Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Common Lighting Terms for Meetings and Conferences

Like so many other professional fields, the hospitality industry uses a lot of terms that are thrown about as if everyone understands what the terms mean. This can be quite frustrating for newer planners, especially when those terms are drawn from a field such as audio-visual technologies. In this post, I will share some of the common lighting terms (and maybe a couple of not-so-common ones) that meeting planners will come across at hotels and other venues.

First off, let’s look at the different types of lighting that hotels often use.

LED: This stands for Light Emitting Diode and is frequently used for accent lights. They use little energy and give of a bright but cool light.

Florescent Lights: This is one of the most common forms of area lighting for meeting rooms. The light tubes contain a reactive gas that emits light when an electric current is passed through it. They come on quickly at their maximum brightness, do not usually emit a lot of heat, and provide a nice, even brightness level.

PAR, aka PARcan or “cans”: A Parabolic Aluminized Reflector, this is your stereotypical “can light”. You usually find them recessed into the ceiling of the meeting room. These lights get pretty hot, which is one of the reasons for recessing them, and the “can” in which they sit helps direct the light down from the ceiling.

Lekos: Also called “ellipsoidals”, these lights are essentially spotlights. They are used to shine a bright light on a specific area and are frequently paired with gobos. One of the neat features with Lekos is that they usually have built-in shutters that allow you to focus the light, widening or narrowing the beam to illuminate only the target area. It is almost unheard of to find one of these lights built into a room’s ceiling or walls, except in a true theater – and it is not common there either, so they need to be mounted on something.

Fresnels: Typically used for area lighting (of a stage, for example), Fresnels produce a soft-edged light, which can be somewhat shuttered by the use of “barn doors”. Colors can be added to the light to create mood lighting. Like Lekos, Fresnel lights require a stand or framework for mounting and are rarely built-in to a meeting room’s structure.


Now, let’s look at some other lighting-related terms. Though not commonly used for most meetings, each of these terms may show up if you are doing a more extensive production for events, such as for an awards banquet or a major keynote presentation.

Cyc: Short for cyclorama, this is a heavy curtain used as a backdrop for a stage. Images can be shone upon it, or it can simply be used to visually create a space for presentations. It is often used as well to block undesirable objects from view, such as a door leading into a service hallway or all of the AV cables that are connected to the equipment on stage.

Gobo: A term originating with film sets, gobo is short for “go between”. The term refers to anything that is set between a light source and the “stage” to create a shadow or an image on top of a presenter or against a backdrop (or cyc). The most common application of gobos in meetings is to display a logo on a wall, the floor, or even the ceiling.

Scrim: In theater applications, a scrim is a light, gauzy material placed in front of the cyc that can be transparent or opaque, depending on how it is lit and what effect is desired. It can be used to “hide” a presenter (or an object) onstage until the precise moment you want the audience to see them.

Barn Doors: These shutters are mounted on the outside of a light’s casing to allow customization of the light’s beam. With barn doors, you can adjust the light, for example, to keep it off of a curtain, light only to the edge of the stage, or to help define the edge of an area.

As with other audio-visual equipment issues, the question often arises: do I really need to know this as a meeting planner? Of course, the answer is “no”, you don’t need to know it. After all, you don’t need to know what a PAR is to use one and, if you have more extensive needs, that is one of the reasons you would hire AV experts – to have them help you with just this kind of thing. However, I am a big believer in knowing as much about our industry as you can. It makes you more able to understand what the people you hire are talking about and it means you can take a more direct role in ensuring that your event goes off as you envision it.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises