Stage Lighting 101: What Can be controlled – Basic!

Home » Stage Lighting 101: What Can be controlled – Basic!

Stage lighting has many components, with Four major properties that can be manipulated to produce the desired effects and atmosphere. These are:


Intensity: As the name suggests, intensity is the amount of light directed at the stage or actors, and how bright or focused it is. Intensity can range from pitch blackness to very bright, and can be controlled with dimmers and other lighting devices.


Colour: Colour can completely change the atmosphere of the performance, and que the audience through the emotional connections we have to it. A red and gold glow for dawn, a sombre blueish grey during a funeral scene.

Colour for stage lighting has been traditionally changed through the use of gels and special covers, but LED lights have made things much easier, and can have any colour programmed on a whim.


Direction and Distribution: This speaks for itself – and describes from what direction the light shine on the stage. Light can be directed from above, below, behind, even from the sides and less conventional angles. Each combination of directions has a unique effect on the highlights and shadows produced.

One Direction

Movement:  This, despite its name, does not refer to actual movement, not panning or tilting as the name might suggest. Movement refers to how the light changes, transforms, going from one colour to the next, moving from dim to bright.



So now we know how Stage Lighting can be manipulated – but what can we do with these techniques? How can lighting design help make or break a production?

Neon Jungle

Visibility: The most important function of stage lighting. Visibility covers not only what is visible, but what isn’t. It can be used to create shadows, to focus attention on one actor and not another. Both the presence and absence of light on a stage can completely change a scene. This also plays a role in the Focus function. Focus is simply the way lighting can force the audience to look at one point on the stage – the eye is drawn naturally to whatever is brightest, or contrasted. If the stage is washed with green, an actor highlighted by yellow will pop out.

Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons performs onstage at Austin360 Amphitheater

Mood: The next most important function of lighting – and the one that is both the easiest and hardest to achieve. As explained in the Colour component, this aspect of lighting design can drastically affect the mood and emotional conveyance of a scene. As the mood of the performance shifts, as does the lighting, working together to produce the most intense effect.

Russian Ballet perform “Swan Lake” at Jinsha theater

Composition and Modelling: This function is perhaps the hardest to grasp. It’s a way of using light to shape the scene or the world of the performance, to create depth and highlights, shadows  – using little to no props, they can convey a world or place to the audience simply through the use of lighting.



Madonna performs onstage at Olympic Stadium, ‘Sticky & Sweet Tour’

Overhead Lights / Wash Lighting: These lights are most commonly located above the stage, and serve as general lighting. They are sometimes also referred to as floodlights. A “wash” refers to the general fill of light across the stage, dim or bright. It can be coloured using coloured lighting gels. For example, the image above as a blue “wash”, with a spotlight focused on the lead dancer.

Background Lights: Lights placed on the back of the performers are used for effects and mood.

Spot Lights: These lights are used to draw the crowd’s focus to a performer or set piece, and work together with the wash lighting.

Screen Shot 2019-08-24 at 10.19.04 AM.png

Screen Shot 2019-08-24 at 10.20.21 AM.png

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: