Lighting design is both a science and an art. Because of this, there are some very logical processes which help us to design lighting appropriately for a space. We will look at some traditional stage lighting methodologies which include using one to four fixtures per lighting zone.
Creating Areas of Lighting (Zones)
Lighting is most effective when you have good control of what your light is hitting and not hitting. The best way to make a plan of attack for your stage is to divide it into lighting areas (zones). Most lighting designers will divide their stages into areas of 8-12 foot diameter circles with a slight overlap of areas to make sure there are no holes in the coverage. Usually about 20% overlap is accounted for to ensure even coverage and to prevent dark spots. If your stage is 30 feet wide and 30 feet deep, you would likely end up with 3 areas across down-stage (front of the stage), 3 areas across mid-stage and three areas across up-stage (back of the stage). Creating these areas allows for increased control. This control allows you to decide what needs to be lit and what doesn’t need to be lit throughout your service, production, or concert. For example, perhaps you want to draw attention to a speaker down-stage left for one part of your service and then immediately cut to down-stage right for the next part. By lighting each area individually at the right times, you draw the audience’s attention to the right place at the right time.
Single Point Lighting
Most of us experience single point lighting every day. This single point lighting method can be experienced by stepping outside on a sunny day, or by walking through an office with recessed downlights. For many applications, a single source of light creates a very natural, sometimes dramatic look that will draw people’s attention to the lit person or surface. If your needs are geared towards satisfying basic visibility requirements, this solution might be good enough for you.
So why do we need anything more than single point lighting? Sometimes, we need to create depth in a scene, fill shadows for camera capture, or create contrast between light and dark subjects on the stage.
Two Point Lighting
When you want the subtleness of a single light source but want your people to stand out from the background, two-point lighting can be a great way to add dimensionality without going overboard. We often use this approach for bands in churches that want to be lit in a minimalistic manner. This is done by using a single light source straight from the front of the lighting area, at about a 45 degree angle. We then add a top light above and slightly behind the area at about 70 degrees, in order to define the head and shoulders of those in the area. This creates an outline around a person without using too much light, but ensures they will stand out from the background. There is still a high probability that shadows will be visible if a person turns their head either direction, but where a little shadowing is ok this can be an effective way to create focus with lighting.
Three Point Lighting
Not everyone is happy with the shadows that two-point lighting can produce, so the next solution would be to add two light fixtures from the front, still at a 45 degree elevation, but locate the fixtures 45 degrees off center. Then add that same top light from above and slightly behind, and you’ve got three fixtures creating light on both sides of the face (regardless of the direction the person turns) and a dimensional look. This approach is commonly used on theatre and worship stages where lighting is viewed by a live audience.
Four Point Lighting
When cameras are being used, especially HD or 4K cameras, three point lighting can actually fall short of providing even illumination across your lighting areas. Think of a 10 foot wide circle as your lighting area; as you move to the right, the right side of your face will become brighter as you get closer to the right fixture and farther from the left fixture. By moving to the left, the opposite happens. Cameras will make this far more obvious than our eyes because our brains compensate and auto-iris whereas a camera does not. In order to fix this, in places where cameras play a critical role, we suggest four point lighting. We use a front light straight in front of the lighting area which provides the primary light and two fill lights 45-60 degrees off center to fill in the sides of the face. In order to compose the overall design, the straight-on light is the primary source. For example, the intensity may be set at 100% on the primary front light. If that’s true, the fill lights might be at 60% and the top light would run at 80% to provide the necessary dimensionality from behind. All three of the front lights would still shoot at a 45 degree vertical angle from the person on the stage and the top light would be above and behind at 70 degrees or so. This would then create dimensionality from all angles, creating a well sculpted look on camera
Which Method is Best For You?
This may take some experimentation, but if you’re starting out with no lights (and no video cameras), start off with two or three point lighting for every area on your stage. Work with the angles the best you can. If you have to tweak three point lighting at 40 degrees off center instead of 45 degrees, or have your single front light in two-point lighting be slightly off center, it’s not going to look worse than going with a one or two point approach. In fact, if you only have two fixtures per zone and choose to have a flatter look but less shadows, you can use two fixtures from 45 degrees off center from the front, creating a more even front light.
If cameras are a big part of what you do, use two or three point lighting for band areas and then four point lighting for the down-stage areas where the pastor or other speakers will be. The best part of using four point lighting on the down-stage sections is that you can choose to only turn on three of them to match the rest of the stage for worship and then add the fourth light once the speaker comes on stage. The same holds true with a two point approach. But when it comes time for the message, the lighting looks even from side to side with no shadows when the head turns and maintains a dimensional feeling because of the top light.
While there are tried and true theatrical methodologies to lighting, lighting is all about focusing attention and creating atmosphere. Whatever accomplishes those tasks for you is “right”, regardless of how you get there. Some churches will want very minimal white light while others will have layers and layers of color. Some will choose to do four or more white primary and fill lights per area. The goal should always be to create a look that enhances what you’re doing and brings focus where focus is needed.
Contact us to learn more about how we can help you achieve all of your Audio, Video, and Lighting goals.