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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 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.

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