Lighting Systems: How Do They Work (+Latest Technologies)

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Colours, brightness, or even darkness typically affect our moods and emotion. For instance, they can convey joy, deep emotion, or excitement. Light variations and combinations are especially important in entertainment scenarios as they can decisively influence or accentuate a performance or event.

Though live shows like concerts, theatrical events, or even industrial presentations require it, appropriately lighting a stage is surprisingly hard.  Modern stage lighting dictates multiple coloured light sources and creativity in the craft. 

Furthermore, several setup considerations have to take into account modelling, mood, focus, environmental representation, and even room temperature. To manage all these dynamics, you typically require a lighting control system.


A lighting control system is essentially a specialised system that enables lighting fixtures to be controlled and adjusted to fit different visual requirements, shapes and architectures.  

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How do they work?

Lighting control systems are basically computerised systems used to set up light scenes via lighting software accessible through an interface. 

The lighting control systems can achieve scenographic lighting with dynamic effects with sensors or time programs to even adjust power consumption. Fundamentally, switching and dimming are two critical functions of a lighting control system used to produce different lighting situations. 

The most basic lighting control system comprises rigging positions, permanent lighting bars/portable setups, light fixtures, cables, dimmers, and a control desk (connected to the dimmers via DMX cables). 

Let’s delve more into this, shall we?


The most basic modern stage lighting control system mainly constitutes a lighting console, light fixtures, distribution/dimming, and cabling.  

Consoles: A console translates instructions into the digital multiplex (DMX) protocol to control and move the lights. DMX is the universal communications protocol that delivers a common language for lighting controllers to interact with lighting devices like dimmers or colour scrollers.  There are two main types of consoles:

  1. Traditional Lighting Consoles: These deliver the ability to make cue lists to pre-program an event. These consoles work perfectly for conventional lights and some LEDs. But get challenging to work with as the number of channels of each light increases.
  2. Advanced “Moving Light” ConsolesThese consoles are powered by modern software packages to control a mix of moving/LED lights and traditional lights. They typically feature large touchscreens, buttons to type commands and faders for lighting playback.

Dimmers: Dimmers are large boxes permanently installed near a stage to produce electrical supply for the lights. Typically, dimmers vary from a simple one-channel unit all the way up to 96 channels for large shows and installations.

  1. However, LEDs and moving lights cannot be connected to dimmers. Rather, LED lights are connected to constant, non-dimmed power (i.e., wall power).
  2. Furthermore, some permanent systems also use relays to switch on and off the power to LEDs and moving lights to ensure they live a longer life.

Light Fixtures: Lights come in different forms, for example, fixed-position LED, conventional lights, or moving lights.

  1. Each type of light is categorised based on the type of light it outputs.
  2. For instance, spot fixtures, wash fixtures, or beam fixtures. Generally, each fixture type has application strengths and weaknesses. So, because a fixture might be perfect for a type of event, does not mean it will suit another application case.
  3. Nonetheless, LED lanterns are revolutionising the event lighting world. However, as mentioned earlier, they require some modification to use them as they can’t be connected to dimmers. But traditional lanterns can be directly plugged into a dimmer.

Cables: Cables bind all lighting components together. DMX cabling is the most reliable means of moving data and power to lights. 


Lighting systems serve different purposes during the organisation of an event:

  1. Stage illumination: Lighting helps illuminate the performers, sets and props to enable an audience to see everything they are meant to see onstage. Unfortunately, inadequate lighting can negatively impact production. For instance, dim lighting can make it difficult for actors’ facial expressions to be seen. 
  2. Highlighting different areas: Good stage lighting can direct audience members’ eyes to specific areas. For instance, during the most dramatic instances, lighting can highlight one stage area as a focal point.
  3. Setting the scene: Lighting can help to create optical illusions to achieve specific visuals. For example, one can utilise a moving light to achieve an illusion of the sun rising.  Or employ backlit scrims to create the illusion of a sunny day, starry night, or even a fire.
  4. Controlling Moods: Lighting can be employed to affect a specific mood. This can be achieved by matching lighting to the show content to trigger emotions in the audience.

For example, a warm glow for a happy scene, or dim, soft hues for a sad mood. Scientifically, specific colours are associated with different human moods. For instance, blue typically conveys sadness, while a red represents intense feelings


1. Ellipsoidal lights

Also called lekos, ellipsoidal lights are popular in theatres and entertainment venues. Ellipsoidal lights employ a focusable lens to project a concentrated light beam on a specific spot. Or from distances of 25-75 feet, which makes them ideal for side positions, overhead or stage washes. 

2. Fresnel lighting 

For many years Fresnel lights were the staple of the movie industry. The Fresnel lenses are carved out to provide adequate light control over floods and spots. 

Essentially, they work by projecting a light beam, without projecting the filament of the light bulb itself.

3. Gobos

 “GOes Between Optics”, shortened as a gobo, is basically a small stencilled disc placed within a lighting fixture to generate a projected pattern on stage backdrops, walls, and floors. 

Gobos come in a steel form, glass and plastic (for LED fixtures). 

Furthermore, beyond use in static fixtures, gobos can be installed in moving lighting to project moving patterns or logos. 

4. Balloon lighting

Balloon lights are air-inflated lighting fixtures that can be employed indoors or outdoors, either in suspension or ground-supported. 

They are typically available with warm halogen lighting for elegant events or light-emitting diodes (LED)  for more colourful events. 

Furthermore, they are easily customisable with a company logo or event theme.

5. Kinetic lights

Kinetic lights are a merger of the art of lighting with mechanical technology.  The result is moving orb lights and light tubes that drop down from the ceiling operated on a motor to maintain movement over a specific space. Kinetic lights are usually deployed at conferences, concerts, and pop-up events.

6. Lasers

Lasers produce hundreds of patterns that can be flashed and rotated on walls, ceilings, and floors. 

Mainly found at electronic music venues, concerts, and nightclubs, lasers come in various colours. Some can even change to the beat of the music, bounce around the room and reflect off mirror balls to achieve dynamic effects. 

7. PAR lighting

Parabolic Aluminized Reflectors (PAR) are ideal for lighting stages and theatres. Simple in design, PAR lighting is highly effective as it uses a reflector to help concentrate light. Additionally, it also gives the light an oval shape to cover larger spaces. 

8. Pin-Spot lighting

Pin-Spot lighting is useful to create narrow beams of light focused on particular areas of a venue. For example, centrepieces, bar areas, or a cake or a dessert table.

9. 3D projection mapping 

3D projection mapping technology involves projecting specific scenes, videos or images onto a physical surface. For example, adding texture to skyscraper walls. Projection mapping is used on everything from buildings to stage props. 

10. Bliss lighting

Bliss lights essentially create thousands of pinpoints of light that appear like stars slowly coming together— then breaking apart. As a result, they give the impression of sitting in an astronomy observatory. 

Furthermore, bliss lights have a wide projection area (over 50ft x 50ft), making them great value in terms of overall coverage. Bliss lights are also great for venues with low ceilings to achieve the illusion of depth.


Ask Questions

Always ask as many questions as possible. For example:

  • Where will it be hosted? A hotel ballroom, stadium, convention centre, church, tent?
  • Are there any permanent light fixtures present like chandeliers?
  • How many guests will be in attendance?
  • What are the room’s dimensions and ceiling heights?
  • Is there a theme or colour scheme?
  • Will there be centrepieces or displays?
  • Will there be dancing, entertainment, or speakers, or other event technology?
  • What is the event timeline – load in and load out?

Carefully consider lighting effects

Consider using specialised lighting effects like Gobos or dynamic video projections to improve the audience experience. 

Gobos can creatively project corporate logos or patterned designs into an event space. Whether static, moving or fading in and out, gobos can be used to display patterned lights onto the walls or ceilings to create a magical atmosphere.

In the same token, dynamic video projections deliver unparalleled flexibility in designing whatever image one chooses to project. One can employ these video projectors to adjust the focus, width, angle, brightness, and colour of video displays in real-time.

Have a project plan

Once you’ve collected all the details about the event, depending on its size, you’ll need a project plan. Having a project plan helps you estimate an accurate budget for your event. 

Furthermore, it allows you to list out all the required equipment, establish an event timeline, and a satisfactory lighting design. 

You can particularly achieve an appropriate lighting design using CAD (computer-aided design) software. Or even a hand-drawn sketch. Overall, lighting design helps you get a good sense of the light types you may need, and how to position them. 

Employ LED lights

If you can, always consider using LED lights for the majority of your lighting needs. LED lights are significantly more efficient, last longer and are cheaper than conventional tungsten equivalents. 

In essence, this also means that LEDs use less electricity to generate the same amount of ambient light, and last hundreds of hours longer before burning out. Furthermore, LEDs allow you to electronically create any colour giving you more flexibility.

Remember, always use lights with different optical effects. For example, more or less sharp contours, closely bundled, scalable or dispersed, to handle the multiple different technical lighting requirements of clients.

Always be creative

Don’t be rigid! There are multiple different ways to light an event and create a particular atmosphere. 

For instance, you can use novelty lights like a bistro and twinkling lights for wedding lighting. On the other hand, technicians can use the uplighting technique to create dramatic and elegant environments.


In summary, stage lighting systems typically create an immersive stage experience via tungsten lamps or high-power LEDs. These lighting fixtures can additionally be used to achieve lighting effects with fast colour changes and the precise movement of a lighting unit.

Generally, optimal use of lights in combination with professional light control systems allows for unmatched light scenes, which underscore the dynamics of any performance. 

Furthermore, good light choreography can captivate the audience’s attention and heighten the intensity of any performance. 

However, successful light design isn’t about the number of lights, but instead, the manner in which they are employed and how illumination sequences are organised. 

As a result, different colour layouts, light tones, dimming positions and lighting positioning in a room are critical constituents of successful light planning. 

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