Independent lighting designers and consultants generally work closely with architects, interior designers, engineers, and owners to design and specify lighting for buildings. Persons in this field tend to have both technical and artistic skills, and their work includes conceptualizing lighting systems, drawing plans, and writing specifications, as well as fieldwork to ensure that designs are properly implemented.
While it is now possible to obtain a degree in lighting, many people become lighting designers with degrees from related fields such as architecture, engineering, interior design, theater technology, or photography. For the purpose of this article, we will look at the education requirements and qualifications to become a lighting designer for the arts. As opposed to more functional lighting used in interior design, interior architecture, and interior decorating. These include both artificial and natural light.
However, whether it is lighting to enhance interior design or lighting to accent art pieces in a gallery, they are both functional. A lighting designer is able to create a pleasing yet functional ambiance within an interior environment by specifically selecting the appropriate products and strategically placing them to complement the overall interior design scheme.
For example, museums must use sophisticated lighting design strategy and technology to ensure that visitors view art pieces at their most favorable without incurring damage in the process. Lighting specialists also play important roles in movies, television and theatrical productions where lighting strategy subtly enhances the overall performance.
One way to start the educational process is a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in Lighting. You will learn about various aspects of lighting, in addition to other art forms, such as drawing, color, CAD drafting, theater production, and more.
Examples of courses are:
Light Project: The class studies special projects in lighting design including but not limited to public art projects, architectural lighting, and event lighting.
Stage Lighting: Trips to visit commercial theatre productions might be part of the program. Students learn about a variety of aspects of Entertainment Electrics and Lighting Production through research and practical assignments.
Advanced Lighting: The course is an in-depth exploration into development and execution of a lighting design and the lighting potentials of a wide variety of facilities, production styles, and lighting equipment.
Most of the Fine Arts programs concentrating on lighting will incorporate other theater-related courses. Your education will cover most aspects of theater from costume design and set design to choreography. This well-rounded education will be beneficial in understanding all aspects of a stage production. This will also be an asset collaborating with sound technicians, actors, directors, scene designers, and costume designers.
An important consideration in choosing a college/university is to look at their drama department. Does the school have their own facility to produce live performances? For examples, an institution that has as many as 25 annual productions in their School of Drama offers many opportunities to gain hands-on experience in lighting design. The productions could be traditional theater, musicals, opera, dance, or other live performances.
As a Lighting Design student, you want to gain knowledge and expertise in the latest technology including automated lighting fixtures, LED fixtures, computer consoles, visualization software programs and media design software. Additionally, Lighting students learn to become efficient in focus and cueing, Vectorworks and Autocad drafting, designer and master electrician paperwork, lighting design for a range of genres, scales of productions and different types of spaces.
Does the program allow you to gain experience in the wider field of lighting design through national internships with professional designers and lighting firms? These firms include Lightswitch, Visual Terrain, Nyx Design, Focus Lighting, Full Flood Lighting, Nautilus Entertainment Design, and Reveal Design Group. Some programs have a Visiting Artists Program that brings distinguished national and international guests to campus to work with students across all disciplines.
As a Profession
Along with scenic carpenters and costume staff, lighting designers fall under the umbrella category of “theatrical technician.” Lighting designers work hand-in-hand with light board operators. The former plan everything out in advance to match the artistic vision of the show, while the latter ensures that the plan is followed during the performance.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the occupation of Broadcast and Sound Engineering Technicians as growing at a rate of 8% over a ten-year period through 2026. This calculates to a change in 134,000 jobs with a median pay of $42,650 or $20.51 per hour. Growth is expected to stem from businesses, schools, and entertainment industries seeking to improve their audio and video capabilities. They will need technicians to set up, operate, and maintain new technologically advanced equipment.
The BLS does not have the occupation of a lighting designer or lighting technician listed.