Employing Color in Stage Lighting

  • Employing Color in Stage Lighting

    We’ve spoken here before about the importance of using the correct type of lighting on your set, and how to shape and control light. But it’s important to make a statement with light too. Lighting is about more than getting a proper exposure on your subject (though that certainly shouldn’t be overlooked). Lighting can also be about color, and the use of color to enhance the visuals of your production. Light can help separate layers of your two-dimensional set into three dimensions. It can help set the mood or define your style. Light can even help build up the location for believability and clarity. Beyond Tungsten and Daylight exists an entire myriad of colors.

    Employing Color in Stage Lighting

    ‘Color’ is one aspect of the film that plays more on the level of our subconscious. Audiences are very forgiving for creative choices of color that push the fold of what is believable. Color can be incredibly powerful in telling a story and adding production value. To produce a video without color in mind is to miss out on something extremely special and core to the values of expressive filmmaking.

    Separation Between Subject and Background

    This is a technique employed in everything from the biggest Zach Snyder features to the smallest testimonial interviews. In its simplest form, make your subject one color and the background another. Set a tungsten light as your key on your subject, and get a daylight (5600K) light on your background. If all your lights are the same color temperature, to begin with then consider purchasing or renting CTB’s and CTO’s.

    Often times you will face multiple layers of depth within your frame. To keep everything from blending in with each other in the flat, uninteresting space you can employ colored gels of all sorts (some subtle, some not) to begin to differentiate. Often times natural ‘motivations‘ within your set will present themselves. These motivations can inspire you to light with certain colors and exposures, enhancing what is already present naturally with lamps, the sun through a glass, or even things like glowing exit signs. It’s time to get out there and start directing the viewers’ eye using color.

    Inject a Mood Into The Scene

    Colors have universal predispositions towards certain moods. In order to enhance the emotion and tone of a scene, we can employ color.

    • Blue is cool, cold, calm and quiet.
    • Red is fiery, emotive, treacherous, chaotic, high-energy and powerful.
    • Green is alien, dream-like, relaxing and yet, unfamiliar.
    • Purple is intimate, rogue, excessive, scandalous and luxurious.
    • Yellow is attention grabbing, cheerful, overpowering and optimistic.
    • Pink is loving, innocent, romantic, delicate and playful.

    Try mixing and matching these colors to each other, see what your first inclination is when you see new color combinations in a scene. Remember, new filmmakers often overdo color till it detracts from the realism of a scene. Try and keep it subtle and the subconscious effect will still influence people.

    Building Up a Location

    Sometimes we have to fudge a location because we can’t find exactly what we are looking for. The suspension of disbelief falls apart if the location isn’t believable as what we present it to be, but light and color can help. The evening sun pushing in through a window can easily be a Kino Flo with a CTO (color temperature orange) gel clipped on. Moonlight is often recreated as soft, blue light (not because it’s actually blue but because we perceive and expect it to be).


    Making your commercial or film memorable is a difficult task in the modern world of inexpensively accessible tools and hundreds of high-quality videos coming out every year. Having a strong vision can translate into a well-defined style. Color can help you design your style and set apart your video from everyone else’s. In an era of desaturated, gun-metal gray, vibrant color will really pop for viewers.

    The next time you look at a composition that’s ‘not quite there yet’, consider adding a dash of color.

    If you’d like to rent the tools to get your production started, or you have more questions about the use of color in film, please Contact Us.

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