving needs of the event or production. Furthermore, ensure you have the means to make real-time adjustments to create the desired effects.
Consult with a professional
Always seek out lighting experts to execute your stage lighting. These experts are always well-versed and experienced in the technical elements of choosing pattern projections, dynamic colour changes, moving lights, and other creative lighting techniques that can add visual depth to your event.
Lighting for stage rental in Malaysia
Whether you’re a full-time musician in Malaysia who is always on the road or a corporate brand that occasionally hosts events, you’ll probably need to hire stage lighting for ample illumination.
Hiring stage lighting equipment is a cost-effective, scalable and flexible option. It allows one to customise their lighting setup for each event without the hassle of maintenance and storage.
Rental Supplier offers audio-visual equipment, professional sound systems and stage lighting system rentals in Malaysia to diverse clients. We can also arrange logistics for both short-term and long-term rentals and ensure reliable quality to cater to clients’ unique stage lighting needs.
Instead of hassling with buying stage lighting equipment that you’ll occasionally use, consider renting stage lighting. Renting provides you access to state-of-the-art equipment without any upfront investment. Furthermore, it enables you to select from a wide range of lighting fixtures, colours and effects to achieve the desired visual aesthetic.
Additionally, by renting, one can quickly scale the quantity and types of lights they require to match the specific needs of their event.