There are many concepts in the field of lighting that designers can choose when illuminating an event or production. From theater to television the technology is finally catching up to the designer’s imagination. Though the spectrum of tools has increased exponentially several things remain constant. #1 Light still travels in a straight line. And #2 the methodology behind the design is remembering the artistic canvas for lighting designers always begins with “darkness”.
Lighting designers start the process with darkness. To be clear, we do not turn on all of the lights and subtract one instrument at a time. Designers carve texture and burn shadows with color and intensity starting from a blank canvas. Zero light. Darkness.
Darkness, shadow, and lack of light happen naturally in the real world. It is very challenging mimicking the sun or controlling artificial light and its reflections and refractions. One of the greatest challenges is battling shadows. One dark spot or obstructed position can be more distracting than a cell phone during a monologue.
Artistically, I am not afraid of shadows or feel as though I need to light all of the recesses. To that end, as a designer, I cannot leave to chance what I “should have” designed and planned for. I study the set drawings and set model and venue specs to understand how to artificially create what happens naturally. Some directors I have worked with proclaim that they do not “like shadows” which I interpret as “make my show aesthetically pleasing”. To be clear, there will always be “shadow” when using artificial light. And the more lights you use the more shadows there are. You can, however, master the effects of shadows on a subject. Using higher angles and lighting from several different positions can give the illusion of eliminating shadows by softening the edges and flattening the perception of the subject.
But this is not a clinic on the elimination or creation of shadows. It is a call to seek the shade and value the dimness. The corners of your home and the lack of light in certain areas of your daily life are common and extensive. Imagine a world with no shade. How flat and unimpressive would that be? While it is true that certain shadows are not wanted because they are not aesthetically pleasing, harsh, and unruly, other deliberately designed shadows can provide sublime images that tell a marvelous story with light… or the lack thereof.
As to not rank you on the top of the list of designers not to call, I encourage you to examine the shadows and how they fall and why. Understand how to manipulate the eye to affect emotion with dimness and shade. Embrace the darkness. Shadows add dimension and quality. There is value in creating shadows on sets and actors. Some of the best design work in theater happens when the designer’s approach is fearless and bold.
Don’t be afraid of the dark!