How do I Create an Awesome, Even Wash of Stage Light?

frontlight lighting basics stage wash Jun 08, 2023

If there is any ONE skill that will help you ensure your lighting looks good to your eye, to the camera, and to anyone in the audience, it's this.

Every good lighting setup for ANY size stage begins with making an even "wash" of stage light.

You may ask, "What's a Wash?"  It is simply the lighting that covers the stage from a given side.  And in this case, we're mostly talking about the frontlighting, because it is the most important angle of light to get right.

Most often, a wash is the best way to frontlight your stage for general use.  It's not always what we do for live music, as sometimes it makes sense to bring down the wash and use individual sets of tighter spots on individual members of the band, but the concept on how to create either type of frontlight is very similar!

I was taught early on that making a awesome, even wash of front light was what separated the incredible lighting designs from the rest, and I've observed it in my experience over the years.

When someone walks across the lit stage, you want them to be evenly lit from left to right, and as even as possible from front to back.  How do you make it happen?

So How Do You Create an Even Wash of Stage Light?

Step number 1 is fixture selection:

Each lighting instrument has different capabilities, and different methods and techniques to focus them.

When creating a wash, or an even spread of light from multiple fixtures, it is important to have 2 things consistent- fixture position and lensing.

While the type of light you use DOES matter, a great wash can be made with pretty much any type of fixture, as long as you follow these rules.

Step 2: Hang them evenly

You need to make sure that all of your fixtures are the same distance from the stage that you are lighting and hopefully spread out horizontally and evenly to be at the 45-degree angle for 2-point front lighting.

Then you need to make sure that all fixtures have the same lenses or beam angle– so that they have the same brightness by time they get to the stage!  As I mentioned in the video, you may also want to add diffusion gel to soften the beams for an even more flattering light.

You next want to position the lights in a 2-point layout for each zone on stage.

Depending on the lens used and the size of your stage, you may have anywhere from 2-10 zones across your stage area, and each zone will be around 8′-10′ wide and tall.

Step 3: Focus Your Lights

Once hung, focus your lights one at a time, making up zones across the stage that are symmetrical on either side of center.  The light should overlap a few feet from zone to zone so that there are no dark spots.

You will want to keep the top and bottom of each light’s beam at the same level on stage, whether that is through tilting them or using shutters if you have them.  This will ensure a clean look when you have all the lights on, and keeps all of the “hot spots” in the same place.

If you are using ellipsoidals, you probably want to soften the beam a little to make the edges less noticeable.  If you’re using pars or another wash light, make sure that the lamps or lenses are all spun in the same direction(probably either horizontal or vertical for this).

It’s a good idea to always start with all the par lamps turned horizontal when hanging the lights, so that you have the same starting point.

If you’ve done a good job, at least with an evenly hung rig, when you get back to your console you should be able to bring all of the faders up to the same level and your wash should look fairly even, with no dark spots.

If you do a lot of work with video, a great investment to save you time is a light meter.  A light meter allows you to see exactly how bright a certain position is, and then you can turn the meter from side-to-side to find which angle of light needs to come down or up.

If your lighting positions aren’t quite even due to things out of your control, you can adjust the levels a little to make the wash more even.

 If you are also focusing color washes, use this same approach to make them look consistent with each other for when you mix and switch colors.

Keep in mind that this approach works with any type of fixture, and you can mix fixtures in different washes- using ellipsoidals for white and pars for your colors, for example.

Need help getting the lights you need? Not sure what’s right? Let us help  on our store!

Work with what you have and use this guide to go make your lighting rock!


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