Current Trends in Worship Lighting

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

With LDI fast approaching it seems appropriate to take a look at some of the current trends in church service planning and their impact on church lighting systems.

When you look at the plethora of lighting products and options available today it is hard to believe that not all that long ago a 12-channel 2-scene lighting console with 24 channels of dimming was the state of the art system for a cutting edge church. Now even the youth facilities at many churches have theatrical lighting capabilities that include computerized consoles, color scrollers, and automated lighting instruments. It can be very overwhelming to try and figure out what is available, and what to use. In the next few paragraphs we’ll take a whirlwind tour from basic lighting principles to the state of the art in lighting technology.

The Drama Trend
In times past, drama was not generally part of the ‘standard’ worship service. Instead it was limited to special productions, generally at Christmas and Easter. Now many churches have drama groups that take part in the regular weekly services. This has created a need to refocus the lighting on a weekly or even daily basis.

At a basic level, lighting instruments installed on pipes above the stage and seating are accessed by means of a lift or scaffold. This is not very convenient if chairs/pews have to be moved every time a light must be moved or serviced. The inclusion of a catwalk system in a facility allows for easy access to light fixtures, though at a significant cost. Newer technologies such as automated lights allow for re-focusing of the instrument from the lighting console. This allows for much greater flexibility in lighting design, but also requires greater skill on the part of the operator/programmer as well as increased infrastructure to support these types of instruments. Unfortunately, automated lighting instruments cannot just be installed and forgotten, as they still need to be accessible for regular maintenance.

A primary use of lighting for dramatic productions is the illumination of, or even creation of, scenic background elements. Traditionally, static instruments such as ellipsoidals outfitted with gobos allow for the projection of patterns and textures on wall and set surfaces. Automated lighting instruments have the advantage of being able to contain not one, but several gobo patterns and to display these patterns in various locations as well as rotate them.

Now, new products on the market are combining the features of an automated lighting instrument with video projection. These products allow the use of still or moving video images that can be projected on a surface, or even ‘flown’ around the room! In addition the images can be shaped, rotated, and modified in a variety of ways. Both pre-produced content and live video, such as camera shots, can be used with these systems.

Even in churches that don’t have a drama team, there is often the desire to create a particular ‘mood’ such as you might find at a dramatic production. Color is an important part of mood creation and some sort of colored light is standard in nearly every church today. Colored light can be achieved by placing a color filter (commonly called ‘gel’) on a light source. This gives one color that will not change until you physically remove it from the instrument and replace it with a different gel.

Color scrollers are an accessory that can be placed in front of a light source that use a gel string made up of several colors seamed together. This allows color to be changed during a production, although there can be some time required to get from one end of the string to the other. Automated lighting instruments contain either color wheels or a color mixing system, such as a CMY system that creates various colors using Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow filters. These allow for color to be changed more rapidly and over a wider range than most scrollers.

Some churches have also experimented with the effects that can be produced using ultraviolet (UV) lighting instruments. Sets can be designed using paints that react to UV light such that a completely different look is created depending on whether ‘normal’ or UV light is used.

The Rock-n-Roll Trend
A greater number of churches are looking to have the same kind of look and ‘wow factor’ that is seen at large rock concerts. We have had churches tell us ‘We want our new facility lighting to look like the ‘XYZ’ concert DVD.’ Some churches are even going so far as to use hazers during the service in order to achieve the light beam in the air effects seen at concerts. In some instances exposed truss has been the desired method of supporting the lighting instruments rather than catwalks or pipe, again to provide the look and feel of a concert venue.

While not common in churches yet, many concert tours have made great use of the computerized control systems now available for the chain hoists typically used to support the lighting truss. This gives them the ability to change the look of the physical layout of the lighting system as well as the lighting angles during a production.

The Video Trend
A major influence in the development of church lighting systems has been the trend to video capture of services. Whether for purposes of IMAG (Image Magnification) or for broadcast on the Internet, cable television, or to an overflow room, the need for high quality lighting for video places very specific requirements on the lighting system. The angles necessary to provide lighting that looks good on camera are quite different from what works well for traditional theatrical production.

In theater, high contrast, high angle lighting is often used to great effect. On camera however, low contrast, lower angle lighting tends to look much better. It is very challenging to design lighting looks from week to week that will be colorful, dramatic, and pleasant for those in attendance at the service as well as look good on camera.

Color temperature becomes a particular concern when cameras are involved. Most static lighting instruments (Pars, Fresnels, Ellipsoidals, Followspots) use lamps that burn at 3,200 degrees Kelvin. Most automated lighting instruments, on the other hand, use lamps that burn at 5,600 degrees Kelvin (similar to daylight) or higher. Most cameras can be ‘balanced’ to see white as either 3,200 degrees or 5,600 degrees but if you have a mixture of color temperatures it can be very difficult to get acceptable color rendition on camera. Many automated lighting instruments include a color correction feature that allows adjustment of the color temperature. A few are even available with 3,200 degree lamps.

Lighting Technology Trends
The computer networking revolution is slowly working its way into the lighting world. DMX distribution over Ethernet is becoming more common, although slowly as a standard protocol has still not been agreed upon. On the horizon are automated lighting fixtures and moving video projectors that will live ‘on the network’ and speak with the control console via a direct Ethernet connection rather than through DMX.

Control consoles with built-in 3D visualization software, touch screen displays, motorized faders, and thousands of control channels allow for much easier programming of newer, more sophisticated lighting instruments. New capabilities can often be obtained through software upgrades rather than trading in the console on a new model. In addition, software packages are available to turn your laptop into a lighting console with DMX output via USB devices. Your PDA can even become a DMX capable lighting console, or act as a wireless remote focus unit for a dedicated console.

At the current pace of technological development and advancement it is difficult to keep up with the ‘state of the art’. The number of products available can be quite overwhelming and it seems impossible sometimes to decide what will be best for your situation. It is important to remember that lighting equipment is just a tool used to further the ministry of the church. It is only as effective as you make it and if used poorly it can be a hindrance rather than a help.

Which brings us to the question: with all the technological tools available today, why do we still see so many bad looking videos, TV broadcasts, and services? While this is really a topic for further discussion I believe it all boils down to education. We need to develop a greater number of knowledgeable lighting staff in churches who can make good selection and use of the tools available. In addition to operator education, architects and church leaders planning a new facility need to be educated enough about lighting to understand why the technical systems requirements need to be considered before a building design drawing is generated.

Enjoy LDI!