Special Effects Stage Lighting for TV

2 min

When talking about special effects lighting, there are hundreds of different options available, depending on the needs and preferences of the personnel involved. Stage lighting for theater productions, for example, can differ dramatically from those of a rock concert, which can also be quite different from those used in television show productions. However, while all of these different special effects serve unique purposes, the technology that controls them is, at its core, very similar. For that reason, there are many different options available for effective stage lighting for TV.

Limited budgets and limited time

When a producer or director has only a limited amount of money or time for their film shoot, they might not be able to hire the right caliber of crew members to run lights manually. The production may also be relatively small and therefore the ability to turn lights on or off during scenes can be quite bothersome.

Technology has created an ability for almost any filmmaker to manipulate lighting on set to create a number of special effects without having to deal with external factors. Computer-controlled lights can turn on or off as needed in the middle of a shoot, they can be moved into new positions for a continual shot, and they can also be triggered to match up with music or other sound effects.

The latter has been commonly used in music productions and concerts for years and it is that basic concept that appeals to a number of new and aspiring filmmakers.


The SMPTE time coding that is used in film and audio can also be used to control lights automatically. By mapping out the scene, its timing and tempo, a director can accurately trigger lights to turn on, or off, to create the shadows or special effects that he or she needs for a particular scene. In a continuous shoot, the lights (if they are equipped with the proper motors) can be moved into new locations.

Colored lights can also be triggered on or off to create different effects as the scenes or the director dictate. While this level of lighting can require some level of programming into the computer, they can also be controlled manually through the use of a control board. This can all be done by one individual whose job it is to manage the lights in sync with the filming on the set. These controls can be simply turning on or off certain lights at certain times, or triggering a ‘program’ to run, which could turn off or on a number of lights, move others into place, or perform a number of functions.


When planning on putting music to a production, lights and music together can have an artistic impact on the setting itself. Programming lights to change with the music used is possible through SMPTE coding. The term SMPTE shouldn’t be something that frightens a person away from the prospect, since it is a uniform coding format used in the film industry already. It basically breaks down minutes into frames and when a trigger is placed at a certain frame, then the computer will run automatically at that time, establishing the effect that was desired.

The use of computers and lighting technology can free a director from having to worry about whether the lights will be triggered at the right time or not and allow him or her to focus on capturing the scene in its best light possible.


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Rick Davis


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