Switched On - The Light Fantastic

Selecon has developed and produced an informative series specifically designed for the schools / youth market to raise awareness and enthusiasm for theatre lighting at a grass roots level.

The theory behind it all; an introduction by Neil Fraser, practitioner, author, teacher and Technical Course Director at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) who has written the text for all 7 of the Switched On topics.

"The Light Fantastic is about making the viewer think about all the many things that stage lighting can do. You may well disagree about the titles I have used and find things not listed that you think just as important as those that are. what is important is to be thinking about it at all – it is the starting point of our journey.

Behind all of the ideas in this series is a basic understanding or theory of stage lighting:

and, the theory behind stage lighting is very simple – because the real work of a lighting designer is to be inspired to new uses of equipment and ideas on each occasion by the material they are working on. the use of the equipment and light, that supports this work, falls into a few easily understood categories:

  • angle

  • shape

  • colour

  • movement

  • composition

These are the main areas that the Switched On series will be addressing, but it is worth noting as a starting point that the first three of these are descriptive of the light itself as all light sources have angle, shape and colour. Whereas the second two – movement and composition - are about how we use light and how we make good pictures with it.

All 5 cases however are quite simply about how light conveys information to the viewer.

This in turn is based on what we, as individuals already know about the way light works in the world around us – a knowledge we obtain and build on almost from the very moment of our birth. In other words the lighting designer is working to an audience that, quite often, without even really being aware of it, are already experts in the use and interpretation of light – and also in particular of how light helps to make pictures and tell stories. It is worth noting at this point also that today's audience are also extremely literate in deciphering pictures because of our huge exposure to stage, film and tele-visual story telling.

Light is used on a stage to tell a story, evoke an emotion, or simply convey information. to do this equipment is used to compose pictures.


The building of lighting states – or of stage pictures – is defined by the creative need of any given moment. these needs can be literal or abstract or anywhere in-between. For example – the lighting may need to suggest a hot summer's day – a very literal use of light - or to express the notion of oppression – a quite abstract concept. Things are however rarely even this simple - quite often what is required is a hot summer's day also suggests oppression!

It is the lighting designer's job (with the guidance of others – in particular the director and designer) to know how to best achieve this. This itself comes from experience with the use of equipment and the aspects of light we have already discussed – angle, shape, colour, movement and composition.

We begin building our understanding of composition by starting to make value judgements concerning these aspects of lighting. We have had to decide which angles of light do what, and which are therefore most effective. Similarly with shape and colour and movement – at all times we are deciding what we like and what we do not – what works and what does not. In part we have already started to build pictures, and naturally this only continues and becomes more sophisticated as we use all these aspects in combination, and then apply them to our understanding of a given piece of drama.

But, how do we decide what is ‘right'? For the most part of course there is no ‘right' and ‘wrong', and this important information allows us the freedom to explore and discover our own truths, and our own style.

There is however still such a thing as effective or ineffective lighting, and of course we want to provide the first of these with in our work and not the second. so it is important that we take every opportunity to refine and develop our ideas as to what is effective, and this we can do in a number of ways, as follows:

  • practice – take every opportunity to try out ideas, new things, better things; to explore, and to create with light.

  • observe – look at light everywhere and work out how it is being created and how you would recreate it on stage – light in the real world outdoors, indoors, on film, and on stage. use the poster as a starting point for this perhaps.

  • educate – look at how artists have used light and (even regardless of light) how the have composed their pictures – this applies to painters in particular – good examples being: Rembrandt, Caravaggio (The Incredulity of Saint Thomas to the right), or Hockney.

With The Light Fantastic I have attempted to list what we now know we can strive to achieve with stage lighting, not all will necessarily be appropriate on each occasion, of course. But this list tries to comprehensively answer the question: What can stage lighting achieve?

Stage lighting allows us to achieve:

  • visibility - allows us to see the action

  • setting - helps us identify where we are

  • location - describes the locale

  • time - tells us what time of day it is

  • season - & tells us when in the year we are

  • atmosphere - shows us the mood of a scene

  • high lighting - points us towards what's important to look at

  • texturing - makes a stage picture alluring

  • confirm - pinpoints a style or genre

  • amaze - creates special effects and enthrals us

The theory that a lighting designer works by is derived from a knowledge of what we see in the real world and how these ideas are best applied on stage. What a lighting designer then needs is an understanding of the means to achieve this and what is required on each occasion."

And the lighting tools we use .......

Typically, lamp wattages will provide an indication of the most common use eg the Selecon Acclaim 500W / 650W Fresnel and PC luminaires are mostly used in smaller venues, school halls etc whilst the 2000W / 2500W Arena range luminaires are used in concert halls, large theatres and for other long throw applications.

If you're not sure here is a chart showing you the approximate useful throw distances for selecon luminaires.


The Fresnel produces a soft edge cone of light adjustable from a spot to medium flood. Simple to use, the beam is adjusted by moving the lamp and reflector in relation to the fixed lens. the beam can be shaped with a four-flap barndoor (an accessory) which effectively masks the flood to medium spot beam.

An ideal Fresnel for a small venue: Acclaim Fresnel 500W/650W

An ideal Fresnel for mid-size venues: Rama 150mm/6-inch Fresnel or the Rama 175mm/7-inch High Performance Fresnel

An ideal Fresnel for large venues: Arena Theatre Fresnel or the Arena High Performance Fresnel


With a 'crisp' beam and less light scatter than the Fresnel the PC (plano convex) provides a wide range of beam angles useful from onstage, side stage and auditorium lighting positions.

The narrow spot achieved with Selecon PCs is near parallel and very efficient, ideal for dramatic highlights while the flood angles (60º) will cover a large stage area from a short throw distance. The incisive quality of the beam contrasts with the 'softer' quality of the Fresnel and can be used for dramatic effect. the beam can be shaped using the barndoor.

An ideal PC for a small venue: Acclaim PC 500W/650W

An ideal PC for mid-size venues: Rama 150mm/6-inch PC or the Rama 175mm/7-inch High Performance PC

An ideal PC for large venues: Arena PC 2000W / 2500W



Barndoors are an accessory for shaping the light beam by masking a portion of it. They mount on the front of Fresnel and PC luminaires and can rotate around the axis. The resulting masked edge varies in clarity and effectiveness dependent on the focus (in spot focus little or no effect) and luminaire type; the PC has a more defined edge than the Fresnel.

Ellipsoidal Profiles

A precise optical instrument, the principal uses for which are frontal stage lighting from auditorium lighting positions and pattern (gobo) projection. The beam can be accurately shaped using the four masking shutters.

The beam is ideal for high definition pattern (gobo) projection and razor sharp shaping of the beam.

An ideal ellipsoidal for a small venue: Acclaim Axial Zoomspot / Acclaim Zoomspot 500W/650W or one of the 600W / 800W Pacific Zoomspots or Pacific Fixed Beams

An ideal ellipsoidal for mid-large size venues: one of the 600W / 800W Pacific Zoomspots or Fixed Beams

Cycs & Floods

A fixed beam of light, for either lighting the cyclorama or backcloth and broad relatively uncontrolled washed of light.

Cyc lights have an asymmetric reflector to light cycloramas and backcloths from a top position. They can also be positioned on the floor for use as a groundrow.

Floodlights deliver an even 90° flood of light with minimal spill. The beam can be shaped with barndoors.

An ideal cyc / flood range for a small venue: Hui 200W, 300W, 500W & 800W

An ideal cyc / flood range for a mid-size venue: Lui 1000W

An ideal cyc / flood range for a large venue: Aurora 625W / 1000W / 1250W

Selecon and Safety

Safety has always been an issue of paramount importance to Selecon and this is fully reflected in the design features which have been incorporated into our luminaires:

  • automatic disconnection of the power when removing the lamp module - this is a unique feature to selecon and is standard in all our entertainment lighting luminaires

  • colour frame / barndoor retention fasteners

  • separate body anchor point for a safety chain

  • optional safety mesh

  • rear heat insulated grab handle which also doubles as a cable wrap

  • the Pacific also includes additional anchor points to secure accessories such as animation discs etc all Selecon luminaires are fully compliant with ce safety requirements and carry the mark which guarantees that the product meets safety and performance standards worldwide.

    The maintenance of your luminaire to a safe working condition is your responsibility. Download our luminaire safety checklist in pdf format, preventative maintenance is essential to ensure the safe operation of your luminaires so if you have any concerns regarding how your luminaires relate to the questions on the checklist you should maintain them now.

Selecon is happy to answer any of your queries on maintance, spare parts, operational issues, gobos and gel colours - anything at all to help you make your productions the best they can be. Email your questions to us and we will either answer them directly or forward to your nearest Selecon dealer for their attention and follow-up.