How To Become a Lighting Engineer (Plus Steps and Benefits)
Updated June 30, 2023
The entertainment industry offers a variety of positions for talented individuals. Lighting engineers are responsible for providing the lighting elements of live performances, special events, television shows and films. Understanding the steps necessary for pursuing this exciting and creative career path may help you determine if this profession is right for you.
In this article, we define lighting engineers, discuss their daily tasks, describe the skills necessary to succeed in this position, provide work environment and salary information and list some steps you can follow to help you become a lighting engineer.
Lighting engineers work in the entertainment industry, providing lighting services and effects for live events and visual arts, including theater performances, weddings, festivals, dance recitals, television and film.
Some valuable skills for lighting engineers are communication, creativity, physical fitness and knowledge of electrical systems, rigging and light equipment.
To become a lighting engineer, obtain an associate or bachelor's degree in a relevant field like theater production, gain lighting experience through entry-level positions such as assistant lighting engineer, and develop your network.
What is a lighting engineer?
A lighting engineer, or lighting technician, works in the entertainment industry to provide lighting effects for visual art mediums such as theater, television and film. They may also provide lighting effects for events such as galas, festivals, dance recitals and weddings. They often collaborate with directors, producers and other members of a lighting crew to plan and execute lighting elements throughout a performance. Apart from installing and controlling lights, lighting engineers are also responsible for maintaining equipment and ensuring the safe and proper handling of all lighting gear.
What does a lighting engineer do?
The daily tasks of lighting engineers may vary depending on the type of performance or event at which they work and the complexity of the visual effects at those events. Common duties of this profession include:
Collaborating with a lighting crew to determine roles and responsibilities
Creating lighting designs from lighting and set designer blueprints
Inspecting lighting equipment and gear for safety
Working closely with set designers, producers and directors to create effective visual displays
Rigging and programming all lighting equipment
Working with video screens, background projector screens and LED screens
Organizing and maintaining an inventory of necessary cables and equipment
Programming light control panels
Managing power distribution
Solving technical problems as they arise
Making small repairs and placing orders for new equipment
Lighting engineer skills
Understanding the skills necessary to succeed as a lighting engineer may help you make informed decisions about your education, skill development and career path. There are several soft skills, hard skills and traits that may contribute to your success as a lighting engineer, including:
Knowledge of electrical systems: In order to properly operate and maintain lighting equipment, advanced knowledge of electrical systems is an important skill to develop. This often includes the complex electrical systems of lights, operating equipment and control panels.
Creativity: Creativity is an important skill for lighting engineers due to the artistic nature of the entertainment industry. Creativity may be essential to understanding the aesthetic vision of set designers, creating moods with lighting and visual elements and understanding the design elements of large-scale events.
Advanced communication skills: Lighting engineers often work in teams to create effective lighting designs for performances and events. Being able to effectively communicate complex ideas and design elements with a lighting crew and other essential teams involved in these processes is an important part of succeeding in this profession.
Physical fitness: As a lighting engineer, you may need to lift and move heavy equipment and lighting gear. You may also stand or move for extended periods of time, making physical fitness an important part of successfully completing your duties as a lighting engineer.
Knowledge of rigging and lighting equipment: In order to properly and safely operate the complex electrical and rigging systems of lighting equipment, advanced knowledge of these structures is essential to possess. It's important to receive adequate training in order to ensure the safe and compliant operation of complex electrical systems.
Understanding set design: You may work with a variety of production and set design teams throughout your career as a lighting engineer. Having an in-depth knowledge of set design can help you more effectively plan and execute lighting design that contributes to the success of a production.
Knowledge of video/multimedia elements: As a lighting engineer, you may create lighting elements that incorporate video and multimedia visuals. Understanding the functions of screens, video cameras and projection technology may help you succeed in this profession.
Ability to follow directions: You may create lighting effects after collaborating with set designers, creative directors and producers to enhance a performance or event. Being able to accurately follow instructions using technical drawings or blueprints is an essential function of your role as a lighting engineer.
Related: How To Become an A/V Technician
Benefits of becoming a lighting engineer
There are several benefits of becoming a lighting engineer, including:
Creative work environment
The work environment of lighting engineers may provide opportunities to experience and contribute to exciting creative projects. As a lighting engineer, you may be able to express your artistic abilities through your work and collaborate with some leading industry professionals in the entertainment business. As a lighting engineer, you may also work with colors, aesthetics and visual elements that allow you to express your creativity in the workplace.
Diversity of tasks
Depending on your employer and area of expertise, your tasks as a lighting engineer may be dynamic and provide opportunities to complete a variety of entertainment projects. For example, you may design and orchestrate lighting for plays, musicals, art performances, dance recitals, weddings, special events, television shows, news stations, films and more. Each unique event presents a diversity of tasks that may contribute to the exciting and dynamic nature of this profession.
Low cost of education
The standard education requirements for lighting engineers vary but often include an associate or bachelor's degree in a relevant field. It's also possible to find employment as a lighting engineer with a high school diploma or GED and practical work experience. The low cost of education provides an opportunity to save money on tuition costs and enter a fulfilling and exciting profession with an educational background that suits your unique situation and capabilities.
Lighting engineer salary
The national average salary of lighting engineers is $99,918 per year. This number may vary depending on location, level of experience and workload. Many lighting engineers work on a contract basis, which could contribute further to the variation in salary among positions.
Lighting engineer work environment
Lighting engineers work in the entertainment industry and often work in nontraditional environments. This might include late nights and long hours for special events and performances. These professionals often work in theaters, on movie or television sets, in arenas or event spaces and most often work as part of a team or lighting crew. The weekly hours of lighting engineers may vary depending on their workload, and they may work nights and weekends when performances and special events occur most frequently. Their employers often include venues, theater companies, television or film production companies or event planning agencies.
It's important to note that the work of lighting engineers often includes physical labor, lifting heavy objects and performing tasks in areas of great height such as balconies and stage rafters.
How to become a lighting engineer
Understanding the steps necessary to become a lighting engineer may help you more successfully enter this career field. Consider following these steps to become a lighting engineer:
1. Complete your education
The education requirements of lighting engineers vary from completing a high school diploma or GED to obtaining an advanced college degree. The most common type of degree in this field is a bachelor's or associate degree in theater production, set design, audio engineering or audio/visual technology. Consider researching lighting engineer positions in your area to determine the average level of education required for entry-level positions.
When deciding the level of education you wish to pursue, it's also important to consider your long-term goals as a lighting engineer. For leadership roles in this field, an advanced degree may be helpful to differentiate yourself from competitive applicants and gain necessary expertise to succeed as an industry leader.
2. Gain entry-level work experience
After possessing the appropriate level of education for your situation, it's important to gain entry-level work experience as a lighting engineer. Entry-level positions in this field include:
Assistant lighting designers
Assistant lighting engineers
Assistant lighting technicians
You may also gain entry-level experience as a lighting engineer through internships. You may find internships through your school or university, with local theater companies or with event venues. Consider using online job search forums, classified ads and your professional network to find opportunities to gain practical experience as a lighting engineer.
3. Develop your network
As a lighting engineer, professional connections may be a useful way to discover exciting new job opportunities. It's important to foster and build your network of other industry professionals to remain updated on available positions and continue developing your skills in this field. To build and maintain a network, consider becoming a member of a professional organization, such as The International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD). These types of professional organizations allow lighting engineers to connect, share information, develop their skills and attend seminars and industry events.
4. Maintain your resume
As you continue to gain practical experience as a lighting engineer, it's important to update your resume and highlight your skills. Be sure to include new positions, projects and areas of expertise as your skills in this field continue to develop. Maintaining an updated resume may help you impress hiring managers and could help you advance your career as a lighting engineer. You may also consider creating a portfolio of your previous work to highlight the lighting design projects that best offer a visual representation of your work.
Please note that the organizations mentioned in this article are not affiliated with Indeed.
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