Lighting Design: The Basics Behind Which Fixtures Support the Best Visuals

Among the different types of lights available to you, the most important aspect to nearly every design I complete is the back light.

Lighting is an incredible way to support praise and worship in our congregations.

Each type of light holds a specific purpose, and is best suited for use in their particular ways.

A basic understanding of how positioning a light works can help us to support the visuals we desire to create.

Let's start by exploring the types of light when lighting a subject.

Key light: This is the primary light used to light a subject.
Fill light: The secondary light that fills in shadows on the subject (typically of a lower intensity).
Back light: The light that illuminates the subject from the backdrop.
Side light: The light that creates additional shadows to show depth.
Foot light: The light located at the front edge of the stage to fill in shadows on the subject, particularly under their eyes.

Each of these lights holds a specific purpose, and is best suited for use in their particular ways. Even the simplest of systems should contain a key light and a back light. This will adequately light the subject and ensure the subject has enough depth to stand out from the back of the stage.

A key light is always located in front of the subject. Ideally, this light or lights is best hung at a 45 degree angle from the subject (both horizontally and vertically). This angle creates a great balance of shadows and creates an adequate front light for a subject. This light is typically used with no color.

Fill light should be a complement to the key light. It should be hung symmetrically to the key light on the opposing 45 degree angle. This light is typically a slight bit lower in intensity to create shadows, but I have used this at a similar intensity in some cases as well.

A fill light can also consist of fixtures that are hung at a lower angle to fill in shadows under the subjects eyes. There are many times, though, that a fill light will be hung at 20 degrees vertically from the subject to fill in shadows under the eyes, if foot lights are impractical. This light is typically used with no color as well.

A back light is imperative to creating good separation on your stage. A back light is the most important aspect in nearly every design I complete (only closely behind key light). A back light creates a glow around the hair line and shoulders, helping the subject appear three dimensional to the viewer or audience member. A back light can also be used well when colored. This colored back light can help to convey the emotion, mood, or energy.

A back light should be located directly behind the subject and can vary from 30 to 80 degrees vertical. The lower the angle, the brighter the fixture will appear.

Some designers choose to go above the 80 degree mark with their backlights, which then makes them a top light. I don't prefer this method, though, but if you are looking to create a very distinct look, it can be useful.

A side light is very similar to a back light, in that its purpose is to help create depth on our subject. The biggest difference is the amount of visible shadowing it creates. With a side light, you get very pronounced shadows which helps to convey depth, and in certain instances, mood. I typically suggest a side light be colorable. Side light is typically hung within 15 degrees of the right and left side of the subject.

A foot light is then used as a low fill light on the floor of the stage. This light fills in dark areas not well lit by the key and fill lights. These areas are typically below hats or the upper sections of the subject eye sockets. Most times these lights are run at a pretty low intensity and help minimizes shadowing, but at the same time does not eliminate it. These type of fill lights are most necessary in environments where IMAG and broadcast are present. These lights are typically located at the bottom edge of the stage and point up at a sharp angle of more than 45 degrees vertical.

Scenic lighting is a bit different than what is involved when lighting a subject. Although a lot of the practices in other areas of lighting can transfer some, there are a lot of exceptions to lighting scenic. Scenic lighting typically utilizes a key light and possibly a fill light, but in a much different location. For lighting scenic, a down light or uplight is typically a good choice.  Any position eliminates shadows from other subjects onstage, diminishes light bleed, and helps to maximize the light output of these fixtures. Depending on the piece of scenic, a light from a further out angle near the front may also work well. Elements like these that are not focal points, afford us the opportunity to use them to create an environment.

As you strive to serve your church, focus on the many lighting options that are available to you to make the difference each and every Sunday, not just for Easter or Christmas!

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