Lightning Lighting Effects

Written by daniel westlake
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Lightning Lighting Effects
There are a number of different ways to create lightning effects. (Dramatic lightning strike from storm clouds image by Stuart Monk from

There are many different ways to create lightning for stage or screen by using different lights or technological tools. The techniques used to do this vary based upon what medium the lightning is being created for and what type of budget the production has for lightning effects. In stage productions, the flicker of lightning must be seen practically, usually from backstage. In screen productions, lightning can either be created practically or added digitally when the film or television show is being edited.

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Light Control Equipment

Equipment can be purchased to create lightning effects for both stage and screen productions. These pieces of equipment are connected to lights and run off a timer, flickering the lights automatically at different intervals, to mirror lightning during a very large, ferocious rainstorm. One such device is called a Perfect Storm Light Controller. These lightning controllers are plugged directly into the wall, controlling up to 1000 watts of lighting at once, there are several different models, which the company has released yearly since 2002, according to Diversitronics and a company called Strobe Runner manufacturer more high-end strobe lights for concerts and night clubs, and these products can be used to simulate lightning in a stage or screen production. Many of these strobes have hyper flash controls, which deliver quick short bursts of light at once and then shut off for a programmed amount of time. They are also very bright, creating 4,500 watts of light at peak flash.

Manual Clicking

For stage or screen productions that are more low-budget, lighting effects tools are often too expensive. This means that you will have to generate lightning the old-fashioned way, in which someone, properly directed, turns lights on and off. The best way to simulate lightning with real lights using this method is to bounce these lights off a wall from above or below onto a scene and diffuse them slightly, with gels or waxed paper. This will spread the light out more, so that it looks more natural, as it does when it is flickering through cloud cover and windows. However, use this method sparingly, as the manual flickering can wear out switches over time.

Digital Lightning

With online graphics programs, users can create a wide variety of very realistic images, depending on the graphic artist's skill and technical knowledge. Lightning is a relatively simple effect to create on a digital design program like Adobe Photoshop. In Photoshop, an artist can create different wavelengths of lightning to flash through the night sky of a film or television scene by digitally inserting lines, and making them brightly lit and changing their form using the program's wave-layer tool. However, properly matching background lightning with the foreground lighting of a scene can be expensive to produce.

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