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Stage Lighting: A basic manual of the art.

Focussing: some tricks and tips

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Focusing is when you can make or break a lighting design. Despite its name it is not actually much to do with focus, but all to do with shuttering and beam control

A few tricks for the Lighting Designer or relight focusser

Stand on the stage with your back to the luminaire. That way you can see exactly what the beam does without burning out your eyes. Use the STANDARD SIGNALS, (see pics) to indicate beam spread, pan and tilt and shutter lines. Start by setting the hot spot ( or the centre of the beam) where you want it - usually on the back of your head - and then set the spread, sharpness and the peakiness or in the case of a Par 64, the rotation of the lamp . Then focus gobos etc. Once that is done, shutter or barndoor off unwanted areas.

The standard signals are :

Tilt the lamphead up or down (raise or lower the beam) Arms gently outspread, with palms upwards, and indicate by raising index fingers up and down, working from the wrist. When in correct position turn both palms to face outwards (the stop position)
Lower the beam: (tilt down) same, but with the palms down
Pan right Right arm outstretched, left arm bent both palms facing right, indicate with index finger movements
Pan left The opposite
Make the beam smaller Both arms out stretched, but gently bent, palms facing inwards. and move arms in towards your body and
Make the beam bigger As above but with palms facing outwards
Shuttering Use one hand to indicate which shutter and where you want the line: Draw invisible lines on the place you want the shutter cut
Focus , beam peakiness, gobo rotation etc Use words
STOP! Both hands rigid, fingers pointing vertically palms outward

Here are a few tricks for the guy up the ladder

1) During the hanging session, before you ever get up the ladder,

Do a rough focus, by guesswork,
check that the lens or lamp adjustments are slackened off and then lightly finger-tightened
that all the shutters are pulled out and free to move,.
that the hook clamp is properly tightened (Never, puhleeze! with a tool)
the pan nut is finger tight
the tilt lock is free to move
the cable or hanging connector does not obstruct the movement of the luminaire,
fit and check free movement of any colour frame, gobo holder, iris etc, and
check that the rough focus of the luminaire is actually practical, i.e. does not obstruct the next luminaire on the bar.
Remember to take your spanner ( properly secured on a safety lanyard) up the ladder with you. I prefer a fixed spanner to an AJ. I think its less likely to destroy the nut. Never use plumbers grips they really will damage it.

In general, set everything so you can so that you can move it easily with one hand. The other hand may be hanging on for dear life to a ladder or tallescope.


2) Up the ladder:

Try to anticipate your leader on the floor below.
Check that the luminaire is capable of being panned and tilted in an unobstructed way.
Make sure the Cable plug is not in the beam.
See that the colour frame and any slot items are completely secure
As soon as the LD is in position, get the dead centre of the beam on his/her face or the back the head. - even before they ask for it and set what you think is the right beam spread.
Assess the style of his focusing and try to be there before they are with the shutter cuts along the forestage and up the prosc arch.
Always try to make shutter or barndoor cuts along architectural features.
Keep a stock of useful tools and bits in the tallescope bag, such as pieces of various kinds of frost, odd breakup gobos, irises, spare nuts gaffa tape ( of course), spare lamps and tie-wraps. Lock everything off dead solid. Don't use a tool on anything that was designed for fingertips though.

For the LD

Find out who your focussers will be at least a week before and have a really comprehensive discussion, and let them know precisely what you expect of them.
Talk about your style and try to describe the finished look for example as "like a watercolour" "like a glossy film" or more abstrusely like - "jaggy lighting" - make something up!
Be patient- there are often many problems of reach and access.
Although it is not really your problem, ensure that the focussers are aware of their own and other's safety. At one time it was acceptable to allow riggers and focussers to swarm about like monkeys, walking on trusses etc., with no safety harnesses, taking huge risks with their safety. This is no longer acceptable.
Ensure that they have proper breaks and come to the session not having been up all night, or with hangovers.
A clean focus now means better lighting.
Oh, and be sure that you know what you are doing, don't faff around too much, and don't keep changing your mind. They will spot you a mile off. Lose their respect and you might as well go home...


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