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WTF is "Mood Lighting?" & How Do I Create It?

Does Lighting Affect Mood?

There is an unexplainable sense of satisfaction when you, as a lighting designer or programmer, have built a look for a song, and it feels right. You may not even be able to articulate precisely what feels perfect, but you know that something has clicked. That's the feeling that got us hooked on this industry, right? The moment visual art, technology, and music align for a perfect show moment that everyone in the room undeniably feels. 🤩

But creating a moment as a lighting designer and programmer is much more complicated than just feeling something and it appearing onstage. It is no secret the cueing process can be the most agonizing of production, especially when you can't identify what is wrong with the stage picture you have crafted, but you just know it isn't exactly there yet.

Is it possible to deconstruct what is happening onstage to improve it?

How can we construct those almost unexplainable moments?

We are going to give you some tools to help do just that. ⬇️

How Lighting Affects Mood

Without getting too scientific, light plays a crucial role in how people perceive the world around them. The amount (and quality) of light present determines the brightness and color of objects; it creates shadows and highlights and provides depth and dimension to the environment. In addition to providing visibility, light can also influence people's emotional state and mood. It can evoke emotions such as excitement, relaxation, or even fear.

But why is that? Well, what we see is everything. The visual system starts with our eyes, which detect light and transmit electrical signals to the brain. The brain then processes this information, allowing us to see and understand the world around us.

Our vision system has evolved to be connected to our nerves and emotions because the way we perceive and interpret visual information has a significant impact on our survival and well-being.

Creating Mood Lighting

To elicit the response you want from an audience using lighting, you must first identify the atmosphere you want to create and then reverse engineer the best way to accomplish that using the tools you have.

What is the vibe you are hoping to achieve? What are some qualities of light you can replicate with the gear you have? What fixtures do you have available to you?

Here are some things to consider as you get to building looks. ⬇️

Stage Lighting Design Tools

The fixture type is the most important decision when building a look. Different fixtures produce different textures of light. Do you want a hard-edge spotlight or a soft pool of light?

Hard lines and shadows may create tension, opposed to the inviting nature of softer lighting.

Also, you must consider fixture limitations. Do you need to cover a large area with a short throw? Having the proper tool for the job is half the battle, and can make a huge difference in whether a look on stage feels right.

The direction of light is another decision that has a big impact. Lighting a lead singer from the front versus the side will create different two totally different atmospheres. Back and top light may be the most dramatic ways to light someone. Nothing is more mysterious than a silhouette.

The intensity of the light can also affect the mood. Brighter light can lead to a more energetic atmosphere, while dimmer light establishes a more intimate environment. Contrast can also draw attention to certain areas or features of a space, which can help to guide the audience's focus.

Different colors can stimulate emotions and feelings and construct environments. For example, you can use blue and purple lighting to convey nighttime or simply establish a calm and serene atmosphere. In contrast, warmer lighting (like reds and yellows) can stimulate an energetic and vibrant atmosphere. Color contrast can also create a more dynamic and visually interesting design.

We alluded to texture when we talked about using different fixture types. Texture can add depth and complexity to the space. Other ways to manipulate the texture of lighting are by using diffusion filters, gobos, and kinetic animations. Texture can be abstract or realistic.

Another way to take advantage of texture is to add atmosphere to the room. Most often this is done with a haze machine. Atmosphere allows the beams of light to become visible, giving designers and programmers another tool to use when constructing stage pictures.

Design Considerations for Mood Lighting

When designing, it's crucial to balance mood lighting with practical lighting needs. For example, if you're designing lighting for a concert or event, you must consider stage and band lighting. In a theatrical setting, this might mean basing your decisions on natural sources like the sun in the sky at a certain angle due to the blocking.

Remember you won't be able to convey any mood if the audience can't see who they came to see. 👀

The Final Check

You really can create a particular ambiance or feeling in a space using the right lighting tools and techniques. The most important step, though, is taking a moment to step back and view a stage picture from the audience's perspective. Pause and observe the stage from different angles and viewpoints to ensure that the intended mood and atmosphere are conveyed effectively.

You might even find it helpful to step outside the venue momentarily and reset your eyes. Returning to the stage with "fresh eyes" can help reveal imbalances or highlight areas needing adjustment.

Practice Makes Perfect

To bring it all back home, to create those moments, it takes time, patience, and a willingness to experiment with new techniques and approaches. Experienced lighting designers know that it's important to keep practicing and trying new things to continually improve their craft and stay ahead of the curve.

When building lighting cues, taking risks and trying new things goes hand in hand with creating emotionally engaging production. Every designer and programmer will tell you that some of the most spectacular effects they have made were "happy accidents." Through experimentation and practice, lighting designers can develop a keen eye for detail, an intuitive sense of what works and what doesn't, and the confidence to take risks and push boundaries in order to create truly memorable productions.

P.S. Remember, you can't break anything in Pre-Viz. Usually 😉

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