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Lighting 101 // The Capabilities of Lighting


“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:5)


Back To Basics

I am sure most of you have been to a concert in an arena with a big headlining act and thought to yourself, “Man, those lights look amazing!” Well, of course they do! They are run by lighting designers and technicians that have been doing it for years. How can you take the amazing lighting that you have seen at large events and put it into your church worship services? Fear not! It doesn’t take years of experience to get great lighting, just a few simple steps will put you on the right path.  The two most important things in lighting are, at their most basic, are color and wash.  So let’s begin with the stage wash. It isn’t that difficult to do, and it will take your worship service to the next level if they are done well. The wash is the least glamorous part of lighting and lighting design, but by far the most important. If you have 25 moving-head fixtures going all over the place but your stage wash is subpar, your whole show/service is going to be subpar. If that is the case, take a step back and start fresh with just your conventional fixtures and make an excellent wash. Conversely, if your wash is the wrong temperature, or your colors don’t match, your show/service is going to be ruined.

Stage Wash

In this section, we will discuss the three basic principles of wash lighting.  Lets start first with the one everyone thinks of, which is frontlight. Frontlight is exactly what it sounds like: lighting the band or speaker from the front. The best way to light anything you have on stage is two different angles, so at least two different lights aimed at the subject on stage. Preferably at a 45 degree angle from the light at the ceiling to the target, which is most often someone’s face.  It’s important to remember that lighting is not an exact science, and this is not always going to look best or be available to use in your facility. The key is to try it as a starting point and work from there to find what will work best for your environment and your subjects. For the actual fixtures themselves used in wash lighting, we will (for the most part), use a basic conventional par fixture paired with a dimmer. However, for highlighting things like the face of the worship leader or speaker, an ellipsoidal fixture would be the ideal fixture to use. These lights are basically a wash light that you can adjust the shape of the output. If you want a tight spot on the worship leader, you can adjust an ellipsoidal to be on the person specifically and take up a large part of your stage.

The next type of conventional lighting is not one that everyone thinks of, but is paramountly important, and that is backlight. Backlight is much more simple than frontlight. The main purpose of backlighting is to define the people on stage. With all the light hitting people from the front it is easy for the worship team and speaker to start to feel two-dimensional to the congregation. Once you add some backlight, you see some light on the tops of peoples heads and on their shoulders, boom, they have come back to life again. This is extremely important in a church, we never want there to be a disconnect between the worship team and those worshipping in the room, and the two-dimensional feeling will cause a disconnect quickly. The angles of backlight is also not as tricky as frontlight. Don’t shine lights in the crowd’s faces, keep the location of the fixtures fairly close behind the target and then down on them. Backlight isn’t to see the people, just to define them a little more.

Lastly, and the last to be thought of is uplight. Uplighting is probably the last to be thought of because it isn’t hanging in the ceiling for all to see like other lights. Uplights is wonderful to have, but if you don’t, it isn’t something to worry about. Uplights is located on the floor at the front of the stage and it is aimed up towards the people on stage. It’s purpose is to remove the shadows that you see on people’s eyes that are caused by their foreheads, or the shadow on their neck because of their chin. If the shadows are terrible on someone’s face, go back and work on your frontlight angles. Good frontlight will take care of most the facial shadows.

The levels or “intensity” of frontlight should be just as much as you want.  And while that may not be a super-helpful explanation, remember lighting isn’t an exact science, it is very much an art. Sometimes in worship I will turn my conventional frontlight totally off and light from behind and have silhouettes, sometimes it is bright and exciting.  Backlight should be pretty low, since it’s not used to make someone visible, just more defined.  Uplighting, if you use it, should only get rid of shadows, and shouldn’t create more shadows on top of the nose.

Color And Temperature

Now, after all of that, the next basic thing is color. Once you start thinking about color and how it affects how we think and feel, you won’t ever stop thinking about it. Before I get into reds, blues, and greens, lets talk about color temperature in conventional lights, LED’s, or whatever light you have. Have you ever been in a room that made you calm down and relax without even having to think about it? The room probably had very, what we call, warm lighting. Warm lighting is welcoming and calming, which is why we want it in a worship atmosphere. We do not want cold lighting, sucha as florescent lights, that make us feel sad or like we’re in an office building. We want to feel like we are in a safe living room when we worship, not a supermarket. To get this out of conventional lights I recommend simply putting a lighting gel called “bastard amber” on all your fixtures. It will look good on 99% of peoples skin tones and warm up the environment a lot.  Sometimes, florescent and LED lighting lamps will have a color temperature marking (usually listed in degrees of Kelvin) on their packaging.  Experimenting with your room a little bit, you may find that a certain temperature works well in your environment!

Colors = Moods

Now on to our reds, greens, and blues. Every single color on the color wheel will evoke an emotion to us, whether we know it or not, consciously or subconsciously. Because of this, we must be very conscious of what colors we use and where we use them. No color is better than bad color, but do not let that scare you away!  The color wheel is your friend, and will help you become a better lighting designer.  Many things are represented by a single color, for example, a basic blue will translate as cold but also it can translate to make people think of water. You can’t always look at the bad, but also the good.

Here are some emotions that colors will transmit:

Red = Anger, Power, Love

Pink = Love, Light

Yellow = Bright, Happy, Hopeful

Amber = Awakening, Renewal, Home

Green = Organic, Calming, Earthy

Aqua = Gentle, Simple, Water

Blue = Water, Peaceful, Calm

White = Open, Raw, Unfiltered

So as you can see, some have a lot of good and some have none.  You have to remember that colors set a mood, and the colors you choose to display during your show/service must also reflect what is being sung or taught.  When singing about the blood of Jesus, green is probably not the best color to use.

Mixing and Matching

What happens if you use two or more colors at once? It can change everything, so we have to make it for the better. A lot of times I will use two different shades of blues at the same time, or two different shades of green at the same time. When you do that, it adds a nice feel to the color scheme and doesn’t require you to think through the color combination too much. However, if you use two different colors, it can have some big effects, so try to think about the combination a lot before you use it in a service. One thing that you can do is use two colors and you will see them fade into one new color. Like if you were to use a blue and red and they mixed, you would end up with a light purple color. Doing this is a cool effect to that people see happening right in front of their eyes. Now using a blue and a red that don’t mix could come across as cold and angry, or make people think of a police car if they are changing intensities. Be careful of things like that, it could distract people from worship. Mixing red and a very bright white together, may sound cheesy but I have used that color combo to represent the blood of Jesus and then purity because of his blood. It works well to translate that

One small thing that will help tremendously is color matching the lights to all the other media. If we have fantastic use of color by the lighting designer, but the background on the screen in worship clashes, the production team has derailed. Find good background color and then build your lights off of that. Some backgrounds can have their color changed to anything and look great, others cannot. Since we can mimic just about any color we could ever want, have the lights accommodate to the background, not the other way around.

The Color Wheel


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7 Responses to “Lighting 101 // The Capabilities of Lighting”

  1. Chase, this is a great article. I just learned everything you discussed in my class last week. I know that you will do great things and that you will help others learn new things, so keep up the good work.

  2. Impressive Mr. Morris, Impressive.

  3. Like I’ve always said, “Way beyond your years”! Is there anything you cant do? I’ll answer that, Not in HIM!! 🙂

  4. Very cool!!! We r so thankful to have you!!!!

  5. I’m sorry but I really cannot agree with this article. True, colors will invoke emotions, but I thought that we went to church to hear the Word preached!
    Your comment ” …take your worship to the next level” is nonsense. Worshipping comes from the heart and if we need lighting to take our worship to the next level we need to examine ourselves to see if our lives are really right before the Lord.
    If your preaching does not touch your emotions and you need lighting to set your mood I suggest you look for a church where you go to really worship and not be entertained.

    • “Let there be light” -God

      This is a great article. Thank you for sharing. In response to the above comment from Mr. Hans, I’d like to say, while I understand the point you are trying to make, I believe the author is not referring to personal or even corporate worship in and of itself in the statement you quoted, but rather the “experience”. Lighting takes the experience to the next level. I understand that the lighting only exists to assist in telling the story pastors and worship leaders are trying to tell and as long as the Gospel is at the very core of the message, let there be light!

  6. Danny Rausch May 22, 2017 at 3:03 pm Reply

    Do you guys tend to have warmer/cooler/neutral color lights for your house lights? (not lighting fixtures) We currently have very warm lights and I want to go just a little cooler but not too far cool/blue. Thoughts?

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