What Angles are Best for Stage Lighting?

lighting basics Nov 17, 2022

Go to any theatre, large church, or other entertainment event space, and you’ll see lights mounted everywhere, all pointing at the stage from many angles.

It looks awesome, and very complex at the same time. But is it really?

You may see lights above your head, off to the sides, above and beside the stage, and on the floor, and you think to yourself:

“I can’t have all these lights- so what angles of lighting actually matter to me?”  

Whether you’re lighting a band, yourself, a speaker or any other kind of show/service, you don’t need to get crazy with angles of light.  It’s simpler than you think. In this video we discuss the different angles of light and what are the best ones to use for stage lighting?

Watch the video below and then scroll down for more.

The Front Wash

The first and very most important task when setting up your lighting rig and stage is getting your front wash right. My rule of thumb is to have two lights per zone on the stage.

No matter what type of lighting you are doing having the front wash set up is the most important task. The reason why is because if you can’t see the talent, the expressions they are making, or the actions it basically pointless.

Make sure you get your front wash set up and where it needs to be. (Click here for more info on that!)

3 Point Lighting

When taking the 3 point lighting approach it works to evenly light a person from 2 points in the front, and 1 in the back to give separation from the backdrop.

In a typical space, that is a first light 45 degrees to the left and 45 degrees up, a second 45 degrees to the right and 45 degrees up, and a third light 45 degrees up and straight behind the subject.

This is the ideal way to light for most venues, and you can find where this is in your venue by standing on stage and pointing your arm at these angles, or measuring to find the proper angles via math.  (10 feet up and 10 feet out = 45 degrees!)

This 3 point method is the most even, flattering way to light a person.

The 45 degrees to the front and up illuminates all of the face, including under the eyes and excluding under the chin a bit, and the backlight provides separation from the background.

The small shadows under the chin and eyes provide definition to the face, and are fine in most instances.

Getting the front light right is your first priority.

These 2 lights will ensure the person’s face and body are lit evenly.  The backlight is less important, though it does matter when you are shooting video.  So make sure you focus the majority of your effort on getting your front wash correct.

“So what if I can’t put lighting up there?”

The happy, optimistic angles I mentioned above are great….if you’re installing a new system or have access to rigging.  But for the rest of us, we’ve got to compromise on our angles.

Your first priority needs to be to get 2 great angles of lighting from the front, since this is what enables the audience to see you clearly.

Even if you’re in a situation where your lighting stands will be at the front corners of the stage, you’ll be okay as long as you keep the talent on stage physically behind the lights.

While keeping your lights at 45’s is the best looking solution, you can compromise a lot on these angles and still get the lighting to turn out decent.  It’s generally more important to have 2 symmetrical angles horizontally than it is to have them be perfect.

Learn Stage Lighting Labs Extras:

Dive into the complete guides to beginning with lighting in The Foundations of Church Lighting, The Lighting Basics Blueprint (Band Lighting) and Amplify Those Beats (DJ Lighting).  You can get to all of these in the Labs Library if you're a member!

Not a Labs Member yet?  Click Here to Learn More about Learn Stage Lighting Labs!

How High? – The Vertical Angle

As we discussed above, the 45 degree angle on the height is the ideal place for stage lighting frontlight to land – but that isn’t always doable.

When it comes to height, if the lights are too high they will create shadows under the eyes and neck that will make it hard to connect with the speaker.

If they are too low, the light will blind the speaker, they will not be able to see the audience at all, and it will look flat, creating distracting shadows on the back wall or curtain.

However, if you have to pick one of the 2 extremes, I would suggest going too low before going too high.  It looks a lot better, though it will wash out any color you have going on a set or banner behind the band.

If you think creatively, there is probably a way to make your current lighting positions work well and enhance your show without spending much or any money.

Remember that lighting is a key part of your speakers communication.  Just like bad audio or bad posture, poor lighting can be distracting and people may lose focus easily.

If it looks bad to your eye, you can bet it will look worse on camera.  (See more about lighting for the camera here)

However, great lighting puts the focus on your presenter, whether that be a pastor, speaker, actor, or business leader, and allows them to get their message across as clearly as possible.

Haze or No Haze

Another question to answer is is “are you going to be working with haze or no haze?"

When I am working with haze my goal is to set up more back lights to emphasize the haze. Sometimes adding gobos and different colors will really bring out the haze.

If you’re not going to be working with haze you may want to focus on setting up more front lights. With front lights you can point them to the ceiling, focus on certain objects on the stage , etc.

Tie it All Together

To recap, the most important approach to stage lighting and the one rule is to always be safe when working with lighting.

Next, the most important lights will be for your front wash and focusing on the main event on the stage. There are many different approaches you can take with stage lighting. Don’t be afraid to get creative and try different setups to see what works and what doesn’t.

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