Box, Harvey C. Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook: Film Lighting Equipment, Practice, and Electrical Distribution. 4th edition. Burlington, MA: Focal Press, 2013.
This almost-600-page textbook is intended for film lighting designers, covering topics from pre-production planning to fundamentals of electricity to basic lighting equipment of all types. I first read this for a City Tech course and have had occasion to consult it frequently. Although my culmination project—and my primary career interest—involves stage lighting for live theatre, this textbook provides a useful survey of of crucial basic knowledge in chapters on LEDs, lighting control networks and DMX512, distribution and dimming equipment, and tools and techniques for manipulating light.
Dunham, Richard. Stage Lighting: Fundamentals and Applications. Boston: Pearson Education, 2011.
This textbook is the stage lighting designer’s bible. Part 1 covers the basics of the medium itself, light, with chapters on the nature of light, perception, and color and its effects, ranging from science (the visible spectrum) to art (practical use of color). Part 2 covers the basic tools of lighting design: fundamentals of electricity, lamps and other light sources, luminaires, control systems, and advanced equipment, including computers. Part 3 covers the fundamentals of design, from the most basic concepts to typical theatrical lighting positions to designing a plot to moving into the venue. Part 4 looks at a variety of applications, including the differences between lighting for drama, dance, opera, and musical theatre; it even discusses architechtural lighting and projections. This is one of the most useful books on lighting design I’ve read; when I first read it, for a class, it helped me conceptualize a lot of what I was doing instinctively. It helped me become a more thoughtful and informed designer.
Gillette, Michael J. Designing with Light: An Introduction to Stage Lighting. 5th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007.
This is another useful overview of the basics of stage lighting design. (There’s also a newer 2013 edition, written with Michael McNamara, but I haven’t read it; it costs $132.37 on Amazon!) The book covers much of the same material a designer can find in Dunham’s Stage Lighting: design characteristics of light, perception, psychological effects of light, electricity, the role of a lighting designer and master electrician, lighting instruments, and so on. I particularly value its discussion of special effects, including fire effects, explosions and flashes, and fog and haze, although I didn’t use these in my culmination project.
McCandless, Stanley. A Method of Lighting the Stage. 4th edition. New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1958.
Stanley McCandless, of course, is one of the best-known lighting designers of all time, called both “the father of modern lighting design” (by the World Heritage Encyclopedia) and “the granddaddy of us all” (by designer Jean Rosenthal). Trained as an architect, he taught stage lighting design at Yale for 40 years. The method he developed, known as the McCandless Method, is still widely used today.
Pilbrow, Richard. Stage Lighting Design: The Art, the Craft, the Life. New York: Design Press, 2000.
While the first part of this book covers much of the material one can find in Dunham or Gillette, Richard Pilbrow’s Stage Lighting Design also includes wonderful sections on history (100 years of changes in lighting technology), personal reflections on his own multi-decade experience as a British designer, and interviews with fellow design professionals. The book is chatty, packed with anecdotes, and fun to read—a very personal overview of the life of a lighting designer, with plenty of practical information as well.
Reid, Francis. Stage Lighting Handbook. 6th edition. New York: Routledge, 2013.
Another practical handbook, covering the basics. Like Pilbrow, Reid is a British designer—though much less well known—and some of the equipment discussed is specific to the UK, but Reid does a good job of reviewing the basics and then going beyond. The book was originally published in 2002, but the new edition is updated and includes information on new equipment. The chapter “Lighting Musicals” was particularly useful for my project, but I also found the chapter “Implementing the Lighting Design” to be very valuable.
Shelley, Steven Louis. A Practical Guide to Stage Lighting. 3rd edition. Burlington, MA: Focal Press, 2013.
This guide is more sophisticated than some of the others, focusing more on practical advice for professional designers than on the basic properties of electricity or light. Chapters focus on topics like creating paperwork, sending a shop order, the light plot, load-in and focus, and cue construction. The book is packed with detail, personal commentary, anecdotes, examples, and tips. As one reviewer commented: “However, be warned…the sheer volume of professional gold within is more than one person can shovel in a sitting…This book could be subtitled “Everything Mr Shelley has ever experienced and thought about lighting in his long and illustrious career.”…the whole book is an avalanche of practical advice, notes, tips, pro tips, detail. So much detail.” This is a book I will return to throughout my career.