Understanding Stage Lighting
By Jordan Tomkins
Understanding Stage Lighting

Basic terms you can learn to better understand lighting for your event. Stage lighting is a field that goes back hundreds of years - even Shakespeare recognised the importance of creating atmosphere and would use candles on stage to set the mood. Thankfully, the technology has progressed somewhat since the 1600s, and lighting designers today use a variety of lighting techniques and effects to both wow the audiences and create functional lighting. Below are some of the most commonly used terms and some examples of how these techniques can be used.

Spotlight - designed to illuminate a person or object on the stage, spotlights are used to highlight key features. They can be operated by an operator, such as with a followspot, or they can be used as part of a wider lighting design and controlled by a lighting console.


Alfresco Disco Rave of the Decade stage lighting


Wash Lights - These are used to create a large pool or ‘wash’ of white or coloured light. In architectural lighting they are more commonly known as flood lights. They are essential for lighting large areas, and can be static, or moving.

PAR Cans - Parabolic Aluminised Reflector lights, or PAR Cans, were a staple of stage lighting until very recently. They contain large, powerful lamps that come in a variety of beam angles and sizes to create spot or wash effects. A stage lighting rig would usually contain many PAR Cans with different lamps and coloured gels for different scenes. In more recent years, they have begun to be replaced with more efficient and reliable LED light fixtures.


Kanye West on Stage at Glastonbury 2015 under a ceiling of PAR Cans


Intelligent Lights - These are lighting fixtures which contain a number of different settings and can be controlled by a lighting controller or console. They can be static, colour-changing lights, or moving-head fixtures. They are linked together by data cables to pass the signals from the controller to each light.

Dimmer - This is used to control older, lamp-based stage lights. It adjusts the power going into the light to make it brighter or dimmer, and is usually controlled by ‘faders’ which is a slider that the lighting operator pushes up or down.

Gobo - A gobo is a small round disc, like a stencil, that is placed in front of a light to project an image or pattern. Gobos can be glass or metal, and come in different sizes to fit different types of light. You might use a gobo to create an effect of light shining through a tree canopy, or you can use it to project your company’s logo on the walls.

A gobo projection of the B Corp logo onto the Jolly Hog shipping container in Bristol. The True Start Coffee Suzuki Jimny is in the foreground.

These are just some of the basics, but hopefully this helps demystify the world of lighting, and next time a lighting technician is talking to you about what they do, you can understand and follow along!

If you want to learn more about stage lighting or need a lighting design for your event, give the PYTCH team a call.


0333 022 0171