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What is a Lighting Technician?

A Lighting Technician is a creative and technical professional who designs, sets up, and operates lighting for events, film, television, and theater. They transform scenes with light, enhancing mood and focus. Their expertise shapes the visual impact of a production, making them unsung heroes behind the magic of entertainment. Curious about how they craft the perfect ambiance? Let's illuminate their world together.
Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

A lighting technician is the person in charge of setting up the lights and lighting effects used in theatre, film and television. Their work covers a wide range of effects, from standard lighting of a stage, to special effects such as strobes, laser shows, searchlights, and more.

Lighting technicians work closely with directors and art directors to determine the appropriate effects and looks for every shot of a movie or scene in a play. Their role requires a great deal of technical knowledge and understanding of complex systems, as they spend much of their time setting up, repairing, and dismantling lighting arrays and the computer and electronic systems used to control them.

At the basic level, lighting technicians are responsible for things such as aiding in setting up and dismantling the systems, making sure everything continues to be in working order, and taking direct orders from a stage or floor manager.

With experience and certification, technicians begin coordinating larger shows, programming complex lighting effects with computers, and generally tackling larger and more ornate jobs with a crew of technicians working underneath them.

A lighting technician may create laser light shows.
A lighting technician may create laser light shows.

Lighting technicians keep some of the least social hours in the entertainment industry, as their work involves arriving at a set long before others have arrived to set up the lighting systems, and leaving long after everyone else has gone home while dismantling those same systems.

Extensive training is necessary to become a lighting technician, as they are responsible for knowing the operation of more equipment than any other member of a film or television crew. Myriad cable types, extension lugs, various adapters and connectors, a dizzying array of lighting systems, and complex, programmable computers for handling difficult transitions are just a few of the tools a lighting technician must be proficient with.

Dangers in the field include a relatively high-risk of electrocution (particularly on outdoor sets in unfavorable weather conditions), injuries from falling equipment or accidents on ladders, and extensive burns from scalding hot lamps.

Nightclubs may offer light and laser effects for dancers.
Nightclubs may offer light and laser effects for dancers.

Despite these dangers and the relative obscurity of a lighting technician in the final mix of a film or television show, the market is quite competitive. In the United States in 2000 there were approximately 1,700 lighting technicians registered with unions in California (the highest employing state of lighting technicians), with a much greater number vying for jobs. Union scale in California ranges from $21 to $30 an hour, with workweeks often exceeding 75 hours.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the primary role of a lighting technician?

Lighting technicians know how to produce a number of lighting effects.
Lighting technicians know how to produce a number of lighting effects.

A lighting technician, also known as a lighting electrician, is responsible for setting up and controlling the lighting for television, film, theater, and live events. Their primary role is to execute the lighting design by rigging lights, programming consoles, and adjusting the intensity and color of each light to create the desired atmosphere and effects as envisioned by the lighting designer. They work closely with the production team to ensure that the lighting enhances the overall aesthetic and supports the storytelling.

What kind of training or education is required to become a lighting technician?

A lighting technician might employ different colored lights.
A lighting technician might employ different colored lights.

Becoming a lighting technician typically requires a combination of formal education and hands-on experience. Many lighting technicians have a degree or certificate in theater arts, film production, or a related field, which provides foundational knowledge in lighting design and technology. Additionally, practical experience gained through internships, apprenticeships, or working on smaller productions is invaluable. Continuous learning is also essential, as the field often involves staying up-to-date with the latest lighting equipment and software advancements.

What are the key skills a lighting technician must possess?

A lighting technician must possess a blend of creative and technical skills. They should have a strong understanding of lighting design principles, color theory, and the electrical aspects of lighting equipment. Proficiency in using lighting consoles and software for programming light cues is crucial. Additionally, problem-solving skills, the ability to work under pressure, and good communication are important, as lighting technicians often collaborate with directors, designers, and other crew members to achieve the desired lighting effects.

How does a lighting technician contribute to the safety of a production?

A lighting technician plays a critical role in ensuring the safety of a production. They are responsible for safely rigging lighting equipment, managing cables to prevent tripping hazards, and ensuring that all lighting fixtures are properly maintained and functioning correctly to avoid electrical hazards. They must also adhere to industry safety standards and regulations, such as those set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), to protect the cast, crew, and audience from potential accidents.

Can a lighting technician specialize in a particular area of the industry?

Yes, a lighting technician can specialize in a specific area of the industry, such as theater, film, television, concerts, or corporate events. Each area may require a different set of skills and knowledge of specialized equipment. For example, concert lighting technicians might focus on dynamic, high-energy lighting displays, while those in film may concentrate on creating mood and supporting the narrative visually. Specialization allows technicians to hone their skills in a particular niche and potentially become sought-after experts in their field.

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Discussion Comments


Does anyone know if most of these jobs are unionized or is there a market for independent work?

Also, in the case of work hours, do they get paid a set overtime wage? Or is some of their work done on their own time, more as part of a set salary for a project?

I can imagine putting together and setting up light displays without anyone else around is very difficult. I hope they are getting paid for this work as well, and not just the core work they do on lighting actual events or projects.


I think lighting technicians really help set the mood when it comes to creating a beautiful set for a film. I never really thought much about this aspect of film making, but even just doing photography as a hobby, I have learned how important lighting is to the feeling invoked by an image.

It is interesting to learn how many people are competing to be successful in the niche market. Though, 75 hours plus of work a week is pretty intense.

Does anyone know if lighting technicians take time off between films? Perhaps work very hard for 3 months, then one month off?

It seems like it would be very difficult to keep up insanely long workweeks year round.

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    • A lighting technician may create laser light shows.
      By: Pavel Losevsky
      A lighting technician may create laser light shows.
    • Nightclubs may offer light and laser effects for dancers.
      By: Steve Mann
      Nightclubs may offer light and laser effects for dancers.
    • Lighting technicians know how to produce a number of lighting effects.
      By: Sergey Lavrentev
      Lighting technicians know how to produce a number of lighting effects.
    • A lighting technician might employ different colored lights.
      By: georg thiel
      A lighting technician might employ different colored lights.