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Lighting for Video Ministry

Lighting for Video Ministry

In today's houses of worship, "video application" has many different definitions, each with varying lighting requirements. Whether your video needs encompass streaming services for the Web, image magnification (IMAG) in the sanctuary, distribution across your church's campus or to multi-sites, television production, or all four, the basic rules remain the same.

The first step, whether you're upgrading your sanctuary with new lighting for video or building a new facility with extensive video and lighting capabilities, is to identify your church's needs. "Each [application] will have lighting requirements increasingly more challenging," notes Wayne Cornell, Certified Technology Specialist (CTS), supervisory audio-visual/information-technology consultant at Acentech, a multi-disciplinary consulting firm with offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Los Angeles, California, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Streaming video for the Web probably leaves the most room to cut corners on the lighting package. According to some experts, the quality of today's video cameras is such that you may find your existing stage and architectural lighting package serves the purpose quite well. "Illumination requirements of today's video camerasregardless of costare much less than in the past," Cornell says. "You don't have to create the sun-bright studio conditions of the past."

Todd Hubbell of Audio Video Resources, a full-service pro A/V dealer in Phoenix, Arizona, agrees. He often works with lighting designers to meet lighting requirements for video, and says, "You may be surprised by how little auxiliary lighting is being done."

Particularly in streaming Web video, indirect lighting from your existing setup will minimize shadows while providing adequate light levels for low-resolution image capture.

Different Standards for Distributed Video, IMAG
Image magnification, on the other hand, is much less forgiving to low-light situations. Light should be directed away from the screen displays, while spotlights in the front, side, and rear create a higher contrast ratio between objects on the platform and their surroundings.

Strive for even coverage across the stage, so figures aren't walking into shadows. Use side lights to fill in dark spots. "I've been to some churches where congregation members commented that the pastor looked evil because he had deep-pocketed eyes caused by the shadows from inadequate lighting," says Frank Yarbarough, president of Cary, North Carolina-based AVCON Inc. 

The same rules apply for distributed video, although quality standards may vary depending on where the signal is going. "Overflow distribution might mean the video is feeding out to the narthex or classrooms or other secondary spaces," Yarborough says. "Or overflow might be defined as video distributed to spaces with a different ambience than the main worship space, which are equally important to the ministry."

AVCON just completed the A/V and lighting design and installation upgrade for Crossroads Fellowship, a non-denominational church in Raleigh, North Carolina. The facility includes distributed video to six different worship venues within the building and a lighting package that lends itself to high quality video presentation in each area. "When the pastor comes on, you want to make worshippers feel as if they are in the room with him," Yarborough says.

The church had most of the lights they needed for stage design and video; they just weren't being used properly. AVCON Lighting Designer Stephen Ellison says this is a common situation. "A lot of churches don't have the expertise to design a light plot and focus it correctly," he says. "If you hire someone to do it correctly, you can go for quite a while before you need [re-focusing]."

After creating the light plot, he re-focused Crossroad's existing spotlight fixturesor ellipsoidals, spotlights, and PARsfor more even coverage. The cost savings realized by using existing gear permitted the church to purchase LED fixtures for back lighting, allowing the church to change colors between songs.

"Good, Better, Best"
In the case of television broadcast, the lighting quality may be dictated by the television studio. This doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune, though, just because you're on TV. "Some ministries don't have the best technology, but they're on lower-level TV stations," Yarborough points out. "It all depends on your market. Who are you trying to appeal to?"

Yarborough separates lighting quality into three categories: Good, better and best. "It all depends on what you want the media to say about who you are," he explains. "What impression do you want people to have?"

Most experts insist there is no formula for lighting costs, although Yarborough admits a church could easily spend upwards of "hundreds of thousands" of dollars for a good stage and architectural lighting package that will handle the gamut of video requirements.

If you're working with a tight budget (and how many churches aren't?) an independent consultant can help you identify your church's needs and cut overall costs. David Martin Jacques, president of Jacques Lighting Design and head of stage design at California State University, Long Beach in Long Beach, California, emphasizes that a lighting consultant should be independent. He should look out for the church's best interests, and not have ties with or biases toward specific manufacturers. "A lighting consultant," he says, "may be less expensive than you think. It all depends on the scope of the project."

Hire the lighting consultant as soon as possible. Find a consultant who is trustworthy and reputable, with a long history in the business, and visit other churches he's worked in. 

Planning for the Future
Particularly in the case of new construction, a consultant should take into account future growth as well as immediate needs. Cornell says, "House of worship representatives should work with the design team, architects, and consultants to determine clear long-term and short-term goals for the facility."

Yarborough agrees: "It's easier to get conduit and power in now than later. Get the infrastructure in place to support your optimal goals, but then focus on your first priority, your second, and so on, if you can't do everything right away." As you consider the future, you may want to address the environmental impact of your installationalong with long-term costs savings for switching to "green" fixtures.

Right now, the cost of light-emitting diode or LED lights is high, but prototypes in development may change that. The longer lamp life of LEDs, plus the energy savings, defrays the initial costs, making LEDs an economical long-term choice. "We're going to see a lot of lighting moving over to LED because of the cost [savings] and energy savings," Jacques predicts. He urges church leaders to investigate tax savings and rebates, which vary by state, for switching to energy efficient solutions.

Churches with low ceilings may want to consider energy-efficient fluorescent lighting as an alternative to traditional incandescent lights. "It's cooler, it's easier to work under, and it's easier to work with, because it's a nice, soft light," Ellison adds.

The Lakewood Effect
Many trends in church lighting design are driven by the country's top mega-churches: Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, and Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois.

Michael Garrison of Michael Garrison Associates in Fresno, California, a company that provides faith-based organizations with audio-visual and lighting design, consultation, project management, and installation services, finds a lot of his clients referring to Pastor Joel Osteen and the production quality at Lakewood. "It's not traditional church and it's not traditional studio lighting," Garrison explains. "It's more like a road show."

He adds, "Lighting designers worked for years to create a smooth, uniform feel, but that's changing. The seating area at Lakewood has hot spots and relative dark spots, and you can see the light beams from the theatrical fixtures."

While some traditional churches still want to hide lighting fixtures behind soffits or mask them to blend in with the architecture, other churches strive for "in your face" technology.

Jacques says he sees more of his clients looking for the "Broadway show" or "rock concert" style of Willow Creek. "That style of presentation really engages young people, and as much as you can engage young people, the better off you're going to be," he says. 

However, he warns church leaders that it's more important to follow the message of their church than to imitate the latest trends in lighting design.

"You don't necessarily want to be the Broadway show of churches. You just want the lighting to support the message of your church," he says.

The best lighting design should be transparent; you may not want the audience to notice moving lights, but they will contribute to the overall ambience and experience. "Today's technology will support any aesthetic," Jacques says. "The important thing is to find your church's voice and use lighting to help tell the story."

TAGS: Lighting
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