Lighting Designer – What One Is and What They Do4 min read

Paloma Parra female lighting designer
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When a production is preparing to get underway, the first step is to usually line up the expertise the show needs to execute the director’s vision. Typically, this means securing a range of subject matter experts, including a lighting designer.

If you’re relatively new to the stage, aren’t sure why having a lighting designer on your team is so critical, or are considering launching a career in production lighting, understanding the lighting designer job description can help. With that in mind, here’s a look at what a lighting designer is and what they do for a production.

What Is a Lighting Designer?

Silhoutte images of video production and lighting set for filming which movie crew team working and

A lighting designer is part technician, part artist. Their medium is lighting, and they are highly skilled with a variety of fixtures and techniques. Additionally, they know which lighting approaches will yield specific results, ensuring they can use the available lighting tech to achieve certain outcomes.

The lighting designer usually coordinates heavily with the director and artistic director to determine what sort of lighting-related visuals will craft the desired result on stage. This can include anything from deciding what sort of lighting will create a particular mood, steer the audience’s attention correctly, or create the right special effects.

It is important to note that lighting designers aren’t limited to the stage. Television and movie productions also make use of lighting designers, giving them access to critical expertise when lighting various scenes.

Lighting Designer’s Main Responsibilities

During a production’s preparation, lighting designers have specific responsibilities. While the exact nature of the duties can vary depending on the production involved, there are certain activities and tasks that are common for most jobs.

Here is a list of typical lighting designer main responsibilities:

  • Coordinate with director and artistic director to understand the production’s goals and their overall vision
  • Create lighting design plans to achieve the desired result
  • Write lighting plots to outline when lighting changes occur and how the lighting changes are executed
  • Monitor energy use to ensure the production stays within budget
  • Make strategic lighting-oriented purchases that align with the budget and production’s needs
  • Attend dress and technical rehearsals to ensure lighting choices are correct, making adjustments as needed
  • Oversee lighting during the production’s run

Lighting designers can also have additional responsibilities. For example, with a smaller production, the lighting designer may also serve as a lighting technician, operating various lighting technologies during rehearsals and shows. For larger productions, the lighting designer may also supervise a team of lighting professionals, giving them extra management duties.

Additionally, the needs may be slightly different for television and movie lighting designer jobs than they are for stage productions. Television and movie productions have requirements that don’t always mimic the goals of stage productions. However, many of the main responsibilities do remain similar, often mirroring those listed above.

Areas of Expertise and Critical Skills for Lighting Designers

rig lighting

Lighting designers need a comprehensive skill set to ensure they can handle the responsibilities of the job. Usually, their base-level expertise is acquired through formal education. For instance, many lighting designers study lighting design, technical theatre, media, photography, electronics, and similar subjects in college. However, some learn many of their essential skills on the job, working their way up into a lighting designer position after starting in an entry-level technical stage role.

Like duties, the precise skills a lighting designer needs in order to thrive in a job can vary depending on a production’s needs. However, certain skill requirements are fairly common.

Here are some must-have skills for lighting designers:

  • Lighting Tools (fixtures, riggings, dimmers, gels, etc.)
  • Lighting Consoles
  • Light Plot Design
  • Theatrical Design
  • Color Acuity
  • Color Theory
  • Geometry
  • Creativity
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Leadership
  • Attention-to-Detail

Additional skills may also be necessary depending on the role, though the ones above are almost universally required. As a result, they can serve as a solid baseline for what a lighting designer should bring to the table.

Lighting Designer Career Path

Generally speaking, lighting designer isn’t an entry-level position. Instead, it’s one that most professionals work into, even if they have a degree focused on lighting design.

In some cases, professionals start in crew roles, moving up into assistant stage or assistant production manager positions to gain relevant experience. Then, they may transition into lighting technician jobs, allowing them to then move up into a lighting designer role.

However, that’s just a typical approach. Some lighting designers do take different career paths. As long as the proper skills are developed along the way, other options are completely viable. Ultimately, it’s the expertise and capabilities that matter, ensuring that the lighting designer can fulfill the job requirements and help the production succeed.

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