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Become a Lighting Designer: Step-by-Step Guide

Learn how to become a lighting designer. Explore the education and training information and experience required for starting a career in lighting design. View article »

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  • 0:01 Lighting Designers
  • 0:35 Career Skills & Info
  • 1:04 Step 1: High School Activities
  • 1:52 Step 2: Bachelor's Degree
  • 2:50 Step 3: Internship

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Video Transcript

Lighting Designers

Lighting designers create, design, and place cost-effective, innovative, and energy-efficient lighting products. Others might work in film and theater. They are experts in the functionality and aesthetics produced by lights in both interior and exterior landscapes.

Interested individuals can begin learning about lighting techniques in high school through theatrical productions. A bachelor's degree in a relevant major is the minimum educational requirement to work in the field. Internships may be available.

Career Skills and Info

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; master's degree sometimes preferred
Degree Fields Building science, architectural lighting, architectural engineering, architecture, interior design
Key Skills Understand lighting concepts including energy- and cost-efficient lighting; ability to work with multiple projects simultaneously; creativity and self-motivatation; technical skill with 3-D modeling, AutoCAD, MS Office applications, desktop publishing software, and lighting calculations and simulations.
Salary $52,265 (2016 median for lighting designers)

Sources: International Association of Lighting Designers (October 2012), Payscale.com

Lighting designers must have an understanding of lighting concepts, including energy-efficient and cost-efficient lighting. They should also be creative and able to work with 3-D modeling and AutoCAD software. The ability to perform lighting calculations and simulations is also a key to working in the field. According to PayScale.com in October 2016, lighting designers earned a median annual salary of $52,265.

Step 1: High School Activities

Aspiring lighting designers can start preparing for their careers early by joining high school photography and film clubs and/or volunteering for stage productions. While developing their artistic abilities and gaining hands-on experience in the use of lighting equipment, students can learn how lighting is used for dramatic effects, which has applications in both theater and interior design.

Begin Developing Basic Skills

Aspiring lighting designers should hone their math skills; this will help them learn to estimate the costs of projects and make measurements.

Volunteer to Design Sets

It is never too early to gain work experience. Aspiring lighting designers can get acclimated in the field by volunteering with theater production companies.

Step 2: Bachelor's Degree

Some schools offer bachelor's degrees in lighting design. However, relevant courses are often found building, interior design, and architectureprograms. Depending on the program, coursework can include topics in art, architecture, theater history, scene design, and the use of Vectorworks, or 2-D and 3-D software.

While many employers hire applicants with bachelor's degrees, some require their lighting designers to have master's degrees. Graduate programs can include advanced studies in light and scene design and dramatic structure.

Attend Lighting Trade Shows

Lighting trade shows are platforms for manufacturers to demonstrate their lighting products, which can help designers create dramatic and unique lighting effects in various surroundings. Trade shows also showcase the artistic talents and expertise of experienced lighting designers, which they may be willing to share with students.

Step 3: Internship

Many colleges and universities offer internship programs, which provide students with hands-on experience and an opportunities to learn from and work under professional lighting designers. Students can use their internships to create a portfolio, which will demonstrate a professional's expertise and knowledge in the field.

Join a Professional Group

Lighting designers can join the American Lighting Association (ALA) or the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD). Which may require membership fees. Benefits can include exposure to the latest trends in the industry, which can help lighting designer keep their professional knowledge up-to-date.

Remember, you'll need a bachelor's degree in lighting design or a relevant major to qualify for a job as an interior or theatrical lighting designer. After which, you may earn a median annual salary of $52,265.


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