Nottingham:  0115 944 5220  |  London:  0207 0419311  | 

Stage Lighting Basics: A Guide on Lighting Equipment

5 August 2021

If you’re putting on any sort of performance or show, stage lighting will be an important factor to get right. Not only does good lighting let your audience see the show clearly, it can also help create atmosphere and form part of the entertainment itself. 

In this article, we’ll cover some stage lighting basics, providing you with a simple guide on lighting which is suitable for a wide range of performances. We also cover lighting equipment guidance with an example of a basic lighting package.

Lighting Design & Mood

Whether you’re putting on a theatrical production, a gig or an awards night, the lighting used can elevate the show and the overall experience for your audience. Professional productions will have a lighting designer whose job it is to enhance the drama, mood and atmosphere with thoughtful and creative lighting. However, even with a modest budget, you can achieve an effective and memorable show with a bit of technical lighting knowledge!

Think about great performances you’ve been to. From smoke machines and lasers at a techno gig to the creative use of colour, intensity and shadows to create a ghostly ambience for spooky play – lighting is at the heart. There are no universal rules on how to create the best atmosphere, but there are a few things that are helpful to consider to guide your choices. 

  • Lights will enhance certain parts of your performance – what do you want your audience to focus on and when?
  • Lighting can emphasise mood and ambience – consider how different colours, angles and intensities of light can contribute to this
  • Lights can be linked together and programmed into sequences – this allows smooth large scale lighting transitions, changes in time to music, and lets the lights become part of the action

Basic Lighting Positions

Lights can be placed anywhere you want on stage, but there are five basic stage lighting positions to focus on:

  • Front lighting: this is usually the main source of light. Using the McCandless method, there should be at least two lights on opposite sides of the stage at a 45 degree angle. Front lighting is often used to mimic natural daylight, but it can also focus on particular areas of the stage or incorporate colours to influence mood. 
  • Side lighting: this illuminates performers side-on, highlighting their face, arms, torso and legs. Side lighting can be a good way to highlight a performer as they move across a stage and is, therefore, used more for shows like dance performances.
  • High side lighting: similar to side lighting but hung at an overhead angle to focus more upon the performer’s face and upper body. High side lighting can be used to draw attention to a performer’s face and expressions. 
  • Back lighting: this creates depth on stage and can help make your performers stand out against the backdrop. It can also be used to create a halo effect around performers.
  • Down lighting: this shines straight down on performers, highlighting the tops of their heads and shoulders. Harsh downlights can create atmospheric shadowing, but they can also be used as generic working lights at something like an exhibition, for example.

Types of Lighting Fixtures

Next, let’s take a look at some of the different types of lighting fixtures. There are lots of kinds of lighting out there, but these are some of the most commonly used which can create professional looking stage lighting.

  • Ellipsoidals/spotlights: ellipsoidal reflector spotlights (ERS), commonly
  •  just referred to as spotlights, are used to create well-defined, relatively narrow beams to highlight specific people or areas on stage. They can be focused with either a sharp or soft edge, and can also have interchangeable beam lenses for different beam sizes or zoom lenses.
  • PAR cans: parabolic aluminized reflectors (PAR) cans are generally used for wash lighting to illuminate the entire stage area and are generally the most commonly used type of lighting fixture.
  • Fresnels: fresnel lights are like the middle ground between ERS and PAR cans. They produce a soft edged spotlight with adjustable focus and beam angle.
  • Moving head: moving head lights are incredibly versatile, offering light movement, different colours, gobo projections and more. They can offer anything from beam to wash lighting, depending on what you’re looking for.

As well as the lights themselves, there are two other key elements for your stage lighting: lighting desks and rigging. Your lighting desk is a key part of your lights’ operation which gives you control over all your lights, allowing seamless transitions and effects. Rigging is the physical structure you attach your lights to which enables you to achieve the lighting positions and angles you want. 

Popular Types of Lighting Effects

Lighting doesn’t simply have to be for illumination. There are many types of lighting effects which can be used for visual interest and become part of the show itself. Some popular kinds of lighting effect are:

  • Gobos: gobos let you project an image. They work by cutting a pattern or shape into a sheet which is inserted into a frame in front of the light. Gobos can be bespoke, ranging from simple shapes to a company logo.
  • Strobe: strobe lighting is a kind of rapidly flashing light which makes movement look choppy. This effect is often used in clubs and high energy music performances.
  • Haze machines: haze machines are used to enhance light beams. Without a haze, it’s very difficult to see distinct beams so a haze is used to create a punchier beam lighting effect. Our haze machines are water-based so they’re very safe and don’t cause issues for people with respiratory issues such as asthma. 
  • Prism effect: this effect creates several beams of colourful rotating lights across a stage. The effect works via moving head lights with a prism inside that can split the beam of light – if used over a colour wheel, colourful moving beams are projected. 

Basic Lighting Package: Recommended Lighting Setup for a Beginner

Now that you have a grasp on lighting fixtures, positions and effects, you can start to think about how you’d like to use these for your show! A simple understanding of stage lighting will be beneficial even when it comes to a basic setup. However, should you want to achieve something more exciting or elaborate, you can always rely on the support of experienced technicians, such as those at Stage Connections. 

If you are looking for a basic lighting package for a small stage (around 6m x 2m) and set, we would recommend the following lighting: 

Popular Extra Lighting Products

We find that there are a few extra lighting products that are popular to include to make clients’ shows more thrilling and memorable! From awards shows to concerts, some common extras to add to a lighting hire package are:


We hope that you find this guide to lighting equipment useful and that it gives you a good overview of stage lighting basics. If you are putting on an event and require high quality lighting equipment hire, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Our experts can create wonderful lighting designs, help you pick the right equipment for your needs, and even operate the lighting for you at your event. Contact us to find out more.

Get In Touch

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.