A lighting technician sets up the lights on stage, in a film or broadcasting studio or on location outdoors. They control the position, strength and colour of lighting during the production.
You could be:
working closely with the director, the designer, the stage manager (theatre) or floor manager (TV), and the producer to decide how to light the scene or studio most effectively
setting up (rigging) and operating computer controlled and manual equipment – such as floodlights, spotlights, searchlights, laser beams and strobes
organising other special effects including pyrotechnics (firework effects), dry ice and smoke
co-ordinating the technical crew and operating equipment, computers and software
loading and programming automated colour change systems, so that they follow a ‘lighting plot’ for changes of mood and atmosphere during the show
supervising the focusing of the lighting at rehearsals and shows
sometimes working at height, on scaffolding or cranes
working with the sound technician to ensure that the sound effect equipment is functioning well or do both sound and lighting in a small theatre
taking down (de-rigging) the equipment after use, and making sure it's moved and stored safely.
You would usually specialise in film and TV or theatre and live events. Depending on the size and type of production, the lighting technician may also have responsibility for sound (see the Sound Technician job profile).
The figures below are only a guide. Actual salaries may vary, depending on:
where you work
the size of company or organisation you work for
the demand for the job.
Most lighting technicians are freelance and earnings can vary widely depending on the job. The BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union) website has details of recommended freelance pay rates.
Rates vary depending on the type of production you work on. The minimum rate is £280 for a 10-hour day working on a TV drama (March 2019 - January 2021); and £417 for Lighting console operators working on commercials (2019). The current rates for working on a major feature film are £339.40 for a 10-hour day (£347.90 for April 2020 - March 2021) (BECTU website January 2020).
The working environment can vary widely. You might be in a hot, noisy, enclosed lighting cubicle in a theatre, on location in a city street or clambering about on scaffolding, ladders or walkways high above the stage.
There is a lot of heavy lifting, often at heights working on a rig.
Hours are usually unsocial and overtime is normal. You would install the equipment for daytime rehearsals and then use it again for the shows at night, staying behind to pack it away after everyone else has gone home.
On tour with a live production or recording on location, you might be travelling the country for lengthy periods.
You may need to wear protective gear: overalls, safety boots and hard hat.
Traditionally, you get in through the route for an electrician (see Electrician). However, many entrants now do specialised training in lighting design or include the subject as part of a more general theatre studies course.
Some television and theatre companies may run training schemes. You usually need to have had some practical experience and provide a portfolio of work.
There are relevant NC, NQ, HNC and HND courses in technical theatre at several Scottish colleges.
NC and NQ courses generally require 2-4 subjects at National 4 or 5, including English and perhaps Maths and a science or technological subject for entry. HNC and HND courses normally require 1-2 Highers plus some subjects at National 5, including a pass in English, or a relevant NC. For entry to degree courses, the requirements are 4-5 Highers and 2 subjects at National 5, including a pass in English, or a relevant HND.
The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland offers a degree in Production Technology and Management which includes subjects in lighting and sound technology and lighting design.
The work can be quite physical, so you should be fit enough to do it.
There are jobs with theatre, film and broadcasting companies in towns and cities, but vacancies are scarce and competition is fierce. You may have to move around for work.
What Does it Take?
creative flair with a good eye for visual effect and colour
an interest in electrical and electronic work
a head for heights and good level of fitness
good communication skills
good practical skills
a good awareness of health and safety
business skills if you are freelance
problem solving ability.
Trainee technician posts usually combine on the job training with part time study for relevant qualifications.
The Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT) runs special courses. These offer training in specific skills together with knowledge of other theatrical departments.
The BBC Academy runs some short courses which might be relevant. Find more information on the BBC Careers website.
You might eventually move on to positions such as chief electrician, lighting director or lighting designer.
You can also work freelance.
Some lighting technicians go on to work on indoor and outdoor exhibitions and events.
The Network scheme is run in connection with the Edinburgh TV Festival, where young people get the opportunity to work behind and in front of the camera and to make useful contacts in the industry. Find information on the next programme on the Edinburgh TV Festival website.
The Creative and Cultural Skills website has a careers section called Creative Choices which covers careers information, jobs and opportunities in the theatre and music, including lighting work and working as a lighting designer.