Mechanics of Lighting
To be an effective lighting designer, it takes a lot of knowledge, understanding and practical experience. There are many good designers out there, making a decent living. But, there are only a few great ones. So, what makes them great? The first question of course is: what are you trying to light? What's the goal? The designer must have a good idea about the specific characteristics of the different lighting fixtures that are available so they can select the appropriate fixture for the task at hand. Have you taken classes on the physics of light? Have you studied along side a veteran pro? These are both good ideas if you want to take your craft to the very highest level.
Of course, there are lessons you can only learn while on the job. Have you ever tried to take a single lighting fixture and illuminate an actor in unique settings? For example, the actor would 'appear' very different against a dark setting, compared to a light setting. The fixture hasn't changed, however the change in visual effect and appearance on a human observer, is very noticeable. Things really are what they appear to be—at least in the theatre. Now, what about the various stage fixtures? Have you used them all? As you probably know, there are five basic fixtures. They are: ellipsoidal, reflectors, fresnels, pars, beam projectors, and floods. No matter what you are trying to accomplish, using these fixtures will produce as many visual impressions as you need—an unlimited number of effects really.
Factors that influence the perception of light include:
- Fixture beam spread
- Mounting direction and distance
- Color & reflectance of object being illuminated
- Color & reflectance of surrounding objects
So, do you understand how each of these fixtures performs under a countless variety of conditions? It's critical to be aware of the differences.
Lighting design is an art form, no doubt about that. But it's also a science. Do you have a good idea how your tools work? Do you know how a certain lighting fixture will perform at particular distance? At 25 degree, a 1000 watt ellipsoidal will typically produce a 12 foot diameter pool at 50 feet. Further, this fixture will provide approximately 100 foot candles (1000 lux) of light at this distance.
The mechanics of lighting are fairly well understood. What isn’t as much, and can't really be taught, is the ability to create feelings, moods and personality with your light. Once you have this skill, you'll eventually create your own style, that some may emulate. If you are one of these types, you'll instinctively 'know', how a specific fixture will perform at any distance. This is one of the gifts of experience.
The important take away? The lighting designer must balance mechanics and art, because both are very important.