When Should I Use Color on My Stage?

Color is probably the most powerful single tool that we have in our toolbelts as lighting folks.

Whether on the stage, or the world around you, you’ve seen the impact that color can have.  A nice blue sky, or an impact-inducing red scene at a metal concert can both move you emotionally through color.

While it can seem simple to say “use color” and then set you free,  I want to also equip you with some of the standard ways of lighting certain types of shows.

In this post, I want to give you a stepping stone to work from.  A set of guidelines that you can use to get started as you learn more about lighting and how it works.

Completely new to color?  Go ahead and read this article to learn about types of color schemes and how to make them look great! 

Below, I’ve listed out some of the types of shows you may find yourself lighting.  Read all of them, or skip around and just read what applies to you – the choice is yours!

How To Use Color For Band Lighting

When you’re lighting a band, you generally have 4 areas of the stage to cover.  You’ve got the band members, the set/drape/banners behind the band, backlight and the audience.

While different genres are going to differ, color is king in band lighting.

For pop artists, country and most rock, you’re going to want to light the lead singer in white when they are singing so that they can communicate well with the audience.  They will be making gestures and eye contact with the audience, and we want that to be seen!

For metal, and other hard types of music – the sky is the limit – there really is no need to light the singer in white for the whole show!  Use color and follow the emotions that the band uses in their music.

I like to still light the singer in white while they are talking between songs, and it gives the audience a nice visual break from the intense colors of the music.

I then like to keep everything else on the stage in color!  Sure, you can turn various parts of the stage white for impact at certain times, but for the most part, it’s a good idea to let colors define the stage.

How To Use Color For Church Lighting

In the church, there are 2 main places that we want to make sure are lit in white – our preacher, and anyone who is singing on stage!

In band lighting, I don’t see the need to light the backup vocalists in white, but in most church settings, I do.

Since the worship team’s purpose is to lead the rest of the congregation in worship, we need anyone who is singing to be seen clearly – and that means no color!

However, the sky is the limit when we are talking about the walls, ceiling, set designs, band, and backlight!  Use every color under the sun, and coordinate your lighting colors with the lyrics person for maximum impact.

How To Use Color For DJ/EDM Lighting

When you’re a DJ, the show is NOT about you!  Right?

Of course, it’s about the audience!  While the other types of lighting focus on whoever is on stage, in DJ and EDM lighting, we want to focus primarily on the audience.

The only time you need to use white lighting in a DJ/EDM scenario is when you’re highlighting someone special.   Whether that’s the bride on the dance floor or a special guest in the audience, white is the go-to color to make someone stand out.

The rest of the show?  Throw color wherever you possibly can!  In the DJ world, nothing is off limits, so don’t be afraid to paint the walls, ceilings, dance floor and air with light!

How To Use Color For Theatre Lighting

In the theatre, we want to use color to highlight the mood which the characters on stage are portraying.

Most often, we’ll want to use white frontlight on our actors, but don’t be afraid to dial in some lightly tinted shades of white to help transform the room.

In traditional plays, you’ll probably want to stick to using deep colors only on the set design and backdrops.

In musicals, however, you can typically add in color wherever feels appropriate – especially during the songs!

How To Use Color For Other Types of Shows

If you’ve read this whole article thus far, you’re probably catching onto a few trends.

When using color:

  • Be sure that your primary communicators on stage are lit in white or lighter tints of color.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment – see what you like, and have fun lighting!

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