by David 

LXQ: House and Stage Lighting on a BudgetLighting Console Layout for Events with Camera (A.K.A Every Event)

Hey Lighting Fans – Today we’ve got another great installment of LXQ: Lighting Questions.

Brian writes in with some ministry-related questions, and like many of you in ministry, the budget is tight.

Even with a tight budget, we’re able to pull together a package of equipment that works great and increases the production value of his conferences.

Take it away, Brian!:


Questions and Answers

Lighting on a budgetHi David,

Thanks for creating the resources on LSL. I feel like it’s already helped me get my bearings even though I only found it yesterday afternoon!

Thanks too for being so open as to solicit questions by email. I’m going to do my best to be brief, but describing our scenario requires a bit of length.

Here’s my situation: I lead the (small) Media Department of  a ministry in Pennsylvania. We have one of our biggest annual events coming up in a couple weeks.

It’s a week-long conference that includes a number of worship-plus-teaching sessions in a large-ish gym/auditorium.

We’re expecting a total attendance of 250.

We’ve been holding events at this facility for a long time, but over the past couple years we’ve been trying to raise our standards in terms of production level.

Right now I think some of the biggest potential for improvement may come from lighting.

Our gym has a stage which is where we place the worship team for the singing component of each session. The teaching is done from a platform we set up in front of the stage.

The installed stage lighting is minimal.  There are overhead can lights (tungsten) directly above the stage.

The switches that control these lights are on the stage. These lights are suitable for lighting the worship team, but they don’t provide any light for the speaker.

We’ve been using a couple of American DJ FS-1000 follow spots at roughly 45º angles to the speaker to make him more visible, which yields lighting which I consider to be OK but not great.

Other than the can lights above the stage, the gym is lit by sodium vapor.  The room is not bright, and the light has a distinct green tinge to it.

The worst thing about the sodium lights, though, is that they take about 15 minutes to reach full illumination (with the first few minutes being almost totally dark).

Lighting Looks:

Our conference sessions have 4 distinct lighting modes. (Are these what you’d call “looks”?)(D: Yes!)
  1. Pre/post-session: Ambient level bright enough for socializing; stage and podium lights off.
  2. MC/teacher mode: Speaker at podium is illuminated; ambient bright enough for reading Bibles and taking notes; stage lights off.
  3. Worship mode: Stage lights on to illuminate worship team; podium lights off; ambient low.
  4. Video mode: All lights off except video projector (we only use this mode for a couple minutes at a time).

All the sessions include each mode at least once, but they don’t have the same progression of modes.The main thing I’d like to accomplish is to simplify operation of the lighting system during the sessions.

Especially for this week-long conference, manpower is a precious commodity. At our recent Women’s Conference we had five people assigned to turning lights on or off at certain times. Besides requiring so many people’s time, the coordination of all those people is also expensive. There’s got to be a better way.

I am OK with increased complexity of setup as long as it can be accomplished before the event starts. (I will be on-site for the event setup, but not for the event itself.)

My idea would be to have a lighting console at our A/V table which would have a button assigned to each mode, such that the operator could press a single button to activate any mode at any time.

I’m not sure that ideal is within reach (since it would require providing our own lighting for the stage), but I’d like to get as close to that as I can.

As a secondary goal, I’d also like to improve the quality of the lighting on the speaker, especially for the sake of the video recordings. I think the main thing we’re lacking is a separation light/backlight.

Our budget is limited.  However, if there were a solution that would meet our needs exceptionally well, there’s a decent chance I could round up some more money.

OK, with all that groundwork laid, here are my particular questions:

  • Do you think it would be possible for us to provide our own house lights by placing two trees of par cans (something like 4 cans per tree) at either side of the gym, bouncing the lights off the ceiling?

D: Yes!  I have done this many, many times and it work well.  Use your best judgement on how many you’ll need for your room.  This process tends to be a bit of trial and error, because different ceiling heights, angles, room sizes and fixture placement can drastically change the output you get as usable house light.

I also hope your ceiling is white!, or else the “house lighting” will be tinted”, but I think you’ve probably thought of this already.

  • Would it work to plug our follow spots into a separate channel on the dimmers for these trees so that we can control the spots from the console too?

D:  Looking at your specific followspot, it looks all good to put it on a dimmer, which will be very helpful to you I’m sure.  Many cheaper spots can be put on a dimmer like this, which is helpful in a lot of situations.  FYI, the spotlight must have a dimmable, tungsten lamp like the American DJ FS-1000 does in order for this to work!

In addition, nowadays there are a number of LED spotlights that have internal dimmers that can be run via DMX, such as the Chauvet Followspot 75ST.

And yes, you are able to daisy-chain your data lines between dimmers, for up to 32 DMX devices.

Of course, your dimmers need to be on different power circuits, but you probably knew that.

  • What feature(s) do I need to look for in the lighting console (to allow the operator to activate any arbitrary mode, i.e. not bound to a sequence of modes)?

D: I think what you’re looking for is a bunch of “submasters” or faders that have a scene on them that someone can bring up or down.  If you need a console that is a 1-button press to go to a scene, check out the PC software from Chauvet called “ShowXpress”.  It’s simple and has that functionality.

B:I think I’d be more confident in a console than using software. So the simpler consoles don’t have the one-button ability? In that case, one submaster slider per scene should be simple enough.

D: I unfortunately don’t know of any simple, cheap consoles that offer that one-button functionality with a good fade.

There are a bunch of little consoles designed for DJ’s that have scenes which you can access that just jump on and off without any fade time, but that would be awkward looking in a ministry context.

  • Any suggestions on what to use for a separation light/backlight behind our speaker?  Would that call for an ellipsoidal, or could we get away with a narrower-beam par? How would you mount that?

D: I prefer a par vs. a ellipsoidal, but either will work if you happen to own one of them.  Here’s why:

The reasoning behind using a par is that the beam has a nice transition between where it covers and where it doesn’t, so when someone walks out of the backlight, it’s not an immediate cut-off like a hard-edge fixture would have.

I also always use some diffusion gel like Rosco 119 or 132 in every fixture when I am lighting for video, unless I absolutely need to keep the light off of a screen that’s really tight to the stage, etc.

I usually use medium or wide pars to cover the whole stage, but if your speaker always stands at the lectern and doesn’t roam around, then a single narrow fixture will do great!

B: Hmm, that’s interesting. I wouldn’t have thought that diffusion would make much difference when the fixture is so far away from the subject. (In other words, I wouldn’t have thought that a diffusion gel would make a big difference in the apparent size of the light source.) Do you find it still softens the light? Or does it help in some other way?

D: Interestingly enough, the diffusion gel is so strong that even up close like that it does soften the shadows on the face and neck.  It’s not going to turn your stage light into a softbox like you may be used to seeing in photography, but it does improve the wash for just a few dollars, and the gel itself will last a very long time before burning through the diffusion!

  • Any chance of doing this for under $500 for a week’s rental (including shipping)?

D: As you have found, there strangely aren’t a lot of rental houses that do ship lighting gear, and I’m not sure why.  I would suggest checking with rental houses in nearby cities if you don’t have one in your town.

Though I don’t know the going rate for gear in your town, I think you could get this package for $500 locally on a week’s rental.

Update: Brian wrote in today with an update on how his event went last week:

I was able to find a local shop that rented us 2 trees of 4 500W pars, plus one more par as a backlight.

They also rented us Microplex dimmers. I then rented a Leprecon 612 from a rental house in Maryland that was willing to ship just the console.

Per your suggestion, I programmed the board so that each look had its own slider.

The trees provided plenty of ambient light, allowing us to turn off the sodium vapor lights. It all worked very well, and I was able to rent all that equipment within our event budget! I consider it a very successful initial foray into stage lighting.

Thanks for your help!

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