Lighting Design 101 part 2 ” The Usable Properties of Light”

In the first part of Lighting Design 101 we looked at the aims of lighting. In this section we are going to look at the usable properties of stage lighting. These are the controllable properties that light has.

1. Intensity – this is the quantity of light. Dimmers are used to control the intensity of light. The human eye can adjust to a wide range of levels of intensity. Therefore it can be assume that intensity is relative. The eye compares the present lighting intensity with what has happened before. an example of this phenomena is when a theatre’s house lights dim and go out, the eyes adapt to the darkness, then the stage lights come up to an intensity that might not be that much brighter than the house lights previous level. But since the eyes had adjusted to the darkness the light seems to be very bright when compared to what it was before hand. This creates the illusion of bright light, and it is something that a lighting designer can take advantage of. You don’t necessarily need lots of light to create a bright scene you just need to have the skills to use intensity to create that illusion.

2. Colour – colour must be carefully controlled in a theatrical lighting situation. To control the colour of the light you use specially dyed sheets of plastic in front of the light. There is a huge range of colours available. This gives the lighting designer a whole of palette to work with. You can use colour to create moods and evoke locations. Colours like blue and blue tints can give you the feeling of coolness whereas yellow or red can give you the feeling of warmth. But a “cool ” light will only appear cool if there is a “warm” light to compare it with. So it does act a bit like intensity, you need something to compare it with.

3.Distribution – where does the light come from? Where does it go? These are questions that relate to the distribution of light. For everyone to see, special lighting conditions are needed. You can change the distribution of light to highlight an actor within a group of performers, or you could have strong yellowish light streaming through a window on stage while the rest of the stage is bathed in a low level cool wash. These are examples of distribution of light.

4.Movement – intensity, colour and distribution are not static properties of light. They are subject to change and this change is called movement. Movement is used to shift emphasis, show a break in time or underline a climax. Too many changes can be a distraction and to few could lead to boredom due to not aiding the production.

As you can see from this post and the previous post that stage lighting design can be quite complex when you take all these factors into consideration. But once you have a basic understanding of these it starts to make sense and then becomes easy. But not only do you need to know the properties of light but you also need to know about the various type of lights that you have at your disposal. So the next Lighting Design 101 will cover a variety of lantern types.


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