Intentional Lighting

Sometimes a few lights do the trick. Great job by Thomas Pendergrass. 

Sometimes a few lights do the trick. Great job by Thomas Pendergrass. 

Today, we're continuing our series on intentionality. We’ve already talked about board layout, video directing and the whole concept of being intentional. Today, I’d like to hit the area that would benefit the most from intentionality. 

I could be wrong on this but I’m not sure there is another discipline that ends up being less intentional than lighting. And it’s not just in churches. I see all kinds of random lighting all over the place. But I think this is an area where some planning and thought can make a huge difference. 

Earn the Cue

Perhaps one of the best pieces of lighting advice I’ve ever received came from my friend Daniel Connell at Church on the Move. Last year at Seeds, he was talking about his approach to lighting and he gave us his criteria for adding a lighting cue to a program. He said, “The moment needs to earn the cue. If there isn’t a benefit for a new cue, I don’t do it.” 

I’ve repeated that phrase over and over to our lighting guys and use it myself when programming. The way this plays out for me is in simplicity. I don’t have a compulsion to do three cues per verse. Nor do I run animations all the time. When there is a build in the song, I’ll write a new cue. But if the feel of the song is consistent throughout, it will likely only get one or two. And sometimes the best lighting is super-simple—as shown in the photo above.

Learn Some Color Theory

One of the best things you can do as a lighting director (or technical director who programs lights) is learn color theory. Different colors make you feel different things. Do you know which ones conjure up which feelings? 

I’m not going to go into a bunch of color theory here; you can Google it. But there is a really good reason we use red for our communion songs and yellows, turquoise and purples for many of our worship songs. 

Match the Energy

This is a big one for me. It’s easy, especially for younger programmers, to crank up a bunch of effects engines just because they can. I’ve seen songs played at 68 BPM with lights moving wildly all over the place (that’s not good, by the way). The lighting should set the mood, and that mood should be complementary to the energy of the moment. 

We’ve done slow, contemplative songs with a single lighting look, because that’s the song needs. Larger, uptempo songs will have brighter colors, more animation and more cues. 

You should also take care to match the fade rates to the moment. Going from a dark, contemplative look for an offering song to full house and teaching lights in a 1 second fade is a sure-fire mood breaker.  By the same token, using 30-second fades during a fast song feels rather weird. 

Keep Learning

Lighting styles and trends change pretty all the time. It’s important we keep on top of that, while remaining true to our individual church styles. If you need some help with getting a sense of what is appropriate and good, pick some other church services to watch online. I recommend Church on the Move as a great place to start as Daniel is a master. They can do things that many of us can’t pull off, but there are plenty of concepts and ideas that are transferable. Find some other churches that are similar to your style and see what they do. 

Whatever style you develop, just make sure it makes sense for your church and the moment. All our lighting guys listen to the music while they program to make sure they are doing things that are in keeping with the feel of the song. Nothing is random, it all makes sense. But even that is not by accident. We were very intentional in teaching them to do it—and a lot of credit goes to my LD, Thomas Pendergrass.

Next time, we’ll wrap up the series with a look at graphics.

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