Although our company’s primary focus is on cameras and jibs, our team has more than 20 years of combined lighting design experience for live events. We’d like to share a few concepts that we discuss during our consultations with church Lighting Designers and Lighting Operators:
Setting the Tone – We are immersed in a culture that’s focused on media and excellence. Even restaurants and hotels intentionally set the tone and ambience with house lighting and ambient music. The church should be intentional as well about creating the tone for the worship services. Strategic lighting design and operation can help visually guide the congregation on their journey in worship by changing with the dynamics of the service.
Visibility – The first objective of stage lighting is making sure that the audience sees what they’re supposed to see or that the audience is looking where you want them to be looking. Not every musician has to be seen all the time. In fact, the absence of light is just as important as how much light you have. Although traditional lighting relies on general washes across large sections of the stage, a more theatrical approach directs the congregation’s “eye” and enhances the visual dimensionality of the stage.
Lighting the Room – A church worship service isn’t a stage performance, it’s a group activity. By lighting the room, you can bring the ambience and mood out into the audience and help create that feeling of participation rather than a show. Study the architecture of the room. If the walls are a light color and have nice flat open space they might make the perfect canvas for color washes and gobo projections. If they have a lot of texture, then they might have a nice look with the texture. What you don’t want to do of course, is call attention to ceilings or walls that are not nice to look at. If the insulation is falling off the ceiling you probably don’t want to light that.
Visual Layers Using Color – Try creating visual layers to increase depth perception and make the musicians pop out. For instance, the frontline singers can be lit with amber side light, while the band is washed with light purple, with a dark blue backdrop.
Visual Layers Using Intensity – Visual layers can also be created using intensity. Try using different intensity levels in different parts of the stage, or for different moments in a song. During a solo of a mellow song, consider only having the soloist’s spotlight at 20%, with a dark purple stage wash.
Avoid the Rainbow – Using contrasting colors can also help bring dimension to the stage. Be conservative though; using more than 3 or 4 contrasting colors can quickly turn the stage into a meeting place for Rainbow Bright and the Care Bears. We recommend limiting the stage to 2 or 3 colors at one time.
Truss Warmers – Lighting truss from the inside is a popular design technique since polished aluminum readily reflects the light. Truss can also provide lighting positions and support for drape and other scenic pieces, making it not only a visual element but also a hang position for your lighting and a support for your scenic.
Flow with the Music – For a somber, slower song, try using darker, more subdued colors, like blues and lavenders. For a background, wash a curtain with an out-of-focus teal pattern. Keep cues simple and subtle, with minimal movement. For an upbeat song, use brighter colors, more movement, and obvious cues with the beams more sharply in focus.
Be Strategic – Instead of chasing the lights or constantly having a lot of light movement with ballyhoos, etc, find the major parts in the music and make your lights change with them.
Hide the Mistakes – When editing lights live and you need to make a change, waiting for a break or shift in the music will help it feel natural. If you must change and there is no musical break (or when someone is speaking), make the adjustment so slowly that no one notices. The audience will never realize a change or if you messed up if you don’t make abrupt adjustments.
Watch the Stage, Not Your Console – Become so familiar with the user interface of your console that your muscle memory tunes into it, increasing your speed and accuracy. That will free your mind and allow you to concentrate on the end result rather than the process.
Haze – The key to haze is to not overdo it. When used in moderation, it will enhance the mood of the room. Even a small amount of haze will make the beams of light visible.