Lighting for the Regular Guys

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

Many of us have wandered into a mega church and had a “wow” moment by the amount of equipment hanging in the air. All too often it’s easy to fall into the trap of wishing you had what they have and wondering how you can ever do anything with the gear you have at your disposal.

The most important design rule is to remember: it’s not the number of fixtures (or dimmers) that you have, but what you do with them. Many shows have been designed with hundreds of lights and the result was mediocre at best. However, even more shows have been designed with minimal fixtures and resulted in a spectacular display.

Know Where to Spend Your Money
Be smart about where you spend your money. For instance – if you are lighting a background scenic piece you can often use a less expensive fixture. Many times this is true with backlighting as well. It’s not always necessary to have an expensive industry standard fixture shinning light on the back of someone’s head. This is a great spot to use an older or a cheaper fixture.

Over the years, many manufactures have created lights that just “throw light”. You might ask yourself, “What’s the difference between the $350 ellipsoidal and the $75 one?” The difference is the lamp, the reflector, the lens, the type of housing, the heat sinks, and so forth. Generally speaking you do get what you pay for.

So, if it’s important that you have a nice even field of light (such as front lighting or evenly lighting a drop), you might find it worthwhile to spend the money and get a nice fixture. However, if you’re just trying to backlight something or throw a splash of color on an object, many times a cheaper light will do just fine.

LED Lighting
Dimmers are expensive. Gel is expensive. Replacement lamps for your fixtures are expensive. The power required to run all of your stage lighting is expensive. LED lighting presents some nice budget alternatives for the smaller church.

There are many mid-level LED fixtures on the market that provide a nice source of light. True – an average mid-level LED PAR can might cost near $500. However, stop and consider that this is a multi-color fixture with a lamp life in the tens of thousands of hours, usually running at less than 50 watts. This means no more gel purchase, no more expensive lamp replacements every 400 hours (or 2000 if you’re using long life lamps) and a huge savings on your power bill.

Factor in the fact that LED lighting runs on a normal 20-amp circuit and they don’t require expensive dimmers, you’ve suddenly just purchased a very cost effective and flexible lighting instrument.

Whenever possible, try the LED light before you buy it. Some LED lights tend to flicker when videotaped. If you video record your services this could be an issue. If videotaping, you want to seek out LED’s that utilize “pulse width modulation”. This actually modulates the frequency of the LED to dim and control it versus using a straight voltage drop. The result is usually a non-flicker LED on video.

It’s also important to realize that different LED’s offer different degrees of brightness. Likewise, some LED’s color mix to white (well, close to white) better than others and some actually have white LED’s for such a purpose.
LED lights are commonly used for lighting drops, truss and back lighting. By and large, LED’s are not bright enough for front light – but that’s changing, and it’s changing fast.

Moving Lights
To use or not to use – that’s a very common question. There’s no doubt that moving lights have a place in some settings – likewise, there’s no doubt they have no place at all in others.

Often people look at the purchase price of a moving fixture but don’t consider the long-term cost of ownership. These lights are basically little computers with a lot of moving parts, belts and accessories. All of this takes maintenance. If you don’t have people on staff that can handle this maintenance (and most churches don’t) you are going to have a lot of ongoing repair and maintenance bills from your local lighting shop.

When people think of moving lights they think of the panning, tilting, strobing, color changing concert light. But movers have a much bigger role than simply offering the “dazzle” effect. The moving light is very instrumental in providing multiple color washes, pattern washes and specials.

It’s entirely feasible that one moving light could accomplish 12 or more specials. Likewise, you can get an entire color palette of back light on your specials from a moving light. Sure, you can accomplish the same thing with an LED, but the mover allows you different positions as well as color on stage – so you can get a lot more bang for the buck.

When moving lights are used for more than just “dazzle” their real value shines through.

However, movers aren’t easily (or effectively) controlled with a basic lighting console. They really need some sort of moving light controller to use them. So, this means you are either purchasing a moving light console that will also control your static fixtures, or you are running them from a stand alone controller independent of your static lights. This adds to the overall cost of using them.

Many churches are tempted to go with satellite dimming. Satellite dimming definitely has its place in church lighting, but in the long run you will usually find yourself better off utilizing an installed dimmer rack with proper power distribution via circuit drops throughout the house.

Satellite dimmers are typically rated for lower wattage (with a few exceptions). They are typically protected by fuses (or in some cases circuit breakers), which tend to blow at the least opportune times. Unlike a central dimmer rack that you can walk over to and reset, your satellite dimmer is located with the light – typically in a difficult to get to – if not impossible to get to – location. (Side Note: Remember if a circuit breaker trips there is always a reason – a short, a bad connection, overloading, etc. Make sure to ALWAYS learn the reason of the tripped breaker and fix it before just resetting it).

Most dimmer racks carry a much better warranty and some manufactures offer a on-site replacement while repair work is being conducted. Most satellite dimmers on the other hand must be removed and shipped back – usually without a replacement during the repair time.

So, again, while satellite dimmers look like a good buy up front, the better long-term solution for a permanent installed system is usually a central dimming rack. Satellite dimmers on the other hand are fantastic for extra dimming in remote locations, portable setups, youth and children rooms and other locations that might not have such intensive demands.

On the other hand, if your worship center has very minimal lighting that doesn’t require a lot of power or chasing of lighting effects, a satellite dimming system might make sense.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the design. A medium sized contemporary church recently redesigned their light plot. By changing their PAR cans from narrows to wides they were able to cover more stage with fewer fixtures. So, instead of using eight fixtures for side light they could do the same job with four fixtures. The same held true for their backlighting. This meant they could get more colors with fewer fixtures giving them a broader palette in which to design without adding costly fixtures and dimmers.

Likewise, the front light was refocused and diffusion gel was used to both make a more even wash as well as limit the bright lamp inside the fixture from being as blinding to the people on stage.

This same church utilized a light amber gel in the front lights to help bring out the flesh tones. To balance this they also focused a traditional no-color front wash. This allows them to de-saturate the amber by mixing in the no-color wash as desired.

This particular church used non-name brand PAR cans combined with less expensive PAR64’s and off-brand ellipsoidal. Given the look they were going for, this all made sense. The front wash consisted of PAR64’s, so the lighting was even, especially with the diffusion gel. The ellipsoidals were for specials and given the design they were never brought up to more than 45% intensity. So, they were able to get away with a less than perfect field of light that a more expensive fixture would have provided.

It’s not always crucial to get a solid wash on a drop, wall or cyc. Sometimes a splash of color (or multiple splashes) looks quite nice and can be a tasteful contrast to a fully washed scenic piece. You can easily accomplish this with LED or traditional PAR cans.

System Design
In the end, it’s not a matter of what you have or don’t have, but much more about how you use what you have. Contemporary services will be well served with an abundance of back light and side light with a simple wash and specials from the front. More traditional services will usually lean towards more front light, a bright stage area and a little backlight when possible for video purposes.

As you can see, your system design will vary based on your individual needs. The choice of using satellite dimmers, rack mounted dimmers, LED lights, moving lights, industry standard fixtures or less expensive knock-offs ultimately depends on your needs and specific uses.

Each of these has their place in the House of Worship the question is which one of them has a place in YOUR House of Worship.

Wrapping Up
Small and medium sized churches have many options available to them. Just because you might not have a big budget doesn’t mean you can’t have well designed lighting. In the right hands, even minimal fixtures can yield a great result.

For years churches have been creative with their resources. A number of church productions have been lit with floodlights and home made strip lights. The used lighting market has a lot to offer churches as well.

Don’t let budget keep you from using lighting to create a dynamic impact for your church. With a little creativity and time you can achieve your dreams!


Big Church Lighting—It’s Not That Different

Recently TFWM caught up with a lighting designer for one of America’s mega churches. Our conversation covered several different topics. We discussed how they did their lighting, what types of fixtures they had, their philosophy and more. We were very surprised by this person’s feedback when we discussed the budget.

Most people assume that the large mega churches have endless pockets. While this might be true for some, it seems that many mega churches are struggling with the bottom line just as much (if not more) than the rest of us.

During our conversation, we were told that his church could barely afford replacement lamps for their existing inventories. He also let on that there was no budget for hiring in help. They were on their own. Their manpower was stretched to the limit and their equipment was quickly aging.

The designer actually confided that he’d seen many small churches that were in much better shape financially for tech purchase than his church is.

When you think about it, it makes sense. Many large churches have a handful of wealthy donors that contribute to their cause. In this economy, these donors have been hit extra hard. So, when a person who might give a million dollars suddenly doesn’t have it to give – that’s a big hit on the bottom line. However, smaller churches often don’t have such large benefactors to rely on, so in this economic time their budgets might be tight, but they might also be a little more stable since the donations are often not as reliant on a small handful of large resources.

We’ve heard many stories of large churches in budget crunches. Some can barely afford batteries for the wireless microphones, others are on tight budgets with stringent purchasing requirements.

As far as the lighting itself, there really wasn’t such a divide between the small, medium and large church. While the large church might have more fixtures, they also tend to have larger stages – so there is more surface area to cover. While some might be using intelligent fixtures (especially in the contemporary services) others are sticking with traditional fixtures alone. Many are using LED lights – but so are the small and medium size churches.

In the end, churches both large and small alike, are trying to use light to help communicate the message, help their facilities be more inviting, and develop a transparent worship environment. The actual techniques are very similar – front light, side light, top light and back light. Color when appropriate, patterns when needed, motion if applicable. The basic design elements don’t change simply because the facility grows larger.

In these economic times, if you are a smaller church you might actually have the bigger end of the stick! – See more at: