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Stage Lighting & the Psychology of Colour - Stage Electrics

Exploring Stage Lighting Design & the Psychology of Colour

Stage lighting isn't just a simple matter of illumination. It's about using light in a way that enhances what's on the stage and creates the right mood for each component of the story. And choosing the correct lighting positions and the right mix of colours is the easiest way to achieve both.


Image by Stefan Magdalinski

Lighting positions

Although you can place luminaires almost anywhere, most stage lighting designers focus on five main positions. These include:

Front lights, which are the primary source of lighting for most scenes. The distinction between warm, cool and neutral front lighting establishes mood, time and place. The colours used should enhance the scenery and complement a performer's skin tone.

Side lighting, which is primarily used to highlight the side of the face, arms, mid-torso and legs. A full quota of side lighting consists of bottom, middle and top lights, which reveal the three tiers of a performer's body.

High side lighting, which is a light hung at an over-head angle between 30 and 60 degrees. This accentuates the top side of an actor's head, neck and shoulders. Thus, high side lighting draws special attention to the facial expressions of a performer.

Back lighting, which creates depth and makes the performer appear multi-dimensional by separating them from the stage's background scenery.

Down lights, which highlight the top of a performer's head and shoulders. Down lighting is mainly used to wash or flood an area of the stage with soft or harsh light.

Colours and emotions

Colours convey emotions, and this concept is at the heart of the psychology of colour. Although the way we all react to colours is unique, three psychological factors define these responses.

The first of these factors is aesthetic. When you look at a particular colour, or a combination of colours, do you find them visually appealing? The second of these factors is emotional. As in, when you look at colours, how do they make you feel? And the third factor relates to the cultural meaning of specific colours.

Because of their use throughout popular culture, certain colours are more likely to convey particular emotions and concepts than others. So, from a lighting designer's viewpoint, this third factor is crucial, as using specific colours is the one of the easiest ways to set the mood on stage.

Red, for example, is a colour that is often used to express feelings of danger, warmth or love, depending on the context. There are many more examples of how colours are used as short-hand for projecting emotions, which you can read about in more detail here.

Colour mixing

All light is coloured. This includes white light, which is actually a mixture of every wavelength of colour that is visible to the human eye. Thus, colour mixing for stage lighting is about adding to or subtracting from visible wavelengths of colour (white light).

Additive colour theory is a method of colour mixing that uses two or more coloured beams to illuminate a surface. In the main, additive colour theory involves mixing the three primary colours in light of red, green and blue, which you can use to create any colour.

Modern RGB LED lights allow you to mix colours by fading red, green and blue LEDs up and down to create the colour you need. Alternatively, you can point two conventional lights with different coloured beams at the same point from roughly the same place to create specific colours.

Subtractive colour theory relates to theatre luminaries that project white light through a filter. When white light is passed through a filter on a colour wheel, only the wavelengths that match that respective colour pass through. Because the filter absorbs all the other wavelengths of white light, this form of colour mixing is called subtractive filtering.

Apart from LED luminaries, stage lighting fixtures generally produce different coloured beams via high temperature filters. Because there are hundreds of different filters available, you can mix any colour you need to convey specific emotions on stage.

Are you ready to explore the psychology of colour with stage lighting?

Then you can take a look at our extensive sale stock of colour filters for theatre lights. Or you can call us on 03330 142 102 to speak to our experienced designers about buying & installing the lighting equipment that you need.

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