In 1958, she graduated from Cornell University. While performing as a dancer and rehearsal mistress, she noticed the importance of lighting, and studied dance lighting with Thomas Skelton, becoming his assistant.
Tipton has designed lighting for the American Ballet Theatre since A Soldier’s Tale (1971). She designed the lighting for Baryshnikov's production of The Nutcracker, both for the stage and for television.
In 2001, Tipton was awarded The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, one of the richest prizes in the arts, given annually to “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.”
A 1991 biographical article in The New York Times stated: "There are perhaps a dozen lighting designers in the country who work steadily enough to support themselves by their art, and maybe half a dozen who are acclaimed and in demand. Among these is Jennifer Tipton, characterized most often for the impeccability of her taste and a certain precision and cerebral quality to her work -- which have earned her two Tony awards, among other prizes during her 25 years in the theater."