What do I change about my stage lighting to work with projections?

Keep in mind that a projector is another light source. As a result, the biggest threat to a clear and crisp image is the stage lights. 

First and foremost, sidelight is your friend. The image below shows overlapping sidelight fields of light. Notice that the units are set back a little into the wings so that they are fairly wide by the time the light emerges from the wings.

  • Ellipsoidals include Source Fours, Lekos, Altman 6x9s, 6x12s, and lots of other instruments. 
  • The important thing is that you use instruments that let you use shutter-cuts. Shutters are built into these instruments.
  • The right type of lighting instrument will let you push levers into the sides so that you can manipulate the shape the field. 

Adjust the lighting to shoot the light right along the floor. Use the shutters to crop the light off of the projection screen or cyclorama, and then off of the floor itself. 

The second type of light you want is top-light. Some people call it down-light. It’s just what it sounds like, it’s light from above. If you can, tip your lights so that they point a little bit downstage, towards the audience, then when they bounce off of the floor, they will bounce away from the projections. 

The third type of light you want is isolation lighting. This is usually either follow spots or what we call specials. Ideally, one way or the other, you will be isolating the important players on stage within any given scene. 

Front light is the fourth type of lighting you should lean on. When you build each lighting cue, start with the other three kinds. Make the cue look as good as you can using a combination of those three. Then, if the look still needs a little boost on faces, add in the front light until there is just enough. 

Some tips and tricks:

  • The "Establishing Shot" technique: Used in cinema by directors to establish a location/setting. To use this technique in theatre, keep your lighting low at the start of a scene. This will allow the audience to see the projected scenery in its full brightness. Then slowly warm the lights to the stage as the action starts. By doing this, we are reminding the audience of the location (in all its glory), and then adjusting the lighting as needed to best light the actors on stage.
  • Using colored lighting: Cool colored lights can light your stage, while minimizing any fading of the projection. On the other hand, warm colored lights do the opposite. Stick to blue, purple, and green lights instead of white, red, orange, yellow, and pink to get the best effects!

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