Rental Lighting 101
An Introduction to Lighting
Did you just find out that you're helping with light an event or performance and don't know exactly where to start? Here are a few links with some introductory information and techniques to help you move forward. This is just an overview of a large world of lighting for the stage and events, and these subjects will cover some of the key information our team will need to help you build a full rental order. If you want to some more in-depth training, for yourself, ask about our ALPS Academy, where we can tailor classes to your needs.
If you feel like you would like more direct assistance with your event, we also have a full in-house Events Department that can design, set-up, run, and strike your event for you.
3 Basic Fixture types
LEKOS OR ELLIPSOIDALS OR ERS (ELLIPSODAL REFLECTOR SPOTLIGHT)
This is the most common unit for in the front of house of a theater.
Beam spread is usually notated by a degree number (e.g. Source Four 19°, 26°, 36°, 50° degree)
Distance is important in determining what degree you need. Like a flashlight, the further a light "throws" the wider the beam will get. However, as the beam gets wider, it will also lose intensity. To accommodate this, lekos are available in a variety of beam angles. The further away from the stage, the smaller beam angle you will want to start with so that when the light reaches your performers it still has enough intensity to light them effectively. Example : At 20’ away a 26 degree will have a smaller but brighter beam than a 36 degree.
The unit can adjust from a soft edge to a hard edge beam.
Using shutters, the beam can be shaped to fit the needs of the space.
The unit can take a variety of accessory including patterns, color, Gobo rotators, color scrollers, and DMX and manual Irises to name a few.
This fixture commonly used for back and top light and features a very soft edged beam.
The lamp can be adjusted to change the size of the beam. Moving the lamp closer to the lens makes the field wider; moving the lamp away from the lens makes the field smaller.
Their widest beams are wider than the beams from all but the widest of Lekos. However, even in it's tightest spot it is still primarily for use only in shorter throw distances.
The beam can be shaped by external "barndoors", but cannot be cut as sharply as can the beams of Leko as it has no internal shutters.
Another fixture commonly used for back and top light, the beam of a par can isn't as soft as a Fresnel, but is commonly available in higher wattage lamps, so they can be used at longer distances than a fresnel.
This no frills unit looks like a headlight in a tin can.
This unit's light output is oval in shape, and depending on what type of unit that oval can be rotated either by physically spinning the lamp or spinning the lens.
Originally the lamp and lens was a one piece design, so to change the beam angle you needed to change the lamp, but with the Source4Par we can change the tightness of the beam just by changing the front lense.
The shape of the light can further be modified by using a barndoor just like in the Fresnel unit
Basic lighting of a performance area
One of the most common questions we encounter is where to put the lights for your performance. In an ideal setting we would be able to not just light from the front but also from the sides and back. This would give the performers more depth by being able to separate them from their back ground. Unfortunately this is not always possible. In those cases we always recommend at least two sources of front light.
In this situation, the simplest and most reliable method is the McCandless Method. In the McCandless Method the performers are meant to be fully front lit and also provide some visual depth to the performers. This is achieved by lighting the performer with two lights at a 45° angle from above and 45° angles from both sides. (Pictures below)
In doing this, this overlap will help reduce some of the shadows on the performer and help the area with a more natural feel. It also helps to minimize the glare a performer faces by having a light shining directly in their eyes. A single light placed directly in front of the performer is not only distracting to the performer, but it will also wash out the features of the performer and make them appear visually flat. Similarly if the lights were place below the performer the shadows would be dramatically increased and give the performer a gaunt feel (similar to holding a flashlight under ones face as we all did when telling ghost stories), as well as casting large shadows on the wall behind the performers.
This, of course is simply a base guideline, and will often need to be adjusted based on your performance space and what positions you have available to hang lights or put a stand to support lights. However, as you plan your space, trying to achieve close to these angles will give you the best looking result for your event.
Components of a basic lighting system
The most basic lighting system consists of 4 elements.
The fixtures are what you point at the performance space or use for decor lighting around your room. These can be anything from 2 PARcans to wash the space to a large lighting system with conventional, moving lights and LEDs, to simple pars to uplight your walls. Many of our lights use standard 120V electricity and can be The lights can either be plugged directly into the wall outlets of your space. However if you do this the lights will only operate at 100% output and the only way to turn them off is to physically unplug them.
If you want the ability to vary the intensity of the lights and control the lights from a remote location you will need to use a combination of Dimmers and a Control Console.
Some of the newer LED fixtures do not use dimmers to vary the intensity, but they will still need to be connected to the Control Console.
Dimmers allow the intensity of the lights to be varied to create different looks for your event. Dimmers are sometime permanently installed in a performance space and may be available for your use. If not, we can provide portable dimmer packs, which can either connect to the building main power supply or smaller dimmers which can be plugged in to standard 120Volt wall outlets. Small dimmers are normally available with four to six independently controllable dimmer channels. Larger dimmers may include 12, 24, 48 even 96 independent channels.
The dimmers work work together with the Control Console.
THE CONTROL CONSOLE (LIGHTING BOARD)
The control console is the brains of the lighting system. It communicates with the dimmer and tells it which dimmer channels to reduce the intensity on, and how much to adjust them by. Without a console communicating with them, most dimmers will default to either Full on (max intensity) or Full off.
The simplest control consoles have a series of manual sliders, each controlling one independent dimmer channel. When you move the slider for channel one up, the light on channel one gets brighter. These smaller consoles usually are limited to controlling a smaller number of dimmer channels, typically around 24 as a maximum.
We also have larger computer driven based consoles that can run hundreds dimmers and moving light and LEDs at the same time with just a push of a button. These require that everything has been preprogrammed by a designer and board operator, and do require a fair amount of experience and training.
The control console “speaks” to the dimmers thru a control protocol via a control cable or a wireless connection. Today the most common protocol is called DMX. Anything that the control console need to control, whether it is dimmers, moving lights or LED fixtures, must be connected to the control console, either with a physical DMX cable or a wireless connection.
THE POWER DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM
The power distribution system will consist of two main parts and since we have not come up with wireless power yet, both will require power cables.
The first steps are the cables that connect between your building's permanently installed power and your dimmers.
The second step consists of the cables that will run from your dimmers to the individual lights. In a theater this can either be installed raceways or multi cables. In temporary or less equipped performance spaces this may just be single cables.
Here is a downloadable link that shows an example of a simple system and how all these pieces connect.
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