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And the old actor said, "See it in Light!"

Posted on June 22, 2006

Let's talk about lighting.

Lighting is not as critical as audio to the success of your meeting, but people will remember good lighting where they take good audio for granted. Ironically, people are far more willing to tolerate bad lighting than they are bad audio.

Light should be bright enough to focus the attention where it needs to be and yet not so bright as to be distracting. Modern theatrical lighting theory is based on the fact that Shakespeare's plays were performed in the afternoon. Small lighting fixtures are arrayed to provide a light (warm) side and a shadow (cool) side. The forty five degree angle to the side and above the performer guarantees that the light will not annoy the presenter and will make them look the most natural. If you only lit the one side, as I have seen done too many times, the shadow side goes completely black.

Modern film lighting theory is based on the concepts that there is only one sun and that the camera only has one eye. "Bright" and "dark" are achieved by using a higher wattage light on the lit side and a lower wattage light on the "dark" side.

Modern television lighting theory is based on the idea that shadows are bad. Large numbers of diffuse wash fixtures are used to create bland, even, boring lighting which was perfect for the limited capabilities of early television cameras.

Dance lighting is devoted to sweeping washes of color through which the dancers move. Lighting for your opening production number should resemble dance lighting for maximum effect.

Then there's concert lighting. That's a moving target. Concert lighting will likely drive many of the advances we will see in convention lighting for the next few years.

Convention lighting is a merger of all these elements.

http://www.mts.net/~william5/sld.htm for a far more detailed description than what I can offer you here.

The smaller the event, the more it is like theater. The larger the event, the more it is like a concert. If there is image magnification (video) it becomes more like television but does not lose its theatrical or concert heritage. Having said all that, if the event uses a single podium and a mile of black drape, your audio had better be spectacular.

There are essentially two types of lights, spots and washes. A flood is just a very wide wash. Electronic Theatre Controls makes the most popular non-moving fixtures in the industry. The Source 4 ® ellipsoidal is a spot.


The Source 4 par is a wash.


At the lowest end of the lighting scale, a podium will be lit with two ellipsoidal units on boom stands at a height guaranteed to be annoying to the presenters. Neither of these lights will have lighting color in them. Of course, the presenter will have no facial features since they have been washed out. Merely lifting the fixtures up and suspending them from the ceiling will enhance the presenter's image immensely. I know that riggers are expensive and $1,000 in rigger cost is a bit much to hang two lights, so I understand if you elect not to go that route. However, get as tall a structure as you can to support the lights and put them above your presenters' eye level.


If you are not using a camera on the presenter, a little lighting color will make them look much more natural. Granted, only a trained lighting designer or a person with theater experience is likely to think about making the presenter three dimensional. A little pale pink on the bright side and a little pale blue on the shadow side will make people look much more human. Rosco Labs is one of a half dozen companies that make theatrical lighting color. The color is cheap. A sheet of color is in the $15.00 range. One sheet provides enough media to color twenty ellipsoidal units. The pale colors last for weeks of continuous use. It's not about the money. It's about thinking.


There are many, many colors to choose from. Scroll down for an eyeful!


Apollo Design Technologies has a line of colors and they have produced a handy document that explains some of the terminology.

One of my favorite stunts is to cut a custom "gobo" with a client's logo and project it on the scenery or the walls. Apollo and Rosco make gobos.





They specialize in custom gobos, but they have an impressive array of stock gobos for immediate shipping. Apollo does not sell directly to end users. Any good theatrical supply or production company can get these for you. We have been dealing with Apollo for along time. I love the impression moving custom gobos make on an audience.


There are hundreds to choose from. You might also wish to check out their other products for some creative ideas.



What is a gobo? A standard metal gobo is a piece of special alloy steel into which a pattern has been cut by a laser. This piece of metal is placed at the focal point of an ellipsoidal lighting fixture and the image is projected onto a reflective surface. (Actully "Gobo" is a Fraggle and lives in a place called "Fraggle Rock."

Now that we have established light and color, let's add motion.


The home page is an education. The following links are for some ideas of what you can do with moving light.



There are other companies that make moving lights.




The point is that moving lights with gobos provide a level of theatricality and excitement that are not available anywhere else.

What you have seen if you have followed the links are many of the tools your lighting designer can use for your events. They will be more likely to provide you what you need if you know what to ask for.

Then, as an informed consumer, listen to your designers and you will be amazed at the quality of their work.

At the very uppermost end of the lighting scale we are seeing a merger of video projection technology and lighting. The vanguard for these new technologies is the touring concert industry. A few meeting support companies are investing in this new technology. By this time next year, I expect many of the larger conventions will be using this technology in place of or in addition to hard built scenery. Coupled with some of the advances we are just now assimilating in wide screen technology, the next few years portend to be very exciting for lighting practitioners in the meetings industry.

As I come to a close on my week on the podium, let me remind you of a few resources we often overlook. One of your best sources of information and advice is the local chapters of professional organizations like MPI, NACE, ISES, PCMA, IAEM, IAAM, IACC . . . (The list goes forever. Corbin Ball is a good resource in the pursuit of the organization that meets your needs.) Find the organization that meets your needs and join it. You will be glad you did.

The convention and visitor or tourist bureaus are there to help you. Call on them. Granted, some are better than others, but they all have resources you need.

One of the issues facing us as a culture has to do with the relationship between print and electronic media. For my own part, I see electronic media making tremendous inroads in the territories previously dominated by print publications. Not everyone is comfortable with the changes. I congratulate David McCann and the folks at VNU for embracing the new technologies and seeing what it can provide their constituents. The web site that hosts this blog has some excellent resources that every planner who stops by should examine. Ideally, you will find something you need and you will remember who brought it to you.


Congratulations to the folks at VNU for their foresight, and thank you for letting me join the party.


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