This post first appeared at twelvethirtymedia.com.
What is more fun than designing cool stage lighting for your church auditorium or sanctuary.
It can be fun to fill the room with haze and see the colors and moving lights cut through. It’s one thing to see it with your eyes, but it’s important to ask the question…”How is this going to look on camera?” Asking and answering this question can ensure that the video experience is as epic as the live experience.
The purpose of lighting for video is mainly about creating a 3D feel on a 2D medium. Excellent lighting design allows the viewer to have the closest experience to actually being in the venue. Before we dive in though, let’s talk terms. The three main types of light are Front Light, Wash, and Backlight. To create these types of light there are three main types of lighting fixtures: Ellipsoidal, Fresnel and PAR.
An Ellipsoidal is perfect for front light. It has an even intensity across the beam and can be focused into a sharp or soft edged beam. It’s perfect for illuminating faces.
Fresnels have a lens that creates a soft beam. It’s great as wash lighting for bringing up the lighting level of the overall space and filling in stage shadows.
PAR Cans are an inexpensive light that has a little more punch in the center of the beam and works great for backlight.
Let’s dive into three areas we can look at to make sure we optimize the stage lighting for video without sacrificing creativity.
The most popular school of thought that drives stage lighting design today is the McCandless method. It basically states that a subject on stage should be lit by two front fixtures placed 45° above and to either side of the subject.
This works great for the stage because it allows each fixture to evenly illuminate the subject while creating desired shadows that reveal the contours of the face. If a single light was placed in front of the subject, it would cause the subject’s face to be washed out and overly lit. Think about the local news when they stick a light on top of a camera and interview a passerby. The person always looks like a deer in the headlights. Yuck.
The McCandless method of lighting works great for both live and camera. But sometimes the high angle can be a little harsh on camera. Think about lowering the fixtures to a 30° – 40° angle above the subject. This way, some light gets under the chin and helps reduce unwanted shadows. Additionally, these lighting zones will allow for even lighting where your subjects will be standing. You can add more zones to fill in any under lit spaces if desired.
A backlight can be placed behind the subject at the same angle above the subject to illuminate the back of their head and shoulders. This helps the subject to stand out from the background. Otherwise, if the subject wears dark clothes they may blend into the dark curtain or set behind them.
Additionally, experiment with side and low angles to add some fun accents to your stage lighting design. Learn more here about fixture placement.
One of the biggest mistakes I see in church stage lighting is using the wrong fixtures as front lights. Most of the time churches purchase a boat load of PAR cans becuase they are cheap. The problem is that these lights have a hot spot at the center of the beam. So if you illuminate the front of your stage with them, the stage will have different lighting intensities. Someone walking across your stage will appear to get brighter and darker as they move through the beams of your fixtures. This is problematic for video because the iris of the camera is set. You will have to constantly adjust your iris as the subject moves and the whole picture will get lighter or darker. This is unprofessional and extremely distracting.That’s why Ellipsoidals are idea for front lights. They create a very even beam that will facilitate a consistent intenisty from your front lights.
A fun tip to creating interesting front light is to alter the color of the two fixtures illuminating your subject. Put a cool gel like a very light blue or purple (not green, the subject may look sick) on one fixture and a warm one like peach or salmon on the other fixture. Together they will blend into white but create subtle interesting lighting in the shadows.
Another idea is to soften the light on your subjects’ faces to decrease the appearance of facial wrinkles. You can do this by putting a Rosco 119 diffusion gel on one of the lights. This will soften the shadows on one side while keeping the intensity.
When working with your backlight, make sure it’s intensity is around 15 – 20% less than your front light. Often, I like to lower the backlight until I can’t tell it’s there anymore and then start adding it back in subtly until I like the effect.
Finally, it’s important to set your front light level for your camera. If you have a waveform monitor, bring up your front lights full and have someone stand in. Frame up a nice medium shot. On your waveform, look at the skintones. Caucasian skintone levels should hover around 65-70 IRE. If the level is near or above 80 IRE, close down your iris until you get the level you desire. Also, never run your front lights dimmed down. Unless you have all LED Ellipsoidals, dimming your tungsten fixtures will cause the light to go from bright white to yellow/orange. This will negate all the hard work you’ve done. Run your front lights at or near 100% on your lighting console and if it’s too bright, think about replacing the lamps (bulbs) with lower wattage ones.
Using color is exciting and can make your stage look amazing. Using backlights and wash lights to bathe your stage in colored light can really make it pop. Nowadays, LED fixtures have color options built in. Otherwise, you will need to invest in colored gels. The fun and creativity comes when you can change colors throughout your worship set, use moving lights to create cool effects and fill the room with haze to make the beams more pronounced. Think about the emotions often associated with colors as you decide how to wash your stage.
White – open, raw
Red – hot, anger, fear
Pink – delicate, light, love
Yellow – exciting, bright, flashy
Amber – morning, raw, rustic
Green – calming, mysterious
Blue – cool, water, night, calm
Purple – regal, powerful, majesty
To get the best result with video, try not to overwhelm your stage with just one color. For example, if you douse your whole stage in red, the camera sensor may have trouble resolving the color information and could result in a pixelated image in the red areas. Try using complimentary colors as well as beams of white to create an interesting and varied colorscape.
Hopefully you are able to start a conversation with your lighting team to work together to make both the live event and the video recording a creative and effective endeavor. Check out some of the examples here and here to see how to get creative with light and color.