Many churches don’t know where to start when thinking about their lighting; what fixtures to get? Where to put them? Do you need color or just white light? Why is lighting so expensive? A myriad of questions often paralyze a church before a lighting upgrade project can even really begin.
The Gathering Place, in Vancouver, Washington, knows what goes into maximizing their lighting system. Last year, they finished remodeling a small building and moved in. Renovation and remodel projects nearly always run over budget and that affects other areas and this was no different. Wishing to be the best stewards possible, they chose to utilize the fixtures from their mobile system and make a small investment in some LED color-changing back lighting and some uplighting for the back wall of the stage.
These were strategic purchases to help them build a system that could be added to in the future. They had to balance current and near-future needs with budget realities and they did a great job as the results are eye-catching without being distracting. Given that they were not recording video when they moved in, they decided to only light the center from the front.
Their system is comprised of four ETC ColorSource Spots, four ADJ 12P Hex Par, and five ADJ UB 9H strip lights, controlled by an 8/16-channel NSI controller. A very simple and fairly low-cost setup that makes an impact.
Let’s talk about where we put lights and why we put them there. We use 45-degrees as the ideal angle because it is high enough to light the face and eyes while still allowing the subject to see out underneath the lights to the audience. For theater actors, seeing the audience is critically important so they can respond in real-time. For pastors, it is equally important so they can “read” faces and body language to see how their message is, or isn’t, connecting. 45-degrees off-center is important for the purpose of helping to eliminate shadows. Lighting from the center means that if a person turns to the side, the side of their face and body away from that light source is going to be in harsh shadow. By placing lighting on either side of them, they can turn much farther without going into shadow, which is visually pleasing to both video cameras and human eyes. We often don’t think about this when seeing it with our eyes because our eyes are so good at correcting for this in real-time but video cameras don’t have that luxury.
In terms of lighting design, it is important to first understand what lighting can do for you:
- white light is most important; you must provide lighting for your stage.
- decor or accent lighting, lighting effects and/or “eye candy.” This is usually color-changing LED fixtures that are up-lighting a wall or providing a color wash on plants or the set. The idea is that it helps establish a mood or ambiance.
- Lighting can play a HUGE role in helping make a space feel comfortable and relaxing;
- Lighting can be used to signal a change in tone, say during an Easter play, a dark and gloomy scene on Calvary suddenly shifts to all red the moment Christ dies.
- Lighting helps direct focus by illuminating that which the audience should look at and putting everything else into darkness
- Lighting is flexible in that you can have a full white wash, a color wash, zones of lighting, or both. Moving lights allow you to have one fixture that can fill a multitude of roles.
But how do you know how many fixtures you will need and what kinds? And why are LED fixtures so expensive? First, you must understand that to get good quality LED fixtures, you will be making an investment; it’s better to get good equipment the first time than to continue buying cheap and poorly made equipment over and over again.
One issue with LED lighting that is hardly discussed is “falloff;” this is how much intensity is lost over distance. With the more expensive fixtures (LED ellipsoidals) this is mitigated through lensing that focuses the light so it can transit distance and still deliver high intensity. Most LED pars, strip lights and consumer-grade fixtures do not have this capability. They may be less money, but to get an equivalent light intensity where you need it, you will be purchasing multiple units which begs the question of whether you are really saving money.
Once you have white lighting, you can start looking at how your stage is laid out and think about how and where to add color. If you want to have control of your fixtures from your lighting controller (assuming you have one), you will need to plan out how to connect those fixtures into your control system.
Often the simplest designs can provide a range of options that give operators flexibility in terms of capabilities. Planning ahead to special programs throughout the year and what needs those particular programs have can help you plan as you start designing a lighting system. Perhaps those specialty lights can be rented for the first 2-3 years to help ensure you know exactly what you want/need for those programs rather than purchasing now and realizing you got the wrong fixtures.
One of the best resources on the Internet for low-cost and original lighting and set design is www.churchstagedesignideas.com where set and lighting designers share their projects and often provide behind-the-scenes breakdowns of how they achieved that particular design. I know that when I start with a set design, it helps to see what others have done in similar spaces to help jumpstart the creative process.
Another option is to bring in a system integrator or consultant that can listen to what your needs are and help you design a system that can deliver on those needs. Their experience and knowledge can greatly aid in not only speeding up your process, but helping secure better pricing. After all, if you can spend less money, isn’t that good stewardship? But don’t nickel-and-dime these professionals; respect their experience, knowledge and willingness to help. Good stewardship is not about being cheap or stingy; it’s about using the resources God has provided wisely and respectfully.
Tim Adams has spent over 20 years volunteering in church technical ministry and has a proven track record of helping small churches experience high-quality audio/visual that can transform their programs. He teaches technical excellence through education training, mindset and behavior change, sharing best practices and casting God-sized vision.