Event Lighting Help

Unsure of what you need? Here is some general information on event and stage lighting. This is meant to be a basic guide to help us figure out your needs more efficiently.

If you need help with any West Coast Visuals equipment, please call us directly at 909.605.1500


To start with, if you want a lighting system but don't really care to be specific, or would simply rather have someone else deal with it, you best bet is to find a professional, give them the basic information they need, and most importantly tell them your working budget. Knowing the budget instantly lets us know level of service we can provide, and lets us tailor your lighting design more effectively.

The information below is meant as an introduction to the lighting world, to hopefully give you a little better grasp on what you need, how to order it, and what to expect from a lighting vendor.

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First Contact - Basic info we'll need

At the most basic level, we'll need to know the general details about your event.

Where is the event?
When is the event?
Indoor or outdoor?
What are the dimensions of the room/area?
What are the dimensions of the stage, if any?
What type of event?
Is this a party, a concert, a presentation, a trade show?
What areas need to be lit?
For a concert, we'll start with the stage and go from there. With a trade show however, we'll need to light a majority of your space, and potentially hi light key areas
What type of power is available?
Some lighting fixtures require a great deal of power, others require almost none. Getting the building power availability from your venue representative will tell us what’s possible and what isn't, without the addition of a generator.
Hanging and weight options
Many times, the best lighting design will require hanging lighting fixtures in the air. We'll discuss this in the rigging section in greater detail, but it's important to know if hanging trusses is possible, and where they can be hung.

With this information in hand, we can start to get a general idea of what’s needed and what’s possible.

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Additional Basic Info

Going even further, we can start to get a handle on what you'd like, as well as get a feel for the costs.

What level of lighting are you looking for?
While there will be greater detail further down, it's important to have a basic idea of what you expect. Do you simply want a presenter lit up at a lectern, or would you like to create an experience for your audience with effects and colors? Do you want a party with some ambiance, or do you want to create a theme with dramatic lighting, accenting the architecture?
What crew and labor do you need?
This really depends on if you already have lighting labor for the event, or if you would like us to provide labor. This would include follow spot operators, which we'll touch on farther down. Our shows range anywhere from two crew members to hundreds, it all depends on what’s needed.
Will video cameras be involved?
A slightly different approach is required when filming an event, to make sure the lighting looks good to both the camera and the human eye. Please note this also includes "I-MAG" where large screens are used to magnify the event for the audience, and the event is not necessarily being recorded.

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Light Placement - The Higher The Better (Usually)

Now we can begin to get down to the details. Before we know what type of lights can be used and how many, we need to know how and where they can be placed. We'll go over some of the basic options available in most venues

Flying Lighting Trusses
The standard in the event industry, flying lighting trusses offers the most versatility and functionality for your lighting system.

Working with your venue representatives and a qualified rigging company, the light fixtures can be placed where they will work best. Often this is the only way to achieve a "proper" lighting layout.

Rigging does of course have its downsides. The venue must support the flying of trusses, with the proper weight capacities and hanging positions desired. Also, flying trusses adds a great deal of complexity and cost, with the cost of the trusses themselves, the professional riggers to hang the trusses, the motors and accessories to support the trusses, and added insurance costs added anytime equipment is hung over the audience.
Ground support truss structures
When hanging trusses isn’t possible, self-supported truss structures can be built to offer many of the same benefits. Depending on the structure required, the cost can be either higher or lower, usually depending on the height and size of the structure. Structural engineers can sometimes be required, along with large counter weight systems attached by steel cables to ensure stability and rigidity.
Crank Up Towers
Also generally known as Genies, these mechanical crank up towers usually reach a height of 25 feet or so, and can carry a weight of 650lbs each, allowing a single truss to be flown.

Many simple lighting systems rely on various trusses with pairs of crank up towers each, however weight will always be your limiting factor, along with the maximum length of a truss, per the manufacturer.

While crank up towers excel at relatively simple and fast lighting systems, an additional concern is the area around the base of each tower, which must be kept clear and away from any audience members or unqualified event staff.
Truss Towers
Truss Towers are single pieces of lighting truss, stood up vertically to create a lighting position. Towers are also often used for effects on stage, as set pieces or effects pieces.

While truss towers are great, quick ways to get a small number of lights relatively high in the air, special care must be taken for safety. The tower must have a proper base plate, with generally three feet of clearance for the base to sit. Also, for most towers, additional weight is added to the base plate in the form of sandbags or other ballasts to add stability. At certain heights or weights, the towers must be braced with steel cables to anchor points.
Pipe And Base
Roughly similar to a truss tower, Pipe and Base positions consist of a 50-pound base plate with a 2” steel pipe threaded into the base plate, standing vertically. Designed as positions for small groups of light weight fixtures, Pipe and Base setups are generally less than 15 feet tall, with 6 or less 20lbs fixtures.

With many of the same limitations as a truss tower, extra care must be taken around pipe and base, keeping them away from the audience and safe from tipping.
Floor Lights
The simplest place to put your lights in on the ground, however this is normally the least effective for general lighting. There are many cases where lights work best placed directly on the floor, but these are all very specific scenarios where these floor lights augment the general lighting system. For example, floor lights are great at accenting the walls around a ballroom with up-lighting, or as side lights on dancers, but always in conjecture with more general lighting.

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Different Levels of Lighting

Now that we’ve established the capabilities of the venue, we can start designing a lighting system to fill the space. This is the point where art meets cost, so it’s important to know what your budget is, and what you’re looking for.

This is one of the most basic features possible – do you want a lighting system that is simply “On”, or do you want control? Most of the time, control is required for an event, however it is possible to simply plug certain lights into the wall and point them at what you want (but it’s not recommended). Since control is a backbone of most shows, much of the equipment at events is dedicated to control. Here is a summary of the control infrastructure and crew for your standard event
Lighting Console
The piece of equipment that controls each light. These range from simple to very complex, and while they can be operated at a basic level by almost anyone, they must first be setup and programmed by qualified lighting technicians.
Console Operator
The person designated to run the lighting console during the event, or the person who sets up and programs the console for someone else to operate during the show.
Data Snake
Carries the signal from the console and operator to where ever the hub of the lighting system is, the stage for example. This can be a single simple wire, however usually multiple wires are taped together to form a snake, carrying power for the console, different data lines, and intercom lines.
Lighting Dimmer
Required by conventional lights to do the actual work of dimming, Lighting dimmers take the signal from the Lighting Console and vary the intensity of each conventional fixture accordingly. Dimmers require a specialized high amperage industrial power system, either provided by the venue or a generator, to properly supply the power required for multiple lights at once.
Opto Splitters
Also called Data Splitters, Opto Splitters convert one Data Line in the Lighting Snake into multiple outputs, for both electrical reasons and convenience, which are then extended to each lighting position required. This allows one Data Line to control multiple areas at once.
Data Cable Package
Each Moving Head Light and Dimmer Rack needs its own Data Cable, to transmit the signal from the lighting console, through the lighting snake, into the opto splitters, and finally out from the opto splitter and into the fixture itself. Unlike power, data is usually daisy-chained to save cable and for simplicity.

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Basic Fixture Types
Here we’ll talk a little about the most common two types of conventional lights used in stage lighting, the PAR and the Leko. Later on we’ll talk about how to choose once over the other, in the Choosing The Right Light section.
Named for the type of lamp, PARs generally wash a large area with light, outputting a soft edge beam of varying intensities and sizes. PAR lamps come in four different lens angles, known as WFL (Wide), MFL (Medium), NSP (Narrow), and VNSP (Very Narrow).

Intensity is determined by the wattage of the lamp, the lens of the lamp, and the distance for the target. Most often, PAR lamps are either 500 (or 575) watts, or 1000 watts, with 1000 watts being used for larger venues or areas, while 500 watts is typical in ballrooms or low height convention centers. It all depends on the brightness and size needed.

For more information on picking the correct light for your application, please see the Choosing The Right Light section.

Technically called ellipsoidal, after the shape of the reflectors, LEKOs (named after its creators) produce a beam capable of being focused into a hard edge. Most Lekos have internal shutters, to cut portions of the light beam off, for greater control. With the capability of being focused and shuttered, a Leko is used when fine control of the beam of light is required, to either exactly light a square object, evenly wash a stage in exact areas, or light a difficult spot without splashing unwanted light in other areas.

Lekos are also capable of projecting patterns of light, using Gobos, a disc of glass of sheet metal with a pattern, shape, or logo cut out to allow the light to pass. Lekos also have a wide variety of lens angles, most commonly 5°, 10°, 19°, 26°, 36°, 50° and 70°, and a variety of lamp wattages, most common being 575 watt and 750 watt.

For more information on picking the correct light for your application, please see the Choosing The Right Light section.

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Basic Stage Lighting
Finally, can get into the actual lighting. Lighting is a subjective field, so of course these aren’t hard rules, but general guidelines on what is standard, and why. The following concepts are generally in order of least to most complicated.
Pipe and Base or Truss Towers
The first, simplest, most cost effective and generally least desirable option would be either pipe and base or truss towers, which for this application do the same thing. Two or more towers, generally placed between 10 feet and 50 feet from the stage, can do a reasonable job of lighting a stage.

Depending on the distance, usually three or four light fixtures per tower can light a majority of the stage, and usually Lekos are used due to the poor angles requiring better control. The end result is bad lighting angles, generally blinding the people on stage, with no versatility or real control options, but the stage will be lit.
Single Front Truss
Either flown or hung via crank up towers, a single front truss the width of your stage is the basic method for good, functional lighting. The more common ways to illuminate a stage depend on how detailed you want to be.

General Stage Wash - where the entire stage should be lit with an even wash, you’ll often see a single PAR fixture for every three feet or so of stage width, and for every 8 to 10 feet of stage depth. This gives a good, functional front light, which can be separated into vague areas as needed.

A straight front wash can appear to be flat, however, so a more aesthetically pleasing method is two-point lighting, where two lights, separated by some distance, light either side of an 5’ area to add depth.

Leko fixtures are used instead of PARs when more control is required, as PAR fixtures will almost always have slight gaps in coverage, but Lekos can be more finely adjusted. This is usually only a concern when video cameras are present.

Stage Specials - When one well defined, specific area or target needs to be lit, Lekos are used in addition to the PAR general wash. For example, a presenter standing at a lectern, or a band member at a mic stand, are generally highlighted with a Leko fixture, to call special attention to that area of the stage.

The same rules apply, one Leko can be used from straight ahead, two fixtures from either side, or even three fixtures, adding the center fixture to the side fixtures, to ensure no unwanted shadows exist. For certain shows, reliability is more important than budget concerns, and the three main front lights are doubled up with backup lights, just in case there is a fault in the system and one of the main lights fail.

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Front and Rear Trusses
Adding a rear truss completes the basic lighting system, adding the final 3rd dimension to the stage. There are two basic problems with lighting a stage only from the front. One: the people or objects on stage appear to be two dimensional, and Two: the people get lost in the background.

There are additional concerns with cameras and on-stage projection screens, but the same solution applies. Adding rear light separates the subject from the background, and adds the final dimension of depth to dispel the illusion of flatness.

Rear lighting is accomplished in the same way as front lighting, many PAR cans lighting the entire stage and Lekos lighting specific areas. Although, for rear lighting, often all Lekos are used to better control lights that could blind the front audience members.

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Followspots are large, powerful lights operated manually by a followspot operator to constantly and accurately track the target on stage. There are many benefits to having followspots, the most obvious being that if the performer goes into an unexpected area of the stage without lights, they are still illuminated.

Another, less obvious, reason for followspots is to maintain a dark or theatrical or color stage wash, while still properly lighting your subjects. Often times the stage wash is heavily saturated in color while the performer is constant moving. A standard white stage wash would ruin the look and feel of the stage, so followspots are used to cut through the colors and accurately light the performers, while maintaining the look on stage.

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Choosing the Right Light - Distance, Brightness, and Area

This section will cover how to choose the correct light for your event, and is still a work in progress. Please check back later.