While moving lights are more common than ever, non-moving LED and conventional lights are by far the most common lights in use around the world.
In fact, whenever you need a light in a single place for the entire show or service, it doesn’t make sense to use a moving light.
And while getting good lights in the right angles is a great starting point for great lighting, you’ve also got to point them well for a great lighting design.
This guide is here to educate and inform a beginner on the mechanics of a lighting focus, and to give some basics pointers to make it go well for you – not only on the day of focus, but also the years afterward as you continue to use the lights!
Tools for Focusing Lights
First, we must go over what tools you will need to focus. Ideally, you’ll have 2 people- so that one person can be at the console bringing intensities up and down, and the other can be upon the ladder, scaffolding or lift pointing the lights. While many consoles and PC-control systems can be remotely controlled via a phone app or laptop, it still is a wise idea to have a second person around – never work at heights without a 2nd person in the room.
If at all possible, you want to be able to make the room dark, and only have on the lights you are actually focusing.
Even if the room won’t be dark for the show or service, making it dark for the focus allows you to be precise and see any light that is not aimed perfectly.
You’ll also need an adjustable wrench, gloves, and a small flashlight in case you quickly need to see in the dark. You may also need ladders, a lift or scaffolding to reach your lighting positions unless you have a catwalk.
Once you have your lift, ladder or scaffolding set up and your tools are in your pocket, it’s time to turn the house lights off either mostly or completely, and get ready to start focus!
How to Focus Non-Moving Lights
Focusing any light will follow the same general process, while each light will have it’s own specifics.
We’ll first prepare to focus by loosening up the light and removing any accessories or color filters. We’ll also check the power and data cables (if applicable) to ensure they have enough travel to focus the light, and then make sure all of the various bolts and knobs are loose enough to adjust, but not overly loose.
Then, we’ll turn the light on and point it where we desire. Tightening the various knobs and bolts, we’ll check and make sure it’s still in the correct place. Last, we’ll “lock down” the light by tightening any bolts and knobs fully to ensure the light doesn’t move for years to come. Don’t overtighten, but do make sure your light is tight.
The first light we’re going to focus is an ellipsoidal, also known as the Source Four, or leko.
To begin, pull any gel color, gobos or accessories out of the light, then pull all of the framing shutters wide open. We want to start from scratch to get the best focus. If you’re just tweaking a focus that you already had, you don’t have to pull all the accessories out.
Have the operator turn the light on. Point the light in the direction you want it to go, placing the brightest part of the light, the hot spot, at the focal point the light is supposed to be focused on.
If you are using older leko’s, this hot spot may be quite prominent, so pay attention! Also, if you have the time, doing a bench focus will greatly help you minimize of that hot spot!
Never LED ellipsoidals often have no hot spot at all, which you may notice.
Next, get the light sharp by slightly loosening the knob on the bottom of the lens tube, and moving it in or out until the edge of the beam is sharp.
Now use the shutters to take the light off of anywhere you don’t want it – e.g.- stairs, walls, ceiling, light fixtures, seats and where you’ve got other lights focused. To finish, insert any color, gobos, or accessories you may have going in the light. Take the light to the desired sharpness, double-check the sharpness and get ready to move on to the next fixture!
After finishing a light, have the operator turn off the fixture until you need it to compare with another light. This will keep the heat down and help you if you need to go back and touch up focus in a few minutes. Obviously, the heat issue only applies to conventional lights.
Next on today’s hypothetical lighting truss, we have a par can up next. This may be either a standard Par 64, 56, 46, or 38, or may be an ETC Source Four Par or LED par. In fact, it’s probably a LED….
Either way, we will start by pulling any color out of the light (for conventional lights) and opening up any barn doors, just like with the ellipsoidal.
Next, have the operator turn the fixture on, and point it in the direction you would like it focused. After that, you may spin the lamp (conventional-only) to get the beam going in the desired direction, which is done by touching the socket in a standard par with a gloved hand, or by spinning a ring just behind the gel color frame slot in an ETC Source Four Par.
After that, place the color in the unit and tweak anything that may need it. If you are focusing an LED par, it’s about the same process, but there is no lamp to spin or color to place into the fixture. I would suggest focusing LED pars in white, so that you can see everywhere the light is hitting clearly.
Cyc Light/Strip Light
Last on this hypothetical lighting truss, we have a cyc light and a strip light. Both are similar in that they are a basic wash light, perfect for lighting drape, set pieces or a large curtain called a cyclorama.
To focus either of these, begin by pulling all color out of the fixture, if applicable. Then, simply loosen the tilt knobs and point the light where it is needed. It may be helpful to have your operator call out instructions to you, as you may not be able to see accurately from so close.
If you are lighting a backdrop, this may take some effort to get all of the lights matching where you want them, but the process is simple. The more you do a backdrop focus, the more you learn how to see where light is spilling on the ceiling and are able to make a consistent focus by noting the spill.
Final Tips for Focusing
Remember, after you focus any light, make sure that it is tightened down and that after you have tightened it, it is still pointing exactly where you need it. Always be careful with conventional lighting to not burn yourself, and always wear a decent pair of gloves.
Always take your time when working at height, and be safe- don’t ever do something you’re not comfortable with! Use all of these tips to make your next focus, or even your first focus efficient and safe.