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What does a Lighting Designer do?

Lighting designers conceptualize, create and plan lighting designs for a wide variety of industries. A lighting designer can work in fields such as the theater, film and television industries, as well as special event coordinating, retail store display and residential and commercial interior design.

lighting designer

A lighting designer is often required to have both engineering skills and a creative outlook, as they are often responsible for capturing a particular mood in a space. Though there are a wide range of avenues to pursue, a lighting designer is often knowledgeable about design and function.

Educational requirements of a lighting designer

All employers for lighting designers will require a different amount of education and experience. To become a lighting designer in the interior design or retail display industries, you typically need at least an associate or bachelor’s degree. However, most design firms will also require postsecondary education from a professional design school. In addition, many interior design firms also require a designer to take a qualifying exam and become licensed by the state.

The motion picture and video industries, on the other hand, tend to look for an applicant with more hands-on training. In this field, an entry-level lighting designer may work on documentaries and educational videos to gain experience.

Career paths of a lighting designer

A lighting designer can pursue a number of careers after completing the necessary education requirements and training. Interior designers that focus on lighting design can work independently or with a design firm. They can be responsible for creating lighting solutions for both residential and commercial spaces.

A lighting designer that pursues a career in the theater, motion picture or video industries can be responsible for the lighting of a play, movie, television show or commercial. They can work with production companies and directors to create lighting effects that are unique and aesthetically appealing.

Job outlook of a lighting designer

Though there are a wide variety of industries a lighting designer can pursue, many are expected to have ample competition, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Students have an increasing interest in many of these fields, especially high-paying positions in the motion picture, television and interior design industries. All three of these fields are expected to grow between 14 and 19 percent.

California and New York have both the highest concentration of these positions but also the highest salaries.

What does a Lighting Technician do?

Do you have a techie’s sensibility but a love of the arts? A career as a lighting technician may be a perfect fit for you.

lighting technician

Lighting technicians play vital roles in film, television, and theatrical production. Properly lighting a scene–be it on camera or on stage–is crucial to setting the right mood. Think about your favorite horror movie, for example. Does the bad guy ever show up on a sunny day, or in the middle of a brightly-lit room? The answer, of course, is “no way.” That’s a lighting technician’s job.

Shed a little light: job skills and requirements

In order to become a lighting technician, you must first be aware that it can be both a physically and mentally demanding career. You might help design the lighting for a particular scene, set up lighting equipment, manage generators, or assist with rigging lights. Some lighting technicians are also licensed electricians, and therefore can perform more specialized duties. You may also work with production managers or cinematographers to develop and implement lighting effects, such as colors.

As a lighting technician, you may be working with very high-voltage equipment, so knowledge of and respect for safety standards is an absolute must. The industries that require lighting technicians are generally fast-paced and prone to last-minute changes, so adaptability and good team-working skills are also required.

Flipping the switch: changing training demands

Lighting technicians must understand electrical systems, film and television production, theatre production, and, thanks to ever-evolving digital technology, some computer science. There are several training and degree programs available, both on-campus and online, that can give you the foundational education you might need to become a lighting technician.

Depending on what industry you hope to work for, and how far you’d like to advance your career, you may be required to pursue an associate, bachelor’s, or even master’s degree. Coursework may include classes in photography, electrical systems, television production, lighting design, or circuits and wiring systems.

At the end of the tunnel: your career path

Once you’ve received your degree, there are several lighting-related career paths that you may want to pursue, depending on your other interests. You may want to work on a film or television set, or design lighting for the theater, an art gallery, nightclubs, or even a sports venue. The following are some potential career advancements you may work your way up to:

  • Lighting designer: works closely with a cinematographer or director to design the look and feel of the lighting for a scene
  • Lighting director: also known as a gaffer, heads up the electrical department on a film, television, or theater production

Salaries vary, depending on the industry you work in, but most lighting technicians are members of unions, so they earn a standard wage and enjoy health and vacation benefits.

What does a Set Designer do?

Become a set designer if you are fascinated by the background and settings in movies or if you have a flare for presentation and an eye for detail.  Set designing could be a great career path for you.

Set designers work in the entertainment industry, designing scenery and backgrounds for motion pictures and plays. You often work closely with producers, directors, costume designers, and lighting specialists to create the appropriate feel for each particular scene in the chosen medium. You get to establish the physical world that the audience sees and bring that world to life.

set designer

Key components for your pallet

In order to be a set designer, one of the first skills required is strong communication, verbal and written. In addition, the ability to work as a team member, solve problems quickly, think on your feet, use computer skills, and research for authenticity are very useful. Often set designers start at the bottom and work their way up, which means starting by working under a leader on small projects and moving up to being the leader in control of how the entire set is designed. There are specialty schools for which you can receive this training, but it is not always required. Some of the following skills may prove very helpful:

  • Planning
  • Carpentry
  • Electrical engineering
  • Painting
  • Graphic Design
  • Artistry

You often start with a sketch of the idea and end with the completed product. Of course, you may not need all of these skills, you may often work on a team where you will have one of the necessary skills to complete the job. Creativity and patience are valued assets as well.

The designer’s path

Set designers have a variety of career options from which to choose. You can use one skill and be specialized at it, such as painting or carpentry, or you can use multiple skills to enhance your marketability. You can work in the motion picture industry, from television to the big screen, or in the theater industry from local plays to traveling, national productions. The ability to move up in the industry often comes from experience that you can gain starting as early as high school. The more skills you learn, the more valuable an asset you can become. You can work your way to being a lead set designer and manage your own team with your own visions for the set.

Pay for your way

Hours for this position will vary greatly depending on the path you choose. Your hours may be long to start with, but are often reflective of the project you are working on.

The entertainment industry is one of the most competitive industries on the market. Starting at the bottom and working your way up might be the best way to achieve your career goals. California and New York are the two states with the largest number of jobs for this field.