Moving Lights for Worship Technology Stage Wash Thoughts

Adding moving lights over the stage is what the vast majority of churches both large and small are installing for their intelligent lighting.

There is a lot more to a moving light rig than many people may think at face value. We as technicians may understand the specific nuances of different types and classes of moving lights, but sometimes articulating the uses and needs for those different types are lost on others in your church organization. I hope to, ahem, shed some light, to help them better understand some of those aspects.

Moving lights, by their very definition, move. We can all get on board with that. But let's simplify and divide their purpose into two different parts of your auditorium. Let's call it over the stage or over the audience or congregation.

Fixtures for Small or Large Churches

Adding moving lights over the stage is what the vast majority of churches both large and small are installing for their intelligent lighting. There is nothing wrong with that! This is what we use to illuminate the stage set, set pieces, instruments, musicians, provide aerials into the audience, beams, texture, coloryou name it.

An often overlooked part involves installing moving lights over the audience in the worship space. I'm not saying we are going to use these to illuminate the audience, but for the action on stage. Many stages are illuminated in a basic stage wash, whether it's a rack of ellipsoidals or PARs, a couple Fresnels, or even some track lighting.

I much prefer the use of moving lights for stage wash than the use of ERS, or Ellipsoidal Reflector Spotlights, or other traditional tungsten fixtures. The reason for this is that I try to minimize the amount of spill hitting unnecessary parts of the stage. And that is knowing that for the most part, a person can perform inside of a 6-foot circle.

So if I can make light circles for individual performers, as opposed to a giant wide white wash, then we can cut down on the amount of wasted light. What this ultimately does for the designer is that it can enhance the over-the-stage lighting package. This wasted light might also be washing out your projection surfaces. Before, you may have seen a small beam of light coming from the lens of your fixtures. Now that we've cut down on the amount of light bouncing around, though, the texture, beam, color, or whatever is now making its way all the way down to the floor.

Accounting for Numbers on Stage

Another huge benefit to having a moving light package over the audience is that you can adjust your stage wash almost instantly, as the number of singers or musicians increases or decreases. This also helps keep your front-line performers spaced out evenly. I light for an odd number of performers differently than I do for an even amount, just because I can keep balance and symmetry on the stage.

If I have a solo or special, I'm easily able to program a look where only one performer is in the light. Again, this will limit the amount of wasted light bouncing around your auditorium.

Since the use of an intelligent front wash is fairly basic, you don't need a feature rich fixture. Simple LED moving wash fixtures might be sufficient for you. Having a more sophisticated moving wash might include framing shutters, irises, advanced color mixing, etc. These are tools you should use to help shape the beam, to isolate the people and objects of interest.

Here's a pro tip: Set the zoom of all of your fixtures to be the same on the same plane. That means if all of your moving lights are on the same truss over the house, keep their zoom values all the same. It makes sense to zoom the lens in and out in order to shape your beam. When you zoom, though, you are actually adding and removing the amount of light hitting the stage.

If you wanted to reduce the circle of light, then consider the iris, reducing gobos (that simply make the circle smaller), or framing shutters. Trying to get the magic combination of iris vs. zoom vs. intensity can be challenging enough, especially for video. So if you can, get together with your video engineer (who might be you) and get a good balance between video and comfort of the live audience. Then shape your beams accordingly.

Houses of worship are a very special type of venue, balancing the combination of lighting for a live audience, lighting for IMAG, and lighting for broadcast all at the same time. Understanding some fundamentals of appropriate fixture use can drastically improve the experience for all seats, both locally and via streaming.

LED lights, Tungsten and Kelvin

The last thing to consider is white balance, color temperature, and creating dimension. Discharge and now LED-based moving light engines produce very blue light, somewhere between 6,400 to 7,400 Kelvin. Tungsten fixtures can produce color temperatures of 3,000 to 3,500 Kelvin.

There's nothing bad about either. It's just finding that magical balance of skin tone of the performers and communicators, color temperature and color correction of the cameras, color temperature of the light source of your projection or IMAG surfaces and the broadcast audience. What people do for tungsten fixtures is to add color correction gel, to help bring the color temperature up. What moving light manufacturers have included in moving lights is either a programmable white point (like in an LED additive color wash), or color correction color filters, that are either fixed or variable.

In order to create dimension, consider adding hair or side lighting. In order to enhance the look of my front line singers, I have added Martin Mac Auras for side light. This helps create an incredible balance and look for the singers. When the communicators step on stage after worship, though, I remove the side light almost entirely and add hair lighting.

Hair lighting can help make your subjects more defined from the background or what's behind them. Since the hair light can greatly affect your lighting over the stage during worship, simply because of the angle they must be in order to be effective, the audience would likely miss a lot of your lighting. Side lighting doesn't hit the audience, so they practically won't see the beams of light cross the stage.

You can see how in the two examples shown with this piece, how the use of side lighting can add a dramatic blue or a bold red-orange look to the people performing on stage.

To conclude, moving lights can add an incredibly dynamic, exciting, and dramatic environment for worshipers. Also consider, though, the humble stage wash. Improvements to your stage wash can give you massive returns on your existing over the stage lighting package.


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