When God said “Let there be light”, He saw that it was “good” (Gen 1:4). He lit the newly formed earth with the most powerful and amazing of all lights, our sun. We have all beheld its beauty and glory, and I believe the desire to create or be part of something beautiful lies within each of us.
Such is the nature of lighting in houses of worship. Lighting plays an extremely important role. The right lighting system can contribute to the success of an event by creating backgrounds splashed with vibrant color, well-lit speakers or choirs, and the ability to really add something intangible-call it energy or mood-to a live or even a taped event. Great lighting, along with its counterpart, excellent sound, completes the show and energizes the crowd.
When considering an upgrade or new installation using today’s technology, a basic question needs to be answered: Should we choose conventional lights, moving lights or both?
The term “conventional” when applied to lighting, often connotes fixtures that are “static”, meaning they cannot move, or be pointed to, any focus position other than the one achieved when the unit was installed, unless repositioned and refocused by hand. To change colors with conventional fixtures, either colored gel filters or automated color scrollers are attached to the end of the unit. A wide variety of colors and options in both mediums exist, and scrollers have become quite sophisticated.
Conventional lighting is cost effective and offers easy control by means of a dimming system. This is the “old school” lighting system that many of us are very comfortable with. You move a fader, and the light magically gets brighter–very simple. But technology has changed and enhanced that basic concept in a major way, which requires rethinking our lighting system.
Many houses of worship are choosing to upgrade or build into their lighting system a package of new moving lights. The term “moving light”, as the name implies, refers to a fixture that does not depend on human hands to place it into a new position. These “robotic” or “computerized” lighting fixtures can easily change colors, pan and tilt, produce patterns, focus, strobe, zoom, and more – all via remote control through a dedicated lighting control console. A few years ago, they were all the rage with a huge “wow” factor, but now these lights are considered mainstream. Indeed, it can be argued that a modern audience will expect to see more color, patterns, and movement in lighting than ever before. That’s the magic of moving lights!
The talents of a clever lighting director and programmer combined with the right moving lights package can produce a much greater and longer lasting effect on the audience. In this case, the whole is indeed more than the sum of the parts. The presentation, show, or event takes on new life and power. The captivated audience is thrilled, saddened, excited, or moved by the presentation – perhaps more so with moving lights than with conventional fixtures because of their almost limitless capabilities.
Indeed, moving lights offer more emotion and energy, but there is a price to pay. They are more expensive than conventional fixtures (although it has been argued that adding a scroller, pattern generator, and all the other gizmos and attachments that would be required to match the capability of a moving light would cost at least as much and perform much worse). In addition, moving lights require a more sophisticated operator and maintenance staff. Like computers, they are dumb machines until a competent programmer brings them to brilliant life. And because they are a hybrid of a computer and a machine with motors, gears, and wires, they need regular attention-cleaning, bulb replacement, adjustment, and general maintenance. These aspects require some serious thought and planning beforehand. Jumping into moving lights without proper consultation and prior planning could be the cause of major headaches.
When considering your new lighting system, begin with the physical characteristics of your facility. What are the dimensions of your sanctuary or other venue requiring a new lighting system? How high are the ceilings? How far is it from the position you intend to place the lights to the stage or proscenium? The distances involved will determine the power, or wattage, needed.
Typically, moving lights are available in 150W, 250W, 575W, and 1200W (there are some out there with 400W, 700W and other “between” wattages), and the prices are often directly proportional to the wattage, so lower wattage generally means lower price. But higher-power fixtures are desirable because you can always dim a fixture, but you can’t increase its power.
Other physical-facility aspects to consider include the type and source of your electrical supply, the architecture of the location where you intend to install the lights, and the texture of the surfaces you’ll be lighting. Some moving lights require 208 Volts, and they all eat amperage. Interior architecture comes into play with angles to and distances from the stage, temperature ranges, and ease or practicability of servicing the units. One of the most common mistakes we encounter in houses of worship is a lack of forethought in terms of where the lights are being placed. Would you hang your computer in very hot, often smoke-filled air in a nearly inaccessible location? Would you expect it to run perfectly for months on end without any attention? Of course not; we all know that computers need attention. Remember that moving lights are a hybrid of a computer and a machine, so they need to be placed in a location that you can easily reach.
Finally, the surfaces and textures you intend to light, along with the desired effects, will help determine whether you need a spot or wash fixture. The spot gives you a hard-edge, well defined beam with colors, moving patterns, and other effects. The wash offers wider angles, soft edges, and vibrant color to “wash” a surface in color. There are several other genres of moving lights, but the spot and wash, with a moving head as described above, are the most modern and most common.
Another consideration is programming the lights. You’ll need a computer-savvy lighting enthusiast on staff, and preferably one who has programmed lights before. This is not something you just pick up. It takes a lot of time on the console to become adept, and much experience is required to understand the full capabilities of moving lights and how to employ those most efficiently in the show. The type of console needed often depends on the preference of the operator, and as you might expect, many types of controllers are available.
When you are ready to go shopping for moving lights, look for low noise, reliability, and a manufacturer who stands behind their products. Don’t be deceived by a low price! My father, who owned and operated a business for many years, used to tell his customers: “The bitterness of poor quality is long remembered after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” That’s especially true with moving lights. As I mentioned above, lighting system service issues are a common problem encountered by churches. The last thing you want is to invest in a moving lights system plagued by excessive failures. Here’s another old saying: “you get what you pay for.” That also holds true when applied to moving lights. So look for a product that is reliable, full-featured, professional quality, and yet cost effective (i.e., the best value).
I also recommend speaking to a qualified lighting design and installation company. There are many good ones across the country, and some specialize in houses of worship. They are well aware of the appropriate brands, the value, the pitfalls, and the means of getting the most out of our moving lights package. If you have a qualified consultant at your side during the planning and implementation stages, you’re much more likely to have a good experience and to end up with a great lighting system you can count on.
Now back to the question of conventional fixtures versus movers. Considering the higher price tag, the technical nature, and complexity of moving lights, are they really the best bang for the buck?
Conventional fixtures can certainly be useful and cost effective to put white light or the same color with unchangeable beam size and beam characteristics in a fixed location time after time. In this sense, conventional fixtures can be thought of as house lighting. They switch on and off and dim like house lighting, and they do the same job over and over again.
As an aside, some very good static lights fall into the category of moving lights as defined above. These are units that have the features, controllability, and programmability of moving lights, but they don’t move. The cost advantage of such units comes into play when you need the features of a moving light but you don’t actually need the light to move. These static, programmable fixtures behave like their moving cousins and need the same type of care.
It has been argued that one moving light can do the work of several conventional units, but the truth is, conventional units definitely have their place in the lighting system. If you don’t need a mover to do a particular lighting job, a conventional fixture may be the best choice. Thus, to answer the question of whether you’ll actually want just conventionals or just movers, the fact is, most modern systems will include both.
But while the conventional units get the job done, the movers add the pizzazz! That’s what audiences expect to see, and that’s why so many houses of worship, both small, large, and mega, are installing moving lights and creating fantastic, memorable shows with them.
So let there be moving light! By using moving lights in presentations, shows, and events in houses of worship, you can achieve the goal of telling the stories of the gospel in the most memorable and creative way. You can bring souls out of the world and into a realm of beauty and inspiration because they will want to see and feel what we create, and because they want to remember their connection with the light of God.