Lighting designer

Lighting designer article illustration


Lighting designers develop a lighting design concept for a performance and supervise the execution of it. Their work is based on research and artistic vision. Their design is influenced by and influences other designs and must be conform with these designs and the overall artistic vision. Therefore, the designers work closely with artistic directors, operators and the artistic team. During rehearsals and performance they coach the operators to obtain optimal timing and manipulation. Lighting designers develop lighting plots, cue lists and other documentation to support the operators and production crew. Lighting designers sometimes also work as autonomous artists, creating light art outside a performance context.

Here are some key responsibilities and duties of a lighting designer:

  • Collaborating closely with the director, designers, actors, and crew to ensure the lighting design meets the creative vision of the production
  • Creating a lighting design plan to achieve the desired result
  • Producing a light plot specifying the placement and configuration of all instruments used in the production
  • Programming and operating lighting control software and interfaces
  • Designing and implementing lighting systems that meet specific needs and objectives
  • Coordinating with other technicians, such as sound and set designers, to ensure that all technical elements of the production are coordinated
  • Adhering to industry safety standards and regulations

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to lighting designer:

lighting technician and designer
lighting designer & technician
lighting technician & designer
lighting designer and technician
theatre lighting designer

Working conditions

Lighting designers typically work in theaters, concert venues, event spaces, or studios. They often work irregular hours, including evenings, weekends, and holidays, to accommodate rehearsal and performance schedules. The work environment can be physically demanding, involving climbing ladders, handling lighting equipment, and operating at heights. Lighting designers must be adaptable, as they may work in various venues and adapt their designs to different spaces and productions. They collaborate closely with directors, performers, and technical teams, requiring effective communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills.

Minimum qualifications

Lighting designers often have a bachelor’s degree or vocational training in theater arts, lighting design, or a related field. They should have a strong understanding of lighting principles, color theory, and the technical aspects of lighting equipment. Proficiency in lighting control software and consoles is necessary. Practical experience in lighting design, either through internships, assistant roles, or independent projects, is highly valuable. Lighting designers should have a keen artistic eye, creativity, and the ability to effectively communicate and collaborate with a diverse range of individuals. Ongoing professional development and staying updated on industry trends and technologies are essential in this field.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Lighting designer is a Skill level 3 occupation.

Lighting designer career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to lighting designer.

pyrotechnic designer
sound designer
set designer
light board operator
flying director

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of lighting designer. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of lighting designer with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

puppet designer
video designer
mask maker
lighting director
furniture designer

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of lighting designer.

  • Analyse the artistic concept based on stage actions: Analyse the artistic concept, form and structure of a live performance based on observation during rehearsals or improvisation. Create a structured base for the design process of a specific production.
  • Monitor developments in technology used for design: Identify and explore recent developments in technology and materials used in the live performance industry, in order to create an up-to-date technical background for one’s personal design work.
  • Work ergonomically: Apply ergonomy principles in the organisation of the workplace while manually handling equipment and materials.
  • Understand artistic concepts: Interpret an artist’s explanation or demonstration of their artistic concepts, inceptions and processes and strive to share their vision.
  • Focus stage lights: Focus, direct, adjust and tune stage lights, either alone or leading a group. Coordinate with the team to determine the optimal lighting.
  • Safeguard artistic quality of performance: Observe the show, anticipate and react to possible technical problems, ensuring optimal artistic quality.
  • Analyse score: Analysing the score, form, themes and structure of a piece of music.
  • Monitor sociological trends: Identify and investigate sociological trends and movements in society.
  • Draw up lighting plan: Create technical drawings and documentation within the lighting department.
  • Assess power needs: Prepare and manage the provision of electrical power for different areas.
  • Analyse the scenography: Analyse the selection and distribution of material elements on a stage.
  • Perform quality control of design during a run: Control and ensure the quality of design results during a run.
  • Communicate during show: Efficient communication during live performance, anticipate any possible malfunctioning.
  • Update design results during rehearsals: Updating the design results based on observation of the stage image during the rehearsals, especially where the different designs and the action are integrated.
  • Research new ideas: Thorough research for information to develop new ideas and concepts for the design of a specific production based.
  • Adapt to artists’ creative demands: Work with artists, striving to understand the creative vision and adapting to it. Make full use of your talents and skills to reach the best possible result.
  • Verify feasibility: Interpret an artistic plan and verify whether the described design can be executed.
  • Use communication equipment: Set up, test and operate different types of communication equipment such as transmission equipment, digital network equipment, or telecommunications equipment.
  • Coach staff for running the performance: Give instructions to all team members about how they should run the performance.
  • Meet deadlines: Ensure operative processes are finished at a previously agreed-upon time.
  • Analyse a script: Break down a script by analysing the dramaturgy, form, themes and structure of a script. Conduct relevant research if necessary.
  • Propose improvements to artistic production: Assess past artistic activities with a view to improving future projects.
  • Work safely with mobile electrical systems under supervision: Take the necessary precautions while providing temporary power distribution for performance and art facility purposes under supervision.
  • Take measurements of performance space: Measure the performance space in order to calculate the amount of lighting equipment needed and where to place them.
  • Present detailed design proposals: Prepare and present detailed design suggestions for a specific production to a mixed group of people, including technical, artistic and management staff.
  • Adapt existing designs to changed circumstances: Adapt an existing design to changed circumstances and ensure that the artistic quality of the original design is reflected in the final result.
  • Develop design concept: Research information to develop new ideas and concepts for the design of a specific production. Read scripts and consult directors and other production staff members, in order to develop design concepts and plan productions.
  • Supervise plotting of stage lights: Make sure cues for stage lights are adequately entered into the lightboard. Put in levels, positions, changeovers, etc.
  • Follow safety procedures when working at heights: Take necessary precautions and follow a set of measures that assess, prevent and tackle risks when working at a high distance from the ground. Prevent endangering people working under these structures and avoid falls from ladders, mobile scaffolding, fixed working bridges, single person lifts etc. since they may cause fatalities or major injuries.
  • Develop design ideas cooperatively: Share and develop design ideas with the artistic team. Conceptualise new ideas independently and with others. Present your idea, gain feedback and take it into account. Make sure the design fits with the work of other designers.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of lighting designer. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Labour legislation: Legislation, on a national or international level, that governs labour conditions in various fields between labour parties such as the government, employees, employers, and trade unions.
  • Copyright legislation: Legislation describing the protection of the rights of original authors over their work, and how others can use it.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of lighting designer. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Draw up artistic production: File and document a production in all its phases right after the performance period so that it can be reproduced and all relevant information remains accessible.
  • Operate a lighting console: Operate a light board during rehearsal or live situations, based on visual cues or documentation.
  • Plot lighting states: Set up and try out lighting states.
  • Lead a team: Lead, supervise and motivate a group of people, in order to meet the expected results within a given timeline and with the foreseen resources in mind.
  • Provide documentation: Prepare and distribute documentation to ensure all people involved in the production receive relevant and up-to-date information.
  • Ensure safety of mobile electrical systems: Take the necessary precautions while providing temporary power distribution independently. Measure and power up an installation.
  • Adapt artistic plan to location: Adjust plans to other locations with regards to the artistic concept.
  • Update budget: Make sure that a given budget remains up to date using most recent and most accurate information. Anticipate possible variations and ensure that the set budgetary goals can be reached within the given context.
  • Use personal protection equipment: Make use of protection equipment according to training, instruction and manuals. Inspect the equipment and use it consistently.
  • Install lighting: Set up, connect and test lighting equipment in a live performance environment.
  • Set up light board: Install, connect and try out light board in a live performance environment.
  • Translate artistic concepts to technical designs: Cooperate with the artistic team in order to facilitate the transition from the creative vision and its artistic concepts to a technical design.
  • Analyse the need for technical resources: Define and make a list of the required resources and equipment based on the technical needs of the production.
  • Plot lighting states with automated lights: Technically manipulate light boards for automated lights. Set up and try out lighting states with automated lights.
  • Organise resources for artistic production: Coordinate human, material and capital resources within artistic productions, based on the given documentation e.g. scripts.
  • Keep personal administration: File and organise personal administration documents comprehensively.
  • Work with respect for own safety: Apply the safety rules according to training and instruction and based on a solid understanding of the prevention measures and risks to your own personal health and safety.
  • Document your own practice: Documenting your own work practice for different purposes like assessment, time management, job application etc.
  • Focus lighting equipment: Focus already installed conventional lighting equipment, based on directions and information from somebody on the floor.

ISCO group and title

3435 – Other artistic and cultural associate professionals

  1. Lighting designer – ESCO
  2. Lighting Designer | Berklee
  3. Lighting Designer | Department of Theatre and Dance – Appalachian State University
  4. Featured image: By Christopher Snape – Own work, CC BY 3.0
Last updated on July 17, 2023

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