This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Lighting technicians set up and operate lighting equipment to provide light and special lighting effects in theatres, at events, and for film and television productions.
Event lighting technicians usually earn
$17-$27 per hour
Entertainment lighting technicians usually earn
$36-$70 per hour
Source: The New Zealand Film and Video Technicians' Guild, 2017.
Current job prospects
Pay for lighting technicians varies depending on experience and type of industry. Many lighting technicians are freelancers and work can be hard to find.
Lighting technicians working on films, television series and commercials usually work 10 hour days.
- Lighting assistants usually earn between $36 and $40 an hour.
- Generator operators/electricians usually earn between $40 and $45.
- Best boys/girls usually earn between $50 and $52.
- Gaffers usually earn $55 and $70 an hour.
Pay for lighting technicians working for lighting companies at events varies with experience.
- Entry level event lighting technicians usually start on $17 an hour.
- Experienced event lighting technicians can earn up to $27 an hour.
Source: The New Zealand Film and Video Technicians' Guild, 2017.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Lighting technicians may do some or all of the following:
- select and set up the lights and equipment
- light each scene in television, film and theatre productions
- operate the lights during performances
- maintain and repair equipment
- set up frames and scaffolding for lighting rigs
- consult with the event manager, director and camera operator to assess what lighting is required for an event, show or scene.
Skills and knowledge
Lighting technicians need to have:
- knowledge of lighting special effects, and the qualities of light and colour
- knowledge of heath and safety requirements and procedures
- technical skills, including electrical knowledge
- an understanding of the environment they are working in
- knowledge of the filming process, particularly different camera techniques if working in film or television.
- may work long and irregular hours, including evenings, weekends and public holidays
- work in theatres, on television and film sets, and at a variety of venues for corporate functions, outdoor events and concerts
- may travel between venues and locations depending on the type of work they do.
What's the job really like?
Keeping on top of things
Gavin Jack works in a busy environment where there is always a deadline looming. He finds the fast pace a challenging and exciting aspect of the job. "A television programme has to be on air at a certain time, and that's not going to change, whether I'm ready or not. So, sometimes I may have to work long hours to get a programme completed in time.
"It's always a hectic pace and I suppose there is a high level of stress. But I don't get much time to think about it or think about the next project I'm working on, because all of a sudden I jump from one job to the next."
Passion for the job a must
While the work can be stressful, Gavin says there is a great feeling of accomplishment when he completes a production. “The best thing about my job is that a lot of people get to see the productions I work on. If a production is really good, people appreciate it.
"When it comes to being a lighting technician, you need the will to do it and a passion for your craft. Half the struggle is just getting your foot in the door."
There are no specific entry requirements to become a lighting technician. Skills are usually learned on the job as an assistant lighting technician. However, a tertiary qualification in television, video or film may be useful.
There are no specific secondary education requirements to become a lighting technician. However, English, maths, physics, design and visual communication (graphics) are useful.
Lighting technicians need to be:
- practical and accurate
- well organised, with good planning skills
- able to work well under pressure.
Useful experience for lighting technicians includes:
- working backstage in theatres
- working for a lighting hire and supply company
- computer or electrical work
- work in the entertainment industry
- production work in film or television.
Lighting technicians need to be reasonably fit and strong as they often work long hours with few breaks, be able to climb up rigging and carry heavy equipment. They also need to have good hearing and normal colour vision.Check out related courses
What are the chances of getting a job?
Competition high for film and television industry jobs
The lighting technician occupation is small and competition for openings is strong. An oversupply of students graduating with film and television qualifications means it is difficult for people to establish themselves in the entertainment industry.
Industry involvement increases job chances
To get entry level positions you should build your profile early by working on school or amateur productions, and get casual work for different companies, productions and events to gain experience.
You can increase your chances of getting a lighting assistant position by:
- increasing your skills by doing an electrician's and first aid course, or getting a heavy vehicle driver licence
- being aware of what's happening in the industry and what new programmes and films are being made
- having a passion for the work and showing persistence
- approaching employers directly.
Types of employers varied
Lighting technicians may work independently, or for production companies, studios or theatres. They may work on:
- music videos
- television commercials
- corporate videos
- television productions
- web-based video clips
- short or feature films
- Creasy, S, senior production technician, MJF Lighting, Careers New Zealand interview, January 2016.
- McShane, A, managing director, Grouse Lighting Limited, Careers New Zealand interview, January 2016.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
- Statistics New Zealand, ‘Screen Industry Survey: 2014/15’, April 2016, (www.stats.govt.nz).
Progression and specialisations
Lighting technicians may specialise in lighting for events, film, television or theatre. They may become production mangers or move into camera operator or director of photography roles.
Within the film and television industry lighting technicians may progress through the following roles:
- Lighting assistant
- Lighting assistants report to the gaffer and set up lights under their instruction
- Generator operator or electrician
- Generator operators look after the generator, ensuring it runs smoothly to power the production lights. They also help the gaffer and move lights.
- Best boys/girls (lighting)
- Best boys/girls order lighting requirements in consultation with the production department and work out the lighting budget with the gaffer.
- Gaffers organise the lighting team and work with the director of photography and director to get the artistic lighting required.
Last updated 12 June 2017