Why is lighting important?
Corporations, retailers, restaurant owners, and record labels realized long ago the power of visual impact. You see it in advertisements, ‘themed’ restaurants and entertainment environments, movies, and music videos. The stronger the impact, the longer it resides in a person’s memory. Whatever the message, whatever the product being promoted, an old saying holds more truth today than ever – ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.
Worship ministries today have so many elements with which to compete, especially with younger audiences. It is an unfortunate fact that as a result of so much multimedia around us, in our homes, schools, and places of work, the average attention span of the individual is shrinking dramatically. What could once be delivered simply with the power of words in conjunction with the imagination of the listener, must now be delivered using combinations of words, music, sound, and graphic images. While this certainly increases the workload involved in delivering the message, it opens up countless opportunities, and greatly increases the impact the message will have.
Many places of worship are taking different approaches toward adapting to these changes in our society. Some show videos during the worship service, others have expanded their music ministry to be the predominant method by which their message is delivered. Still others actually act out miniature theatrical presentations every week depicting biblical history, or just every-day life and how people deal with each other.
What does all of this have to do with lighting? Done properly, the lighting you design will play greatly in implanting the visual image into the minds of your audience. There are many areas where lighting plays a predominant role; from elaborate production lighting to video lighting and even architectural lighting. Each one of these areas addressed in detail would amount to a small novel. While each is just as important as the other, for the purposes of this article, we shall concentrate on production lighting.
Lighting the Production
It is not uncommon for churches of all sizes and types to mount some type of large-scale Christmas and Easter production. Many have found that this is the time when more visitors and new members come through the doors. Some are even using ‘Halloween Alternatives’ as an opportunity to drive their message home, in a rather frightening manner.
‘How do I design lighting? What is the secret? Where do I find a list of ‘rules’?’
When it comes to lighting, my philosophy is that you cannot teach someone to design. All you can do is teach them how to use the tools and offer ideas and suggestions. The true design comes from within each person. While there are methods, techniques, and guidelines, there are no absolute rules when it comes to creating the look. Every design will be different – every production will be different.
Before you can promote an image, you must see it first. You have heard it before – analyze the script. Break each scene down, and study it. Be aware of such things as time of day, location, time period, and the overall feeling that is being portrayed in the script. Not only will you make the scene believable, but you will enhance the mood of the script.
When attempting to light a specific scene, put yourself there. A good lighting designer is always looking around, at objects & people both indoors and outdoors. Every day, we are presented with endless natural variations of light. Learn from them, they were created by the greatest lighting designer of them all.
A Specific Example
Let’s say you are having difficulty lighting the Garden of Gesthemene just right. Try walking outside on a clear night under a full moon. Notice the color of your skin, and the eerie glow of the sidewalk around you. Walk under a tree and look at your arms. See the movement of the branches? Strike a match and hold it near your hand. Notice the contrast of ‘warm’ vs. ‘cool’ color all around you. How would the disciples have looked, huddled around a small fire, trying to keep warm on a cold, moonlit night such as this? More importantly, how would they have felt?
Once you see in your mind what the scene will look like, there are several things you can do to turn it into something tangible. Take the elements and break them down – Strong moonlight color from a high angle, dark shadows created all around, warm firelight glow from below. Create a COLOR KEY for this scene. Draw an arrow representing the moonlight – give it a high angle, slightly forward (30 degrees) and a pale blue color, such as Roscolux #60. Now, add some darker blue to fill in & create the ‘shadow’ effects from a nearly opposing angle. (Be careful not to get too saturated!)
Now, add an arrow representing the glow from a campfire, or torches spread along a path. Remember that these will come from a very low angle – possibly even below the actors’ face. (These are also excellent at texturing scenic elements.) Select a warm but not too saturated color, like Roscolux #17 or #18. Note that the focus should be ‘spotted’, meaning to create pools of light rather than an ‘even wash’. Add in some high backlight, again to create or accentuate the shadows from behind, and color it with a medium blue like Roscolux #68. Lastly, note that some fixtures used to create your ‘moonlight’ will need to have a breakup pattern installed, to simulate the ‘leaves’ or ‘branches’ effect. This will add movement and life to the scene. Keep in mind the locale, and that sparse trees with bare branches would be more realistic than tree patterns with heavy foliage.
When the set is built, and you are deep into focusing the lights, walk around the set. Close your eyes, then open them again, and walk around some more. Does it FEEL to you like your are in the garden? If it does to you, chances are it will to your audience as well. What better way to deliver the message than to make the audience believe they are in the garden, to let them feel the agony Christ must have felt as he prayed.
Other points to consider when designing the overall production:
– Using Dimming to add movement…. Lighting around us is almost never static. As the day progresses, shadows move and colors shift. Most obvious to us is morning and evening.
– Study the difference between ‘natural’ light, and ‘unnatural’ light.
– Learn not to fight shadows, but use them. Shadows are a natural part of our lives, without them we would have no texture or dimensionality.
– Often, it is not what we see, but what we don’t see that makes our minds – and emotions – stir the most. Don’t feel it is necessary to light every face all of the time. Look at the overall picture.
– Learn to contrast ‘natural’ with ‘unnatural’ light.
– Be mindful of the equipment you have available. Select colors and lighting angles that can be used for several different scenes, but will allow a different feel nonetheless.
– Prioritize your needs between GENERAL lighting, EFFECT lighting, and SCENIC lighting.
– Use contrast as an important tool. This is especially true if your fixture count is limited.
– Be creative with your resources. Volunteers with gloves make excellent color changers for low-mounted instruments. (NEVER recommended for overhead…)
– Experiment with pattern projection. Using patterns or ‘gobos’ is a VERY inexpensive way to add texture to a scene, and create specific effects. Sunlight through a window is very realistic when approached using projections.
– Don’t get TOO carried away with color. Too many different colors piled upon one another will give you a lovely shade of mud. Color is cheap – if you don’t like the effect, change it. Experiment and learn to use contrasting colors effectively.
– Always be safe. Period.
In closing, one thing must never be forgotten – Design the lighting to enhance the production – not to show off the lighting. After all, the message you want your audience to remember is not ‘Wow, the lighting looked cool!’. Lighting is only part of an ensemble of elements that make up the entire production. Always keep your mind open, and let every production become an opportunity to experiment and learn.