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Lighting Chris Tall
The subjectivity of lighting design requires that we provide as much clear direction as we can possibly muster. 

Teaching the Art of Lighting?

Any good lighting programmer will tell you he or she spends a tremendous amount of time programming presets before a single cue is recorded.

Teaching art.

In lighting design, we are dealing with the theories of lighting that lead to the placement of fixtures and the selection of colors.

Can these two words actually go together?

Is it possible to educate a person about an art-form sufficiently enough, to where they are able to execute it at an acceptable level?

Whether we are talking about lighting, video, or audio, this is a question that comes up in church media quite often.

In a previous article, I discussed the subject of lighting and volunteers from a training perspective, and I believe that is an important place to start.

In laying the vital foundation of a solid training program, though, we have to consider the complexities of the art of lighting and how we convey this to the volunteers. After all, the subjectivity of lighting design requires that we provide as much clear direction as we can possibly muster. 

Break it Down

I think about lighting in three major divisions: Design, Installation, and Programming.

While each of these segments requires a specific mindset and skillset, all three are connected together.

One of the first important steps in teaching the art of lighting to a volunteer is determining which of these areas that person can connect.

In lighting design, we are dealing with the theories of lighting that lead to the placement of fixtures and the selection of colors. Rarely, you may come upon a volunteer who grasps this in a way that allows him or her to create plots or make significant plot adjustments to a space, but I believe the majority of the time, the volunteer needs to understand the design well enough to be able to apply it.

In other words, don’t just say, “Turn this light on any time the pastor is on stage.” Instead, explain the use of key light and back light, and point out which fixtures in the rig are used to provide them.

The goal is to empower the volunteer to think for himself or herself and be able to make appropriate decisions, based on solid design explanation. 

Installation can be a little more hit-or-miss when it comes to integrating volunteers. The installation segment refers to focusing, wiring, and addressing fixtures in the rig.

An understanding of DMX protocol, as well as a grasp on the physical characteristics of lighting fixtures are required to successfully deploy volunteers up to the catwalks for this kind of lighting work.

Unfortunately, it can even be difficult to find quality paid labor to do this, however, if you do have a volunteer who is capable of understanding and executing this kind of work, it can be extremely valuable to your ministry! I have known the joy of being in the midst of a major Christmas production and being able to instruct a volunteer to go up and swap out a hazer or troubleshoot a moving light. I almost shed a tear. 

Programming is probably the most common segment we think about when considering using volunteers for lighting, and it can be the most daunting. Programming refers to the actual work on the console. Whether creating effects presets or just writing a few cues, this is the hands-on portion of lighting work that most tech directors are concerned with. So how do we help our volunteers succeed at implementing the design, and the gear into a great experience for the congregation?

Tools for Success

The first step is to implement a training program like the one discussed in my previous article. The training program provides the outline or the roadmap that ensures both you and the volunteer understand where to go and what to do.

In addition, though, here are some pragmatic elements that I believe are necessary to successful lighting (whether we are talking about volunteers or pros). 

Paperwork. No matter how good you are or what size your rig is, you must have good paperwork to keep things organized.

It doesn’t hurt to have a lighting plot at the console, but I believe it is even more important to keep a magic sheet on hand. A magic sheet shows a graphical representation of the different fixture groups, their purpose, and their fixture/channel numbers. This allows for a quick reference of the fixture group names when programming, or the fixture numbers for people who prefer to type everything in on the number keys. I’m a fan of also laminating them.

Aside from that, provide a copy of the service plan (printed or digital) so the cue list stays organized and accurate! In addition, a checklist is always appreciated and should not be overlooked. The checklist ensures everything gets done as expected, and it has a side benefit of providing extra confidence to the volunteer that he/she is not forgetting anything. 

An often-overlooked piece of hardware that is vital to good lighting programming is a quality video monitor with a feed from the broadcast switcher. During programming, I like to have a lock-off of a center camera, so I can ensure my palettes/presets are symmetrical (I’m pretty OCD about this).

During rehearsals, however, I want to see how my lighting is affecting the camera shots and how effective my cues are to the viewer. Do not skimp on this - the lighting position should have a monitor of a similar quality as the video engineer.

Now let’s talk about the console.

First of all, I know budgets are tight, but even if you have to purchase a low-cost lighting console, make sure to do the research to find one that gives your programmer the best features and the best chance of not throwing it at the audio guy, because it is so difficult to program.

Whatever console you go with, even if it is PC-based (it doesn’t have a physical control surface), spend time creating layouts.

Layouts can function in a couple of ways. I like to create layouts that mimic the actual layout of fixtures in the rig, allowing a volunteer to literally look at a fixture in the room and then be able to find it on the screen quite easily. I find they really appreciate the natural simplicity of this. Also, layouts can be used like digital magic sheets. Insert groups into the layout allowing the programmer the ability to quickly grab often-used fixtures or to perform repetitive actions.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, spend a lot of time generating a solid set of presets for everything. Colors, position, gobos - every parameter of each light should have presets associated with it.

In addition, I find it is very helpful to create “All” presets for major elements of the service. The welcome, sermon, song, walk-in, etc., should each have a preset that quickly recalls the exact look for each element. This allows the volunteer to program faster and more accurately, without having to remember every little parameter and level.

Any good lighting programmer will tell you he or she spends a tremendous amount of time programming presets before a single cue is recorded. This topic could be an article within itself.


Finally, all of the technical and design talk above is important, but it doesn’t mean much without spending time talking with your volunteers about goals and expectations.

What do we want the service to look like?

What do we not want it to look like?

How much haze do we want to use?

How bright do we want the house lights to be during worship? During the sermon?

Give the volunteer some insight into the church’s philosophy of the worship experience and how lighting supports that philosophy. Talk about the black-and-white rules, versus the areas where he or she has some artistic latitude.

In other words, set expectations and be clear about them. Of course, for us to communicate such things to others, we must first determine the philosophies and expectations ourselves.

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