Follow-Spots

Light Sources

 - Most large modern followspots use an intense type of lamp known as a discharge lamp. This type of light source cannot be dimmed, so mechanical dimming shutters are provided as part of the lantern. (Smaller followspots use traditional tungsten halogen lamps, so have an external dimmer pack). 

     * Lime -
The first followspots used limelight – this is produced by a burning jet of oxygen and hydrogen impinging on a rotatable cylinder of lime, which produces an intense light.

     * Carbon Arc -
The first Super Trouper followspots used this light source. Many movie projectors of that period, and high power film lighting also used carbon arcs (known as Arc Lights). The intense light is produced from an electrical discharge between two carbon rods in free air. The carbon rods are moved close together to start (‘strike’) the flow of electrical current between them. As the rods are moved apart slightly a bright light is produced. As the carbon rods are used up by this process, they must be regularly adjusted to maintain the arc. This light source has now been replaced by the alternatives below.

     * Xenon -
Two electrodes in a glass bubble filled with xenon gas.
     * CSI

     * HMI

Parts of a Follow Spot

Base - supports the unit by connecting to the yoke. This most often has casters.

Boomerang - This is a section either right in front of or in the middle of the followspot that has 6 or more handles for gels. The handles pull down and click the gels into place.

Caster Brake - Bases that do not have leveling jacks should at least have brakes on the casters to keep the unit from rolling during operation.

Damper (chopper, shutter) - usually two shutters that chop the light up and down.

Dowser - allows for a way to mechanically “dim” the fixture. It is usually a handle on the back or side of the fixture that rotates.

Fan/Vent - cools the lamp which operates at a very high temperature.

Front Lens - Most follow-spots have a front lens and a back lens. The front lens will be connected to a focus handle or knob, which adjusts the size of the beam of light.

Focus knob/trombone - A knob or handle that adjusts the reflector to provide sharp or soft focus.

Height Adjustment - Connected to the base, this allows the followspot to “pedestal” up and down. Because of the weight of followspots this is most often a two to three person job with one person adjusting the lever or knob and two people lifting the fixture up and down.

Iris - makes the circle of light smaller or bigger as required.

Leveling Jacks - allow the followspot to be lifted off the base’s castors and to also make fine leveling adjustments.

Movement Handle - usually on the back and side of the follow-spot that allow for movement up and down, and right and left.

Off (lamp off) - Because some follow-spot lamps burn at a very high temperature you may have a switch that turns the lamp off separately from the main power switch. This allows the cooling fan to cool the lamp before you put the followspot away. Wait 10 to 15 minutes between switching off the lamp and switching off the main power to allow the lamp to completely cool down.

On - Turns the power to the lamp on. Keep in mind that you cannot dim most follow-spots on a traditional dimmer. Arc based lamps require a warm up time (time it takes for the lamp to become “hot” prior to use) and you should not turn it On and Off during a show.

Pan Adjustment - allows the followspot to swivel left and right. It is found most often on the base. Be careful not to confuse this with the height adjustment knob.

Power Supply/Ballast - allows an arc followspot to “strike” or “ignite” its lamp.

Tilt Adjustment - This is an adjustment knob that allows the followspot to move up and down. It is found on the yoke.

Yoke - Similar to other traditional lighting fixtures it is the U shaped structure that is directly connected to the fixture.

Parts of Followspot3.png

Spot Jargon


Running a followpot on a show call can be very difficult. Here are some of the things that will be expected.

    - Stay off the the scenery, soft goods and proscenium whenever possible.

    - If the actor/musician you are assigned to gets close to another, open your iris up to include both. When they part, iris back down to your original size.

     - STAY ON THE FACE. It is the most important part of the talent in a performance. If you have to lose something due to fast motion, keep the face, lose the feet.


    - Cues will be called with Standby and GO. Always wait for the GO.

    - Cues will often be called with stage directions despite the fact that the spot ops are facing house directions. You may have to adapt.

     - If they say an actor is "In SR1", the actor will be entering from Wing 1 Stage Right.
     - Cues for gels will be called as Frames. Frame 1 is closest to you and frame 6 is furthest away. A Roll is when you change gels live; do so as smoothly as you can.

      - A Bump is a sudden change, and can refer to a snap in color, size or intensity.

      - A Slide is when you change from following one person to another without turning off your light.

     - The LD will usually either call for a slow Fadeout (with a number count for timing) or a sudden Blackout/snap on. Sometimes a blackout will be followed by a Restore, which means come back up the way you were previously.


The Iris sizes that will be called are as follows:

  • Head [top of head to top of shoulders]

  • Head & Shoulders [top of head to chest]

  • Waist [head to waist / belt-line]

  • Half Body [head to thigh]

  • Three-Quarter Body [head to just below knees]

  • Full Body [head to toe]

  • Group [more than one person, full body]

A Ballyhoo is a when the spot-ops do large sweeping figure eights across the stage. Try to avoid following someone else's light and try to stay off of soft goods and architecture.

When in doubt, just remember to stay calm, focus and listen. If you do your best, that's all that matters.