Working in Lighting

An overview

What you do in the job?

The TV Lighting department forms a subset of a larger occupational group known as “Production – Technical”. People working in the lighting department set up and operate special lights to illuminate the scene being filmed and to create a specific mood or visual style. This entails selecting the correct lighting equipment, connecting the lights to electrical sources with special cabling and using various accessories like filters and screens to achieve the desired look. Advanced technical skills and electrical qualifications are essential at all levels in this department and in the more senior roles, creative input is important too.

The size of a lighting department varies widely depending on the genre of the production. On a Multi-camera production, the most senior member is the Lighting Director. He or she liaises closely with the Lighting Console Operator and Senior Electrician (Gaffer) who then translate the desired lighting style into reality with the help of the rest of the lighting department. A couple of Electricians (or Sparks) complete the department (although on very large-scale productions, there may be many more Sparks), they assist with the preparation, positioning and operation of the lighting equipment. On location a Generator Operator may be in charge of the generator that powers the lights and associated equipment.

On single camera productions, lighting is usually the sole responsibility of the Lighting Camera person, although a Gaffer and a Spark may occasionally be brought in for special set-ups.

Unlike other technical departments in television production in which new entrants often start without any experience as junior assistants or Runners to learn the ropes, Gaffers and Sparks must be properly qualified electricians - working with electrical equipment is a major potential safety hazard. The most common qualification for those working within television is a City & Guilds Electrical Installation course (Parts 1 and 2). Many people have also achieved a National Vocational Qualification in lighting (Level 3). Skillset has developed National Occupational Standards for lighting work. While HE/FE courses in production lighting or more general television production skills offer a good basic grounding, the conventional method of training and entry into the workforce is by getting a place on one of the apprenticeship schemes offered by the major lighting hire companies.

Lighting departments are heavily male dominated. There are very few people working in lighting who consider themselves to be physically disabled. The work requires great physical energy and stamina as it involves the movement of heavy lighting equipment, often at great heights. The vast majority of television production is in London and the South-East, though there are production facilities in Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow.

All occupations within this department demand a very high degree of commitment and determination. The hours are long and often unpredictable. The work can involve long periods away from home and some travel abroad, making it challenging to home and family life. Most people work on a freelance basis so they have to seek out work and training opportunities for themselves. Other important qualities include being a team-player, a good problem-solver, having excellent communication and interpersonal skills, a close attention to detail and the ability to take direction.

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