Stage Lighting 101: Fresnels, PAR Cans, and Ellipsoidals, Oh My!

Stage Lighting 101:  Fresnels, PAR Cans, and Ellipsoidals, Oh My!

Peyman Aria |



As a veteran in the stage lighting world, we understand how important it is to get your hands on quality industry content. After all, true professionals never stop learning. Your thirst for knowledge is insatiable — even if you’ve been around the block and back thousands of times. More importantly, you have an intense desire to educate the next generation of stage lighting professionals.

Well, we have a blog post for you — and your team of young stage lighting professionals.

In this blog post, we are going to take an elementary but very important approach to discussing some of the more common stage light equipment available today. We don’t intend to dive too deep into the weeds, but we do want to describe what they are, what makes each different from the next, and when to use them. Welcome to stage lighting 101.



Stage Lighting 101 — PAR Cans, Spotlights, Fresnels, and Ellipsoidals

Parabolic Aluminized Reflectors — Also called PAR cans, these are cylindrical or cone-shaped lamps that produce a highly directional light beam versatile enough to illuminate a single person, area, or entire stage. As a result, they are the most widely used lighting equipment for theatrical lighting, concerts, major stage presentations, clubs, outdoor locations, and more. PAR cans have a reflector and built-in pressed lens inside the lamp, which helps the unit provide directional lighting. They have been an industry staple since they were introduced in 1968 and aren’t going away anytime soon.


Spotlights — Slightly different from PAR cans, spotlights have a more compact design and come with a fresnel lens or ellipsoidal reflector (more on those in a bit). Also, spotlight beam angles are adjustable vs. the fixed beam angles of PAR cans. This gives the user precise control over the focus and spread of the light to highlight specific performers, props, or areas on stage.


Fresnel Lights — Named after Augustin-Jean Fresnel, fresnel lights are commonly used for backlighting and top lighting because they produce an adjustable even light with soft edges and smooth stage coverage. Fresnel lights are simple, portable, and easy to use; thus, they are found in studios worldwide.


Ellipsoidal Lights — These common stage lighting tools produce a sharp-edged beam of light that can be shaped with other tools such as shutters or a gobo. Much like their counterparts, ellipsoidal lights are an excellent choice for lighting objects, specific areas on stage, and even a person’s face or specific scenery.


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