Lighting Designer: Career Profile and Training Information

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a lighting designer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

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Lighting designers create lighting for live shows, and usually hold a bachelor's or master's degree. They need skills in lighting, computer aided lighting software, and theatre. These positions have a job growth outlook that is about average for the upcoming decade.

Essential Information

Theatrical lighting designers are responsible for creating the stage lighting for stage productions. They work in tandem with the director and art director of a production to help coordinate all aspects of the stage design. Fine arts degrees in lighting design are available at the bachelor's and master's levels.

Career Set and Exhibit Designers
Required Education Bachelor's or master's degree
Projected Growth (2014-2024)* 7% for set and exhibit designers
Average Salary (2015)* $54,920

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Profile

Theatrical lighting designers work collaboratively with other members of an artistic and production team under the guidance of the director. The lighting designer typically attends rehearsals and design meetings, performs research and consults with other team members on issues that may affect them, such as color, special effects, safety, fog and floor surfaces. Working with a master electrician, the lighting designer also supervises the maintenance, hanging and focusing of the lighting design.

Job Duties

Using computer-aided software, lighting designers usually create what's known as the light plot or the drawings of the location of the lighting equipment on the stage. They also produce the cue sheet for the electrician, which indicates the changes in lighting and how they should be implemented. Other materials the designer produces are the focus chart, which outlines the focus of each lighting instrument and a hook-up chart, which includes such things as mounting position, color, dimmer number and focus for each light.

Employment Levels

In addition to the lighting director, associate and assistant lighting designers often work on a theatrical production. The associate lighting designer is usually involved throughout the design process, typically helping with research, attending design meetings and initiating lighting ideas. The assistant helps with the lighting design process as needed.

Salary and Employment Outlook

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't have data specifically for lighting designers, it indicated the related profession of set and exhibit designers could see employment grow seven percent between 2014 and 2024. Set and exhibit designers reported an average salary of $54,920 as of May 2015, stated the BLS.

Training Information

Many established lighting designers have bachelor's and/or master's degrees. During their education, they usually work on theater productions associated with their institutions and/or gain valuable experience through internships. They develop portfolios of their work.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

Bachelor of Fine Arts degree programs with a concentration in lighting design or theater production are offered at numerous institutions. These programs usually include courses in drawing, lighting design history and scene painting as well as collaborative work with students in theater design specialties other than lighting. Generally, students have an opportunity to design the lighting for specific productions and by the end of the 4-year curriculum, have created portfolios of their lighting designs.

Master's Degree Programs

Master of Fine Arts programs in lighting design are usually for three years and typically cover such areas as computer drafting, traditional and digital rendering, opera lighting and portfolio production. Designs are often created for different stages, such as arenas and theaters-in-the-round. The curriculum also includes such lighting topics as color theory, electric and electronic theory, computer applications and professional graphics. Graduate students usually create lighting designs for their school's theatrical productions as part of their portfolio development. Summer internships in positions like assistant lighting designer are encouraged.

Lighting designers typically have a bachelor's or master's degree. They usually develop a portfolio of their work in order to qualify for positions, and can work as assistants or associates, as well as full designers. The average annual salary for design professionals is about $55,000.

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