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Photo courtesy of Abel Aluart.Image courtesy of Church of the Highlands.Image courtesy of Abel Aluart.Image courtesy of Church of the Highlands.

Light the Show, Don’t Be the Show

6 Tips from Pros to Make Your Lighting Work this Christmas

By Jim Kumorek
November 18, 2013 3:16 pm EST

Topics: Tech Tutorial, Lighting-based,
Tags: Christmas, design, education, instruction, lighting, planning, training,

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“Light the talent first. Once the people on stage are lit properly for the mood being set, then the second priority is to light the environment.”

Brian Worster
Lighting Director, Church of the Highlands, Birmingham, AL

Christmas is a time when many churches pull out all the stops. So it’s worth taking a few moments to ponder what good lighting is all about. Four lighting professionals (Brian Worster, lighting director at Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Ala; John Weygandt, lighting and scenic designer at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill.; Seth Thiesen, production director/lighting and scenic director at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga.; and Helena Kuukka, freelance lighting designer in Orlando, Fla.) offer their thoughts on how to approach lighting to get the best results.

TIP 1. Planning

Yes, the biggest piece of advice that all four of our designers hit upon is planning. “Planning is key,” states Kuukka, “and it can get complicated because it’s often hard to determine who’s in charge in a church production. A music minister might be in charge of the music, but not over the whole thing. Getting a clear vision from the person in charge before working on the nuts and bolts is critical. If the planning is not in place, the execution will be very hard.”

“Christmas is always a special event for us,” says Weygandt. “The needs are different because the service itself is different—we start from a blank page. A very empty blank page. As the concept for Christmas itself evolves, the needs for lighting evolve as well. What fixtures, and where to put them is created along the way.” Working as part of a creative team and not as the Lone Ranger helps to ensure that your lighting works with your production.

“I would suggest starting small,” says Kuukka. “It’s OK to dream big, but be realistic. Small can be really wonderful. I’d rather watch something small that’s done well, than [something] large that falls apart. Small is not bad—it can be very effective. One can easily be swept away with big dreams; [but] if [they] end up being implemented poorly, [they’re] not going to be effective.”

It’s increasingly common to include video in the scenic design at Christmas. Surfaces of props may actually be “painted” with video instead of actual paint, enabling all kinds of effects. “The lighting needs to work with that video content,” Weygandt states. Determining what video will be used where will set the tone for what needs to be lit (or not lit), and what colors to use to support that video content.

“There can be a temptation to let details ‘figure themselves out when we get there,’ but often they don’t,” adds Kuukka. “Preplanning is so important. A last-minute rush on anything ends up costing a lot more money.”

TIP 2. Priorities

When it’s time for implementing your lighting, our designers are also unified in priorities, whether you’re a large church with hundreds of fixtures, or a small church with just a few.

“The most important thing is the story telling,” states Kuukka. “This means visibility. Can the audience see what you want them to see? You need to highlight the important things.”

“The biggest tip I give people is that you light the talent first,” Worster says. “Once the people on stage are lit properly for the mood being set, then the second priority is to light the environment.” This includes the stage floor and walls, the props, maybe even the seating area, all depending on the context of what’s happening in the program. “Then if you have fixtures left over, you look at adding appropriate effects,” Worster adds.

Application of effects needs to serve the moment being created and the story being told. If the effect doesn’t reinforce the moment, it will distract from it. Next page

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