Rigging and Focusing Lights

This is part of the bump in procedure. This is the moment when all of the work of the lighting designer comes together. If the lighting designer finds out if his pre-planning is going to work together with all of the other elements.

So what are these elements?

Well paperwork is one of them. This consists of the lighting plan, patching charts.

Another key ingredient is having the correct number of working lanterns. Make sure the correct colour is available, and preferably cut to the correct size.

Optical Focus

Reflector clean?

Lenses clean?

Lens properly positioned with retaining clips, rings etc?

Lamp not to black?

Lamp properly seated in its holder?

Electrical Check

Plug and cable correctly attached?

Cable in good condition?

Does it light?

Mechanical Check

Len tube or focus knob moving freely?

Shutters moving freely yet remain in position?

Tilt locking device free from slip

Hanging bolt completed with wing nut?

Safety chain for each light?

Accessories Check

Enough barndoors with leaves that stay where put?

Enough irises, masks, gobos?

All colours cut to size, labeled, and in their frames?

Enough clamps and boom arms?


You should make sure that there are plenty of extension cables available. Also they all should be in good working order

Fuses and Lamps

You should always have on hand spare lamps and fuses. You never know when you are going to blow one.

To give your lamps a better chance when you are focusing them, don’t have them up a full. If you are going to have to move a lantern that has been on for a while, let it cool before you move it.

Rigging Team

Always make sure there is enough people on hand to help with rigging. There is nothing more frustrating than having to do a lighting rig by yourself. Not only is it tiring work it is also very dangerous. If a lighting bump in required a lot of work on a ladder you will require at least three people on your team. Make sure that the rigging is neat and tidy, nothing worse than having to sort through a mess of cables to find a fault.


Focusing is the most important part of the lighting process. Ideally you should have at least four people for the lighting focus session. This can be a time consuming procedure, so try an allow as much time as possible for this. It is a good idea to have the director present while the final focus is happening. The lighting designer should be at stage level, keeping an eye on the whole process and give directions. A person is needed to focus the lights, a person to operate the lighting desk and someone to hold the ladder.. If you have more than four people, get these people to help move ladders, walk around stage in the light.

There are at least two ways to focus the lights. The first method is to stand with your back to the light, then direct the person focusing to direct the centre of the light onto the back of your neck. It is not always an accurate method of focusing lights, but it does give you a starting point.

The other method is to keep the intensity of the light low and you face the lantern and see where the filament is in relation to the reflector. Once the light is centred, bring the intensity up and check the effect. Once the light is pointing in the right direction it is time to adjust all the other bits and pieces. Things like barndoors, shutters etc.

If you are focusing fresnels sometimes it is handy to spot the beam, then open up the beam to the required size, so that it covers the required area. Try to visualize what the lighting is going to do and try to correct any obvious faults. Focusing is a very important part of the lighting so try not to rush it. A small mistake can ruin the whole effect, you have to remember that visibility is one of the most important aspects of lighting. So take time and double check everything. A few inches difference really does matter. Thoughout the operation the lighting team must work together having their separate but coordinated roles to play. As you focus each light you can put the colours in, or you can leave it until after the first focus session is over. Then check the focus again.

Once you have focussed all of the lights it is time to see if it all works and blends nicely together.

You will of course have to touch up the focus as rehearsals progress, and things don’t work .


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