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Defining Light Sources and Creating Contrast

Front Light: Color To Define Source

The color of light is often used to define the source. Lights hung to provide front light, side light, or back light tend to be colored differently. Front light is often the key light source in a scene. Because the performers are lit from a position near or above the seating, front light reveals faces and form to the audience.

Colors for front light can vary depending on the designer’s interpretation of the scene. Sunlight can be represented with everything from pale blue to deep amber tones depending on factors like time of day, weather conditions, or seasonal changes.

Designers use color to enhance emotion or to punctuate onstage action. Lighting Designers balance their color decisions between establishing a setting and supporting the theme of each scene in the production. Warm colors like pink, amber, and straw-gold work well in romance, comedy, and musical performance. The warmth of the colors reinforces happy feelings and makes most performers look attractive. Cooler colors -- such as blue, lavender, and some shades of green -- have the opposite effect. The coolness of the colors diminishes the natural glow of performers’ faces. Cold tones play well in mysteries, dramas, and tragedies where front light may support setting but is also required to reinforce feelings of isolation, desperation, or oppression.


Side Light: Color For Contrast

Lighting Designers often choose similar colors in both their side light and front light. Gelling sidelight fixtures with the same color as the front light gives the impression of a large light source illuminating the stage in a flat cohesive wash. Colors that are a tint lighter, or with a slightly different color hue, are used to help define form. Designers establish a relationship between front light and sidelight that can imply reflected light, secondary light sources, or the lack of a light source. Establishing reflected light is a matter of considering the key source, and how it would interact with Courtesy of Roscosurfaces within the setting of the play. Dark surfaces might reflect a dimmer, more saturated variation of the key light. Lighter surfaces would return pale tones. Colored surfaces might absorb some colors of light, imparting a unique hue to the reflected light. In some productions, side light color is less a matter of naturalistic simulation and more an effort to sculpt the stage and performers with dynamic contrast between key and fill light. Side lighting is colored to enhance form on stage. Designers employ color variation in side lighting to establish spatial relationships and enhance the dimension of the stage by accenting distance and proximity.