Lighting for IMAG
The introduction of IMAG to your church or context can be a bit of a shock to your current technical ecosystem. It’s no secret that lighting is not exempt from the IMAG microscope. Fortunately, with a few adjustments and accommodations, it is possible for the lighting designer and video director to exist in harmony.
The first consideration is quantity of light. When a video engineer has to run the gain wide open, the image gets grainy, detail is lost, and quality is degraded. In order to prevent this, it becomes the lighting designer’s job to make sure that there is enough light on each subject. This can be done with a simple light meter that measures footcandles. As a general rule of thumb, 50-60fc is a good starting point. You’ll want to aim for at least the high end of this range for more important pieces, such as sermons, special music pieces, etc.
The second consideration is quality of light. What is sometimes accepted as good lighting for a room can quickly become bad lighting for video. There’s two big pieces to look at when improving quality. The first is angles. Angles done well can create shape, form, and effect on a person or object. Angles done poorly can create ghostly looks and distracting shadows. A big key to this is backlight. Without backlight, subjects can be lost in the background. Backlight is one of my favorite things to play with, because of the effect it can give. Some LDs will run their backlight even twice as bright as their front light. The second consideration is color temperature. We can all spot the difference between the blue-white of a moving head and the yellow-white of an incandescent fixture. In a live setting, our eyes can adapt and are okay with the difference. On camera, the difference isn’t nearly as pleasing. The goal here is to match color temperatures. Using color correction gel in conventional lighting, or a CTO filter in a moving light, these temperatures can be matched so that after white-balancing, every color is replicated correctly. One additional point worth making is that when shopping for LED fixtures, make sure you find lights labeled as “flicker-free”. Many cheap lights will create an incredibly obnoxious strobe effect when seen by the camera.
Finally, the third thing to consider is the difference in light. If you want a video engineer in your good graces, make his job easy for him. This means that no matter where a camera is pointing, it’s receiving the same amount of light. For an LD, this isn’t always as easy as it sounds, because lights can differ in brightness based off of distance, lamp life, hot spots, and gels. One way to make this job easier is with diffusion. Diffusion comes in a range of strength, from strong silks all the way to a fine frost. This will even out shadows, hot spots, and take hard edges off your spotlights. This is especially useful if you have a speaker that likes to go on trips from one side of the stage to another.
The Bigger Picture
I have no proof of this, but I would venture to guess that most LDs, especially in churches, aren’t initially drawn to the job because of front and back light. Most, myself included, found that they can be much more creative with moving lights, LEDs, video projection, and set designs. It’s worth remembering that it’s not just people that the camera sees – it’s what is surrounding them as well.
This is another opportunity, as a designer, to communicate your story in details that may have been lost to a room full of people, but can be picked up by a camera telling the story through video. Of course, in order for these pieces to be seen, they must be lit, and at least as bright as our people, otherwise they risk being lost in the background. So as you plan your sets, props, and environmental projection, take into account the camera shots. Fill in the negative space that the camera sees. Use barndoors and shutters to keep light from spilling onto places it shouldn’t be. Use this as an opportunity to help tell your story to your audience in one more way.
IMAG is an incredible tool that, when used properly, can magnify the story being told on stage, and can provide clarity for those in the far recesses of the room who may have missed what those on the front can see. As with everything we do, let’s do it with excellence, and that includes our lighting.