How to Choose the Right Lighting Fixture for Any Job

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been designing lighting for shows and events. What matters is how your end product looks. And moreover, how long did it take to achieve your end product and how much did it cost?

There are many variables that can affect how you would answer these questions for yourself, but one big factor is the fixtures that you choose for your job. It’s not necessarily comparable to a car lover, one who might only enjoy vehicles made by a certain manufacturer or perhaps only cars from a certain era. That’s not to say that many LD’s don’t have certain brand loyalties, because they certainly do! But brand alone should never dictate the fixtures you choose for any specific purpose.

How to Choose a Lighting Fixture Steve Iriwn

The more effective way of making these decisions is to look at each event for its own particular needs and ask yourself a question. Do the lights that you have on hand fit the bill, or is this an occasion where you have to choose from outside of your normal boundaries? It is common for an LD to work for, or be hired by, a production company that has a stock of fixtures that they prefer you use on their events, however any reasonable producer will want you to insure that the lights you do choose get the job done. Many will talk about saving money or keeping things inside a set budget, but it’s your job to speak up if you need to sub rent external equipment to fulfil the tasks being asked of you. It’s always better to have these discussions in early production meetings rather than finding yourself on show site defending the final product. You want to blow them away by giving them everything they are asking for and then surprise them with even more.

The process begins by studying show flows, scripts, and anything else that provides you with information on exactly what will happen on your stage and when. Look at each individual type of task that needs to be completed, for example the lighting of a lectern at a corporate event. Perhaps you will note several places during your show that will need a stage wash of varying sizes. You might have numerous amounts of signage and set pieces that also need your attention. Then, of course, you begin to consider the many places during your show that would be well served with various lighting effects.

Now that we have our tasks beginning to take shape, we want to look at the overall design and size of the stage areas being proposed for our event. We will be considering throw distances of our fixtures, any colours or textures that are required, and how our fixtures will need to be positioned. There are many different types of beam spread calculators to assist in planning fixture choices. Should the fixture be fixed on one position, or should it have the ability to project its output in various places by movement?

Now we are getting somewhere and can begin to look at the stock lights you are being asked to use. Will their moving spot fixtures accomplish creating the colours and textures needed on the set? Does it need to be a moving light or can the effect be accomplished with a static fixture with maybe a gobo or colour gel attached to its front?

There’s obviously a huge difference between those choices and this difference will have a huge impact on your final budget figures. If, let’s say, you determine that you prefer the light to move so that it can provide more flexible options, then you may also want to consider if you want this fixture to fill whole set pieces. Maybe just having some splashes of colour and texture on each set piece will do perfectly. Maybe, though, you determine that you need the light you choose to fill the entire set piece and not spill any light onto adjacent objects.

How to Choose a Lighting Fixture Steve Iriwn

We want to carefully consider the beam spread options for our fixtures, using its throw distance from rigged position to where the actual spot falls on stage. We need to choose the proper lens size that will accommodate our needs. We may also require this fixture to have shutters for framing off portions of our target.

This is just one aspect of our show. Do we want these lights to do double duty and provide us with movement and effects for our more energetic moments?

It’s also vital to consider the room atmospherics. Will you have, or do you need, things like haze and/or smoke? How will these effects impact the fixture you choose? These types of items can affect how many lumens will reach the stage. In most cases they will also help show the beams and there by create a completely different environment than without.

The time and effort required to get your fixture choices setup and show-ready are definitely things to consider. Is the time and effort worth the result your are looking to achieve? Are you able to rig lights in positions or ways that will allow you to accomplish your goals? All of these are areas you must consider before choosing the best possible fixture(s) for the job.


Manufacturer reps and even your local rental house specialist can assist you in exploring fixtures that perhaps you have never used before. You can also use trade magazine articles and even advertising to get ideas of what might be the best lights for your event. Fixture manuals can be a great way of gaining insight into the various options that fixtures could offer you. Here you can typically see what lens options are available, what texture patterns come as stock with the fixture, along with which colours are available on the colour wheels or via colour mixing.

How to Choose a Lighting Fixture Steve Iriwn

Don’t forget, the advice available from your industry friends and internet forums is indispensable. A tip for using forums – be sure to first search for answers to your questions before posting. Many questions have been asked before and it can be annoying to some when these questions are repeated. Of course, trade shows are another very useful resource for investigating fixture options. Making the trip to these yearly events can pay for themselves, where you can get exposure to the newest designs and models being released by various manufacturers.

Nothing does the trick better, though, than just having plenty of experience with designing events, and, over time, much of it becomes a natural and a very fluid process. In the end, the main question is, what were the results and did they match your brief?

If you’ve never heard it said before, remember, “You’re only as good as your last show.” Nothing is truer and if you keep that in mind, you will almost always succeed and keep your present clients happy. With this, you will be best prepared to talk to future clients about what you can offer them.

Happy Lighting!

Steve Irwin
LightSoundJournal Contributor
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