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5 Essential Parts of An Event Lighting Design

5 Essential Parts of An Event Lighting Design

November 24, 2023
Matthew Byrne
For-A-Cause Events

5 Essential Parts of Any lighting Design

Every time you plan a meeting you have a lot of things to think about. From executive schedules, hotel and food and beverage agreements, attrition clauses, travel, experience etc. etc. One of the most important things to make sure you get right is having the event or meeting be seen. That is where lighting comes in. How do you get it right? What are the things that you need to think about? Like most things in the meetings and events industry, doing it well can make you a rock star. Doing it wrong… well you know.

Here is your guide to the essential elements of lighting for meetings and events. Make sure you have these 5 things included in your lighting design and you can guarantee a wow factor for each of your events.

First, a quick note on the basics of lighting. If you remember from my last post about the 3 Most Important Parts of Developing and AV Plan, you need to keep things simple. In lighting, we certainly do that. Essentially there are two ways we use light for design. We either spread light, or we focus it. Every lighting instrument in any inventory will basically do one of those two things. It is how we combine that with the 5 main elements of lighting design that makes the difference between boring and non-functional and an amazing wow factor as soon as your attendees walk through the doors.


In its most basic form this is lighting that is focused on the face. It is sometimes referred to as frontal lighting. It is the most important part of any lighting rig for your meeting or event.

Typically we place “focus” lights in front of the subject or speaker. This is to highlight their faces so that they can be seen.

To get the Best out of face light we use 45’s. This refers to the optimal angle that a light should be from the subject. 45 degrees to the left AND right, and 45 degrees above. Basically this relates to how our faces are shaped, so you want to catch the best part of our faces. That happens to be roughly at 45 degrees from the center of our heads.

Most of the time, we use a conventional fixture called an ellipsoidal (Source 4 by ETC). This type of light is phenomenal at focusing light in a given direction.


Also know in shorthand as “bax” or shoulder light, this is the “Spread” light we use to create more depth and a little halo around a subject. Using front light, we define the face and person standing on stage. We use back lighting to define the space behind them often creating a fringe of light around the subject to highlight the separation of the subject from the background.

As we are using Spread lights in this instance using 45’s doesn’t make a lot of sense, so typically we line up a series of lights behind the subject to “Wash” light on their backs.

Typically we use an instrument called a Fresnel for this task. The lens of this light is specifically designed to spread light as far as possible. 


To create texture we use one of the best inventions that the lighting industry has created, the GOBO. The name is a contraction of the term “Goes Before Optics”, and is a small plate of metal or glass that is placed inside a “focus” light to break light into shapes and lines that add depth to the room and the light shining on scenery and walls.

The most ideal way to make sure that the textures you create are seen is to use a little atmosphere or “Haze”.

Haze machines, or haze generators (commonly referred to as hazers), are effects machines similar to fog machines, designed to produce an unobtrusive, homogeneous clouds suspended in the air intended primarily to make light beams visible or create a subtle diffusion.


Past the basics we get into one of the easiest ways to add dynamism and interest to our lighting design. Adding movement will allow your guests to feel the excitement and anticipation of your presentations and message.

To do this we employ moving light fixtures to create sweeps, ballyhoo’s and lines and shapes that move around the room. In this category we have lights that both spread and focus. The same as we have for face light and for back light. Moving light fixtures also integrate things like GOBO’s and colour wheels that allow you to add even more dimension to the design.

As above, if you add haze to the room, it will highlight the shapes of the movements and show the beams as they sweep across the room.


Finally and most importantly we come to colour. How we employ colour in a design allows us to set the mood and feel of the meeting or event, reinforce messaging and story to create excitement.

In lighting we use “subtractive colour” to create the blues, reds, oranges and vibrant saturated colours you see along the walls and on stage. Subtractive colour is, as you might suspect taking a particular part of the light spectrum away. To make a colour we actually subtract the colours that we don’t want out of white light. If you remember from science class, white light is actually all the colours combined together. So to make blue light we place a filter in front of the white light to subtract reds, yellows, greens etc. To do this we use little plastic sheets called gel that act as filters.

Not all of your meetings need to be rock and roll shows with Haze, moving lights and special effects, but certainly you need to create a lighting palette that creates more than just a flat wash of the room. Follow these 5 tenants of lighting design and each one of your meetings or presentations will keep you audience engaged.

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