How to Use Theater Spot Lights

Theater spot lights

How to Use Theater Spot Lights

Theater stage lighting involves a lot of different techniques. It’s important to know how to use these lights properly so that you don’t dazzle the audience.

One way to do this is to use two-point lighting. This is where you have a light on each side of the performer.

Color Filters

In theater lighting, Color Filters are used to add color to a light beam. They are transparent pieces of dyed glass, plastic or lacquered gelatin that have been treated to selectively transmit some wavelengths and restrict others. Most colored filters use either absorption or interference mechanisms.

A color filter (commonwealth spelling: lighting gel or simply gel) is a thin sheet of heat-resistant polycarbonate or polyester that’s placed in front of a theatrical lighting fixture to give the fixture specific colors and effects. Gels are usually constructed to create a range of color options by pairing together the colors that can be mixed with the underlying white light source using a chromaticity chart. Each dot on the chart represents a different colored gel, and the straight line that connects two dots indicates the range of color options available when those gels are used with white light.

Spotlights are essential for highlighting important areas onstage, which helps to draw the audience’s attention to that part of the performance. They can also help during scene changes by keeping certain performers illuminated while the stage hands change scenery.

A Lighting Director will usually provide a Color Call document before the show begins, which is a list of all the required lighting gels for the performance, along with the quantities and sizes needed. These are then picked from the theater’s stock by the lighting crew, with any additional gels ordered and delivered before the start of the show.


One of the most unique and powerful tools for stage lighting is the gobo. These are sheets of metal with patterns cut into them and used in front of spotlights to create a picture Stage Lighting Supplier effect on the stage. They can be shaped to match the theme of an event or to project a company logo. They can also be paired with motion projectors to simulate smoke, fire and water.

Gobos are traditionally made from steel to provide the most durability. They are inserted into the focal point of the spotlight and a special holder holds them in place. Metal gobos mask out areas of the spotlight’s beam and can be any design from simple shapes to intricate images.

There is also a large library of glass and dichroic gobos that can add color along with shape. These can be both literal images and abstract LED Strobe Mobile Light breakup patterns. These are more expensive than steel gobos, but they can make a big impact on a lighting design.

Lastly, there are special gobos that can be used with fixed (single lens) spotlights to produce a pattern that moves in the beam. These are commonly used in nightclubs and other musical venues to create a moving image. A similar technique is used in photography to create effects such as fireworks bursts and dots.

Dimming Shutters

A motorised dimming shutter built into some larger ERS instruments to control the intensity of the beam. This can be operated remotely (or by hand) via a DMX controller. The shutters also work as a focus shutter on the follow spot (although they are usually positioned at the top of the fixture rather than the bottom as with an ERS). Many smaller follow spots use an external dimmer pack, which makes them much simpler to operate. Alternatively, ground-control systems such as PRG’s Bad Boy and Black Trax can remove the operator entirely and allow a ‘follow spot’ to be automatically followed from a safe position backstage by an automated system.

A set of two or four metal flaps that affix to the front of a spotlight or other stage light to restrict and shape its beam. Similar to a top hat, but much wider in diameter. Also known as a barn door.

A type of translucent lighting gel, often used for effect on stage and screen. Normally a clear gel, but it can be colored. Made by Rosco, it is a very effective heat shield, absorbing the heat from a lamp to keep the gels warm and prolonging their life. It can also be used to protect people or props from reflected stage lighting, by creating a dark ‘window’ on the stage.

Fresnel Lens

Fresnel lenses are a very useful device for theater lights, especially those that have variable beam widths. The design was conceived by Augustin-Jean to reduce the weight of a large spherical lens by carving concentric rings — much like tree rings — in a flat glass lens, which bend light rays differently, making them project as a single, concentrated beam. The design is still used to this day in spotlights, searchlights, and flashlights.

The different sized Fresnel lights are known as “Freshman,” “Mole Richardson,” and “George Hurrell” (named after the famous 1930’s commercial movie star portrait photographer). They are workhorses of theater and film production, and can be found on all sets, from the local high school to the studio where your favorite movies are made.

Accessories for Fresnel lights include gel frames that hold colored lighting gels to tint the light and diffusion filters that soften it. Barn doors and scrims are also common accessories that can be placed in front of the lens to shape and control the direction of the light. Depending on the needs of your production, you may want to use a dimmer switch to set the intensity levels for each lighting cue. You should test the lighting during rehearsals and before the actual performance to ensure that it is meeting your production goals.

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