Lighting operators in houses of worship have always been challenged to create amazing lighting effects. The question is: How are you supposed to do this with a limited budget for products?
In this article we’ll attempt to break down an approach for those who have been tasked with designing a sleek lighting look with modest equipment. Encouragingly, you don’t have to shell out mega-bucks for multiple moving lights to achieve a tasteful mood or atmosphere. Keep reading to find out why.
Start at the Beginning
You may be thinking that the actual dollar amount of your budget is your starting point. Instead, let’s start with the vision of your ministry. This is so you aren’t tempted to buy unnecessary or inappropriate equipment only to find later that, while it may fit into your budget, it doesn’t support your needs.
For example, if yours is a successful television ministry, then your focus would likely be on broadcast. The look and feel that is comfortable for the home congregation needs to translate onto the small screen. Every purchasing decision should then be based with this medium in mind. Each ministry has its own primary target. Once you determine this objective, the rest of the decisions should be relevant to your choice.
Lighting plays a very important role in enhancing your vision. The danger is that it can very easily become over-powering, and can even be a distraction if it is not right for your purpose. While studying your vision, attention should be given to the type of service your ministry provides.
Lighting for traditional services with large choirs, organs, and grand architecture differs from contemporary worship services, where the focus is on the energy and the atmosphere of the music production. You may need the flexibility to allow you to light illustrated sermons, concerts, pageants, and dramas. Your church’s vision can be reflected in the style by building on a theme, architecture, a set piece, or an idea.
In any case, the vision of your house of worship is something that needs to be identified and articulated in a way that allows the technology to compliment and reinforce, rather than distract. Your vision should be identified before you determine the detail of your budget.
Let’s say hypothetically that you have identified your vision. Now it’s time to look at your existing facility. Using your building’s characteristics to your advantage will save considerable money in the long run. Here are some factors to keep in mind when undergoing the lighting design process:
The size of your space plays a major role in making the best design possible. Size determines how much audience area needs to be illuminated for the congregation to read their Bibles, and it also determines where you should hang truss, pipes, and catwalks.
The height of the ceiling is important if you need to hang fixtures from either a truss or pipe structure. There are many churches with satellite locations in movie theaters and strip malls with 12-15 feet of clearance to hang sound, lighting and video equipment. The height you have available will dictate where and how your equipment can mounted.
Audience lighting fixtures will create feel in your space. This may be considered a matter of opinion, however by using incandescent fixtures, the space will feel warmer and more inviting than using fluorescents. Using incandescent fixtures for audience lighting will also allow the lighting operator to have dimming control, which can enhance the feel of your space by lowering the light levels during intimate moments within the service.
Generally, fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescents give a much cooler feel that is not as inviting, and is also difficult to control. In most cases these fixtures can be color-corrected to match the spectrum provided by incandescents, but the amount of control may still be an issue, especially in reference to dimming.
Your set design is the next area. Most churches tend to produce different sermon series’ at certain times of the year. Your lighting system should be flexible enough to work within these constraints. Keep in mind where the band, choir, and any other scenic elements may be placed, whether these are permanent or temporary locations.
Power is always something that is forgotten until the last minute, and unfortunately by then it’s usually too late. Don’t let power limit your creativity. If you plan in advance you will know how much power is necessary for your requirements. When you are in the planning stages, also keep in mind that you want to leave room for future growth and expansion.
Before moving forward, remember that you have to coordinate your planning with consideration for other technical systems. For example, where are cameras, screens, projectors and speakers going to be placed? Are your lighting components going to interfere with any of these systems by washing out a screen or causing unwanted shadows? Are your light sightlines going to be compromised by any other necessary technical component? Again, planning this as best as possible in advance will save you money in the long run.
Understanding your production space is key to the design and budgeting process. Once you know the limitations and advantages of your space, you can start to create the desired look and feel. The easiest way to start this process is to break it down into layers. Each layer should be managed independently from one another, giving you as much control as possible.
The floor area needs to be kept in mind for altar calls, as well as pastors and speakers who like to get intimate with the congregation. This area can be lit with par cans or fresnels. Using these types of fixtures gives you the ability to light large areas evenly with fewer instruments.
The preaching or pulpit area is a key position. Consistent lighting is needed since this is where the pastor (or guest speakers) will spend most of their time. This area can also be lit with par cans and fresnels to give a softer look, again lighting a large area with less instruments.
The performance position is the area where the worship leaders will work. It’s usually mid-stage to downstage. Taking into account the limitations, par cans, fresnels, and ellipsoidals can be used to light this area. Specials or follow spots can be used to create isolation during intimate moments during worship.
The band or orchestra is usually placed upstage behind the worship leader. Some may decide to light each band member with their own spot for better control, then add color with front and back washes using par cans, LEDs, color changers, or intelligent fixtures. This creates a sense of depth between layers. For example, with the band wash in a deep blue, you can still highlight the pianist during an interlude or the guitarist during a solo. You want to be able to direct the congregation’s attention at the appropriate times.
The choir or ensemble can be set to either side of the platform on risers, or placed above on a loft. In either location it is essential to see the faces of the choir members. Using the same techniques as the other layers, par cans and fresnels create a softer feel. Some may choose to add color to the choir to help make them disappear during moments when they are not meant to be in focus. Using blues and lavenders for this technique tends to work well, due to the various colors of clothing that the choir members may be wearing.
The set design will reflect your vision, idea, or message. In a traditional setting, architecture such as pillars, columns or organ pipes can be lit by a number of different fixtures. Using patterns or gobos to create texture along with color washes enhances these elements. In a contemporary setting, curtains, trussing, spandex, and set pieces can be lit with LEDs, color changers, cyc lights, and intelligent fixtures to give as much variation as possible.
Using atmospheric haze and shooting patterns will create beams of light that enhance the overall production.
Creating sleek lighting looks can be essential to controlling the mood and atmosphere in your space. As you move through the process of identifying your vision, and then you start to reinforce this vision with the appropriate technology, don’t forget another very important rule of thumb: remember to have fun.