Stage Lighting Basics, part 2 of 2

As in “Stage Lighting, Part 1 of 2“, about the lighting instruments in common usage, and as with the audio articles here at Magic Roadie, I won’t recommend brand names, and I’ll spend as little time as possible on the science behind everything This is intended to be an “applications” guide to effective stage lighting for your magic act. Part 2 will outline how to build an effective stage lighting design.

I did a fair amount of poking around the Net, looking for exceptionally useful, reasonably easy-to-understand-and-execute tutelage on how to create a lighting design. What I found is a logical, systematic approach to ‘three-point lighting’.

1. Identify Your Performance Areas
For the sake of simplicity, let’s look only at your primary location os stage.

  • Two instruments with a fairly narrow beam in front of you should be pointing down at a 45-60º angle (as viewed from the side), with the two instruments forming a 90º angle between them (as viewed from above).  Lesser angles do a better job of lighting the performer’s eyes (also getting under hats), and greater angles produce a more dramatic & shadowy effect. Give each lamp a different color filter: a ‘warm’ (yellow, amber, orange, or red) from one side, a ‘cool’ (blue, green or purple) from the other. Dim one of these two so that one is brighter than the other.  Natural light usually will be brighter on one side of you than the other, and this will introduce pleasant shadows on one side of your face.
  • A third instrument with a fairly narrow beam should come from behind you, often (but not necessarily) to one side or the other.  The backlight shines on you from behind to create a rim of light on your head & shoulders, serving to separate you from the background as well as highlighting contours.  This light usually is at a much greater angle than 45º.  Maybe 75º or so.

2. The Rest Of The Stage
After lighting YOU has been dealt with, you may feel you’re done. If necessary, however, you can light the rest of the stage for mood and atmosphere. You can use pretty well any instruments for this application. It really is a matter of application & preference. Generally, though, a flood-type instrument will provide less emphasis, and a spot-type will produce a more dramatic effect.

3. Backgrounds & Backdrops
Backdrops and cycs should all be lit separately from everything else, and this is usually done with striplights. Typically, this type of light comes from the top, or the bottom, or both.

While stage lighting truly is an art under the direction of a gifted designer, I ain’t a gifted lighting designer, and my bet is that you’re not one either, but everything has to start with some sort of guidelines, and this three-point method seems pretty spot-on, because it’s the basis (with some minor revisions) of modern theatrical stage lighting.

Well, there ya go, my friends! Now we ALL know a heck of a lot more about lighting a magic act!