What does a lighting director do?
Lighting directors create the colour, texture and mood of a TV show, turning two-dimensional sets into 3D theatrical spaces. They use a variety of lighting and effects to focus attention on the action and enhance or reduce colour, sharpness, softness and form. In studio shows, lighting is integral to set design. On outside broadcast they need to be able to adapt to constantly changing natural light, or they could be lighting a cathedral, a theatre or a rock concert, where they may decide to use an existing lighting rig or build a completely new one.
Lighting directors tend to work on multi-camera productions. They liaise with the producer and director to understand the mood and style they want to achieve. They also collaborate with the production designer to ensure the set is built to incorporate their designs and technical requirements.
Then they create a plan (plot) detailing how the set or shots will be lit to create the right effect. This includes selecting the type of lights required, as well as their positioning, from spotlights and lasers to smoke effects and gobos (a gobo is a stencil placed in a light source, shaping the light to create a pattern, such as leaves on the floor or stars on the wall). They might also oversee the programming and design of other lighting elements such as LED screens and moving lights.
As the head of the lighting department, they decide how many lighting staff are required for a production. During recording they work with the gaffers and sparks, as well as lighting console operators, to set up the lighting and make sure everything works. They are responsible for overseeing health and safety guidelines and staying within budget.
They are usually freelance but can be employed in-house by studios.
What’s a lighting director good at?
- Creativity: have a good eye for colour, texture and shape, be able to design visually stimulating lighting
- Knowledge of lighting equipment and effects: have thorough knowledge of all equipment and the latest developments in lighting design
- Organisation: plan the staff and resources, work with precision and have a keen eye for detail
- Communication: be able to understand the director and producer’s creative vision and use strong leadership skills to communicate this to other staff
- Health and safety: have a strong understanding of how to work safely, including knowledge of health and safety laws, be able to work at heights