Lighting Technician

The Job and What's Involved

Lighting technicians are responsible, both creatively and technically, for:

  • Lighting interior and outside scenes or performances.
  • The lighting effects seen in theatres, music venues, and on film and TV productions.

By arranging the equipment and adjusting the intensity of the light, lighting technicians achieve a variety of effects to dramatically alter the mood and shape of the visual image for the audience. Effects range from basic stage lighting and spotlighting for plays or musicals, to strobe, searchlight, and special effects lighting for outside concerts or helping to provide the relevant lighting and power supply for television or film productions.

Their main responsibilities are to set up and operate lighting equipment during concerts, theatre performances, television broadcasts, films or video productions, under instructions from lighting directors.

Television outside broadcasts usually require more complex lighting than television studio productions. Film work can involve highly-complex lighting designs and may also require many special lighting effects.

Depending on the production they are working on and their particular experience, lighting technicians may be involved in all or some of the following:

  • Liaising with lighting directors and designers to agree the lighting design.
  • Establishing lighting requirements.
  • Plotting the lighting.
  • Coordinating the equipment and the technical crew.
  • Assembling all required lighting and filter equipment.
  • Ensuring all lighting equipment is in working order.
  • Arranging for any additional lighting equipment, e.g. for special lighting effects.
  • Rigging the lighting.
  • Ensuring all cables and wires are safely concealed.
  • Loading automated colour change systems.
  • Programming lighting consoles.
  • Supervising the focusing of lighting at rehearsals.
  • Liaising with the floor manager, producer and sound technician throughout each project.
  • De-rigging all equipment at the end of each broadcast or production.
  • Ensuring all equipment is stored or transported back safely from locations.

Working hours vary according to the type of production. Lighting technicians usually work long, antisocial and unpredictable hours. Theatre daytime work might involve installing equipment for use during rehearsals, while evening shows may finish late at night, and lighting technicians are among the last to leave venues.

Touring productions and road shows may last for months, involving traveling long distances between each venue.

Television, radio and outside broadcast work can be equally demanding, involving long hours during set ups, rehearsals and shoots, and sometimes traveling long distances to and from locations.

Working environments vary enormously and lighting technicians may work:

  • In theatres, which may be hot, cramped, dark and dusty.
  • On walkways at heights above a stage, on ladders, scaffolding or cranes.
  • In TV studios, where conditions can range from warm and well-lit to stuffy and oppressive.
  • In concert halls which are usually warm and well-lit.
  • On locations in streets or open spaces, in all weathers.
  • In the open air organising the pyrotechnics (firework displays) for rock concerts.

Overalls, boots, hard hats and sometimes tools are normally provided for those in permanent employment.

Trainee lighting technicians with no previous experience may start on about £9,500 a year. Senior technicians, and those working on major productions, can earn substantially more. Overtime payments may be available during productions.

Many lighting technicians are self-employed and work on short-term contracts. They are usually paid a negotiated fee for each contract they undertake.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Employers include theatres, concert venues, television and video production companies, film producers and facilities companies. Lighting for special events, road shows and rock concerts is a growth area. Many specialist companies employ freelance lighting technicians on a contract basis.

Entry is highly competitive. Jobs may be advertised in local newspapers or in sector publications such as Broadcast and The Stage.

Education and Training

This is a skilled technical role, and all lighting technicians must be fully-qualified electricians. Relevant qualifications include:

  • City & Guilds Certificate in electrotechnical technology and City &Guilds Certificate in the requirements for electrical installation (entry requirements for both qualifications are usually three or four GCSE's (A*-C), including English, maths and science).
  • NVQ at Level 3 in film and television lighting (lighting technician).
  • Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards for Stage Electrics accredited by the Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT).

The Diploma in creative and media (available in England) may be relevant for this area of work.

See the British Film Institute (BFI)/Skillset Media Courses Directory on the Skillset website (www.skillset.org) for further information.

Relevant work experience, paid or voluntary, is a definite advantage - for instance, with local amateur dramatic companies or college drama societies. The BBC runs a central work experience scheme, but this is very competitive.

It is possible to qualify as a lighting technician by doing a vocational qualification or a degree. Degree subjects such as electrical engineering or physics may be useful for the technical side. There are specialist degree courses in:

- Lighting design
- Lighting technology
- Sound, light and live event technology
- Theatre arts - lighting and sound operation
- Theatre and performance technology.

A degree in stage management may also be useful

Entry requirements for a degree course are generally at least two A levels plus five GCSE's (A*-C), usually to include English and maths. Useful A level subjects include maths, physics, design and technology and computing.

Lighting technicians need a good working knowledge of other departments within the theatre, stage, film or studio environments in which they work. These skills can be learned at drama schools, which provide training in stage electrics, lighting design and sound. For film and television work, individual course accreditation in certain subject areas is currently being piloted. A network of Screen Academies and a Film Business Academy have been approved by Skillset as centres of excellence in education and training for film. Further information is available on their website (www.skillset.org).

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Once qualified as electricians, most training for lighting technicians takes place on the job. Some specialist courses in lighting design are available (see www.skillset.org for more information). The BBC offers training schemes covering a broad range of technical subjects.

As the equipment used in, and regulations relating to, working with electricity are continually changing, lighting technicians must be prepared to undertake additional training throughout their careers to keep their knowledge up to date.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Lighting technicians must:

  • Have an aptitude for electrical work and electronics.
  • Have creative flair.
  • Be capable of showing initiative.
  • Be able to work quickly and creatively as part of a team.
  • Be confident and have good communication skills.
  • Be practical and able to find quick solutions to unexpected problems.
  • Have patience and stamina.
  • Have physical agility and a head for heights.

Your Long Term Prospects

Career progression for lighting technicians depends on building up skills and gaining greater experience to establish their reputation. With experience and further qualifications some develop their careers by moving into lighting design and eventually becoming lighting directors.

Some lighting technicians move into special effects or production design.

Get Further Information

Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT),
55 Farringdon Road, London EC1M 3JB
Tel: 020 7242 9200
Website: www.abtt.org.uk

Association of Lighting Designers (ALD),
PO Box 89, Welwyn Garden City,
Hertfordshire AL7 1ZW
Tel: 07817 060189
Website: www.ald.org.uk

Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematographic
and Theatre Union (BECTU),
373-377 Clapham Road, London SW9 9BT
Tel: 020 7346 0900
Website: www.bectu.org.uk

Skillset (The Sector Skills Council for Creative Media),
2nd Floor, Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Free media careers helpline in England and Northern Ireland: 08080 300 900;
in Scotland: 0808 100 8094;
in Wales: 0800 0121 815
Website: www.skillset.org/careers

UK Film Council,
10 Little Portland Street,
London W1W 7JG
Tel: 020 7861 7861
Website: www.ukfilmcouncil.org.uk

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