Scenic lighting as a modifier of spaces

by Rodrigo Assis “Horse”


Lighting has the power to modify and alter the space around it. We can see this everywhere within our range of vision, but in the scenic lighting, which is the area in which I work, we can tell stories and even build scenarios with light.


Initially, in order to work with light as a modifying element, we have to analyze some details of its use. So, I will present three characteristics which we use in theaters, dances, and shows, the areas in which a lighting professional is most active.

We have three basic effects that, from them, we can break down into their variables, thus building ideas and concepts for our projects. The first one is the frontal light, which we use to reveal. Typically, such light is used at a 45-degree angle in relation to the object or person to be illuminated. This type of effect had its theoretical foundation presented and defended for the first time by Stanley McCandless (1987-1967). He would divide the stage into 9 distinct areas, and each was illuminated with two frontal reflectors at a 45-degree angle and one with backlight. Thus, he managed to ensure that the entire area was evenly illuminated. We always use this position of light in theatre shows such as comedy and more realistic themes, such as the works of Nelson Rodrigues. This is because here we want to show the objects, the people, their expressions, to reveal the entire space to be presented to the audience that is there. So, we can take this concept, for example, to an office in which we have several work desks and, thus, we have to have a clear view of this space and these people who are there.


The second effect is the side light. It is basically used to highlight the shapes of objects. Here we see a light that is to model the object or person to be illuminated, as, for example, in a dance, ballet or contemporary dance show. In this case, we want to value the movements of the dancers, their shapes, their bodies, their volumes. This kind of scenic effect was first presented by Jean Rosenthal (1912-1969), in 1934, for the shows by Marta Graham (1894-1991). We can use this type of effect in architecture and interior designs, to enhance a piece with asymmetrical shapes and, thus, give a more scenic and theatrical air to the object.


The third light effect is the one which comes from behind the objects, the so-called backlight. This has the effect of framing objects, it is widely used in ephemeral shows and events. With this effect we are able to give depth to the object to be illuminated, we can work with colors without distorting the textures of the objects, thus giving them a new shape. While working with a frontal light to reveal, we insert a backlight to generate varied effects and give depth to the object in space. We can use this type of effect, for example, in the exhibition of works of art, such as statues, or even decorative objects in our residence. While we cover our object with a frontal light of neutral colors, we can come with a backlight in a warmer color, thus, we can give a more dramatic air to the scene.


We can see that with three basic effects we can create several others, and we did not even get into colors, dynamic lighting, other positions and effects such as limelight (uplight), symmetrical and asymmetric lighting, spotlight…


These basic effects can be inserted in any type of project, but we have to be aware that they will always be based on the lighting design/scenic concept for the scene or space to be illuminated. Therefore, before thinking about the insertion of these effects, we have to take into account what the space needs, what needs and applications we are going to achieve, what we want to value and what ideas we want to pass on to the people who are there looking at that environment.


A good lighting project is based on the conceptual foundation of its work, with the presentation of technical bases to certify its applicability, as Goethe (1749-1832) said: “a science never originates without a poetic perception”.


About Rodrigo Assis “Horse”
Working for more than 20 years with lighting projects focused on performing arts, shows, installations, parades, interiors, and the like. Undergraduate degree in Interior Design at Cambury College, graduate degree in Higher Education Teaching (FABEC) and in Master in Architecture and Lighting (IPOG), Professor of Graduate courses at IPOG (Graduate Institute), UNICURITIBA, UniRV – University of Rio Verde and Unigran – University Center of Grande Dourados, in Campo Grande. Author of the book “DESIGN OF LIGHTING – Scenic Lighting of a theatre show”. He is currently a permanent employee of UFG (Federal University of Goiás) as an illuminator, responsible for the lighting laboratory of Performing Arts. Organizer of the event Encontro Som & Luz (, an event that brings together lighting and sound professionals, columnist for the magazine Design de Interiores BR ( He coordinates the ongoing project “Museu da Luz”, to be installed at UFG, represents Cast Soft (Canada), with the student project on the Wysiwyg Lighting software and its products.
Instagram: @rodrigohorse / @horse_iluminacao | Facebook: RodrigoHorse

Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies.