Lighting Technicians


Exploring this Job

Valuable learning experiences for prospective lighting technicians include working on the lighting for a school stage production, building a radio from a kit, or a summer job in an appliance or TV or computer repair shop. High school shop or vocational teachers may be able to arrange a presentation by a qualified lighting technician.

You can also learn a lot about the technical side of production by operating a camera for your school's journalism or media department. Recording a play (or setting up lighting for the production), concert, or sporting event will give you additional insight into production work. You may also have the opportunity to intern or volunteer with a local technical crew for a film or TV production. Check the Internet for production schedules, or volunteer to work for your state's film commission where you'll hear about area projects.

The Job

Whenever a movie or television show is filmed, the location must be well lit, whether indoors in a studio or outdoors on location. Without proper lighting, the cameras would not be able to film properly, and the show would be difficult to watch. Lighting technicians set up and control the lighting equipment for movie and television productions. 

When beginning a project, lighting technicians consult with the director to determine the lighting effects needed; then they arrange the lighting equipment and plan the light-switching sequence that will achieve the desired effects. For example, if the script calls for sunshine to be streaming in through a window, they will set up lights to produce this effect. Other effects they may be asked to produce include lightning, the flash from an explosion, or the soft glow of a candle-lit room.

For a television series, which uses a similar format for each broadcast, the lights often remain in one fixed position for every show. For a one-time production, such as a scene in a movie, the lights have to be physically set up according to the particular scene.

During filming, lighting technicians follow a script that they have marked or follow instructions from the technical director. The script tells them which lighting effects are needed at every point in the filming. In a television studio, lighting technicians watch a monitor screen to check the lighting effects. If necessary they may alter the lighting as the scene progresses by adjusting controls in the control room.

Broadcasts from indoor settings require carrying and setting up portable lights. In small television stations, this work may be done by the camera operator or an assistant. In a large station, or in any big movie or television production, a lighting technician may supervise several assistants as they set up the lights.

Even outdoor scenes require lighting, especially to remove shadows from people's faces. For outdoor scenes in bad weather or on rough terrain, it may be a difficult task to secure the lighting apparatus firmly so that it is out of the way, stable, and protected. During a scene, whether broadcast live or recorded on film, lighting technicians must be able to concentrate on the lighting of the scene and must be able to make quick, sure decisions about lighting changes.

There are different positions within this field, depending on experience. A lighting technician can move up into the position of best boy (the term applies to both genders). This person assists the chief lighting technician, or gaffer, as well as the key grip. The gaffer is the head of the lighting department and hires the lighting crew. Gaffers must be sure the filmed scene looks the way the director and the director of photography want it to look. They must diagram each scene to be filmed and determine where to position each light and decide what kinds of lights will work best for each particular scene. Gaffers must be observant, noticing dark and bright spots and correcting their light levels before filming takes place. The key grip manages all the equipment (including lights) used by the director of photography.