Lighting Design: It's Not the Light, It's Where You Put It

Lighting Design: It's Not the Light, It's Where You Put It

In general, you want your fixtures to be placed at a 45-degree angle from the subject. Higher than this, and you will end up with unflattering shadows.

For many churches, lighting often gets the last of the resources. Audio, video, and environments are usually the first things that come to people's minds when they think of technology and what to improve.

What many churches miss out on, though, is that lighting is equally as important to effectively communicate the message.

We often think that as long as someone is illuminated, we've accomplished our job.

If the pastor is dark, shadows are harsh, or colors are distracting, people can be distracted from the message we are trying to communicate. That's why even though our lighting setups may be simple, how they're set up can make the difference between bad light and good light.

That's why our lighting positions matter.

We often think that as long as someone is illuminated, we've accomplished our job. But, the reality is that just as there's more than one way to mic a pastor, there's more than one way to light them as well.

Front Lighting Placement

In our house of worship contexts, you will always need, at minimum, front light. At the ground level, the purpose of our lighting is to illuminate that which needs attention drawn to it. If the pastor, baptistery, or soloist is left in the dark, people will be left glancing around the room wondering where the sound is coming from.

We'll move on to using multiple fixtures in a moment, but what do you do if you just have one light?

What is our formula for success?

In general, you want your fixtures to be placed at a 45-degree angle from the subject. Higher than this, and you will end up with unflattering shadows. Lower, and you will blind your subject and wash out your background. Still, this will get you a fairly even wash on your light that generally everyone will find acceptable, albeit with some harsher shadows under the chin and nose.

Even more ideal than one light, however, is two lights. This is the best way to illuminate someone from the front, and gives you complete coverage of the subject, while allowing you to create more dynamic looks using shadows across their face and body. Here, 45 degrees is still our magic number. We want to position our lights 45 degrees to the left and right, and 45 degrees up. Again, these are just general numbers, and are subject to change according to your venue. This is the most natural way to illuminate somebody from the front, giving the subject a more three-dimensional look, and eliminates all the major shadows.

Side & Back Light

If you have the freedom to add even more light to a subject, the next place to look would be behind them. Again, working at a 45 degree angle if possible, back light illuminates the back, shoulders, and head of our subject, and provides separation for the background. This is especially important for video to make our subject look three dimensional instead of just two dimensional, especially on video. Often, it's not a bad idea to use a different color gel in your back light as well. This helps provide some definition to the "halo" cast around your subject.

In most of our worship services, side lights are more of a luxury than a necessity. They aren't used as much for primary lighting, but more for creating shadows and looks across a subject. They don't illuminate a subject's face directly, creating a very dramatic look.

What about Washes?

What if instead of a subject standing in one locations (worship leader or pulpit), you have a subject that is free to roam the stage, and can't be contained to a single light? In this case, you have the additional challenge of eliminating shadows between your light zones (the diameter of space on the stage illuminated by the fixture, usually 5'-10', depending on the fixture).

First, it's important to use the same fixtures, fixture types, beam angles, and gels. Doing so will go a long way in focusing fixtures. It's also important to remember that the fixtures are spaced evenly across your stage.

While using the same principles for using one or two lights outlined above, you must also overlap the light so as to eliminate dark spots when walking across zones. This can often require some trial and error to find a good blend of light. Taking it one step further, diffusion gel can go a long way in evening out hot spots in individual fixtures and across an entire stage. If you're working with PAR fixtures, you may want to turn the lens, so the beam is horizontal across the stage, maximizing the width of your zone.

Once all the fixtures are hung and focused, have a friend slowly walk across the stage and watch for any dark spots. These can usually be corrected by refocusing a bit, or just adjusting levels on the console.

For more advanced measurements, light meters can be used to get levels exact. It's also worth noting that an even light is even more important if you use IMAG or video - cameras tend to be much more sensitive to changes in light levels than our eyes.

 

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