How to Design Rockstar Lighting on a Budget

By Kevin R. Johnston, CMP, June 7, 2016

The technical aspects of conferences are often the most misunderstood, especially when trying to explain them to others. It’s fairly easy to convey what a stage set might look like; people can visualize what a Lucite lectern, expansive plants and a backdrop that depicts a city skyline will look like together. But to fully create a look and a feel, otherwise known as “the mood,” nothing has a more crucial impact than the stage lighting.

Whether to convey mood, atmosphere, motivation or excitement, a well planned and designed use of lighting instruments can create different settings. Lighting needs change for different aspects of an event; a general session requires different lighting than a live music performance, for example. Lighting can be complex and expensive, but with enough forethought and planning, you can create a very dramatic look within your budget.

Color and Contrast 

Look at the example of the stage set for NBC’s stand-up comedy television competition “Last Comic Standing”. Is it dramatic? Absolutely. But you can count the number of lighting instruments used on one hand. Using a black draped background, one white light illuminating a stool, a video projector display for the graphic and a few lights for the blue effect on the floor, a focused and theatrical stage was created. The key to achieving this dramatic look is the combination of contrast and color. This technique easily can be adapted for any large keynote or entertainment session at very little cost.

Simple Can Be Powerful

You don’t need a million lights to create memories. Performing artists Jars of Clay put on a concert for an audience. The setting is dramatic and intense, yet only four lights—and no color—are used. For added effect, planners can use a theatrical haze to create a scene and help lights show their true color. Without the haze, the audience wouldn’t get the beaming light effect. Haze helps create this effect, unlike fog, the low-lying effect that rolls off the floor (think “Dancing with the Stars”).

Planning for Projectors 

When planning the lighting and staging for events, don’t forget your audience, especially if you are using image projection (IMAG) in a general session. When lighting a stage or speaker for videotaping or IMAG, make sure that you don’t wash out your presenters by only using white light. Flesh-tone covers or gels give a more natural look to presenters. Also, using a key light, a light placed slightly behind a presenter or performer to highlight the person, can make a big difference. In lighting, often the smallest changes can yield the biggest differences.

Get creative. Steal ideas from television shows, concerts, events or other  meetings you attend, then share your ideas with your audiovisual team or lighting designers to see what you can achieve within your budget. Most importantly, don’t ever be afraid to try something new.

Kevin R. Johnston, CMP, is the vice president at KNS Holdings, LLC, and has produced events globally for Fortune 500 companies and international associations for more than 25 years. 

Photo credit: Rick Diamond, KLOVE Fan Awards

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