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Illuminating Worship: Lighting for Portable Churches, Part 1

Apr 14, 2011 12:00 PM, with Bennett Liles

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And of course lighting always co-exists with sound and in many cases with video and projection. So would there be one production element that potentially causes the most trouble with lighting—say maybe projection?
Typically that is projection. Typically the video guys, they get a little angry with you whenever you put a lot of light on their video screen and wash it out and so you’re typically working really hard to keep the amount of ambient light off of that projection screen. We co-exist pretty well with the audio guys, but the videos guys, it sometimes it can be a big love/hate relationship. [Timestamp: 7:37]

And as I said lighting is more subjective and it can be interrupted differently by different people. I guess the pastors’ opinion carries the most weight most of the time. Do you find them sometimes favoring aesthetics, say not having equipment showing rather than maybe allowing lights to be placed where they need to be for a maximum effect?
Most of the portable churches that I have seen are more contemporary so in a more contemporary portable church the aesthetic doesn’t really play a whole lot into it. They want everything to be neat and inviting whenever you walk into the room—they don’t want it to be cables just thrown everywhere and stuff for people to trip on and things like that but the aesthetic, seeing the equipment and things like that is not an issue for most portable churches. Part of that is just the reality that if you can’t permanently mount equipment, you’re going to see it. Now in a permanent installation it’s kind of the same holds true, in a more contemporary church the aesthetic—seeing the equipment is not such a big deal but in a more traditional church it typically is a big deal and then in that case it depends on who’s driving the project. A lot of times if the pastor’s driving the project he’s not as…quite as concerned with seeing equipment. If it’s…more of the media guys and things like that driving the project then you tend to find that the boards that are making the decisions, the ways and means people and the building committee, they’re much more concerned with, “Hey, how’s this all going to look?” and that sort of thing—especially in a really pretty traditional cathedral-style church. They’re all of us concerned about how it’s going to look and rightfully so. [Timestamp: 9:25]

Yeah for a younger, more contemporary congregation I guess the gear being out there may just add to the atmosphere like it being a show or a concert event. In setting this up though, what’s the best way to hang lighting for say a medium-sized, maybe a 600-seat venue, where there’s nothing built in for lighting.
From a portable church standpoint you’re looking at more of some type of crank-up lift kind of device. There’s a couple of different companies, of course Genie being the de-facto standard, everybody in the production industry has probably used a Genie lift at one time or another on a project but there are some other companies that have really great crank up lifts as well that don’t take up quite the same space that a Genie lift does. Applied Electronics has a couple of really neat lifts that I really like for portable church use because they’re smaller and they’re lighter weight. They don’t have the weight capacity that a Genie has but typically in a portable church you’re not trying to hang as much as you would if you’re trying to do a rock show or something like that. So that’s typically what you’re going to do. Pipe in base, putting a ten or 12ft. pipe on a 50lb. base—you see that a lot also doing 12in. box truss on bases that works really well too. I’ve seen people do 16ft.…20ft. towers depending on the size of the room so there’s a few different options. If we were talking about a permanent installation that really gets determined by the structure—what kind of structure do you have above the ceiling, do you have I-beams and what’s their spacing. That kind of thing but in a portable church it’s all got to be put up and taken down every week. So we’re always looking for things that we can adapt from the touring industry so that we can bring it in, set it up quickly, hang the lights, focus them and then at the end of the day we can pull it all down and pack it back up in a truck or trailer and drive it off. [Timestamp: 11:34]

Right and sometimes being put up and taken down by different people than the ones who were doing it last week. Do you see some portable churches maybe trying to do that’s beyond the capability of the gear they have?
Boy that’s a loaded question in a way. I guess one of the answers to that would be yes, they try to do more production beyond the capability of the gear but I typically find that it’s that way because they didn’t really buy the gear that they needed for just the basics. A lot of times I walk into a portable church and the stage is barely lit and it’s not lit well and it’s just because they didn’t sit down with somebody that knew what they were doing and create a plan of how they were going to light it, how they were going to support it, how they were going to light the room. Like if you were in a movie theater the movie theaters are really dark and the last thing you want to do is have a super dark room to try to do church in and so how are you going to light that room up? A lot of times that’s never considered and they lock themselves into equipment that really doesn’t meet their needs and once they’ve spent the money they realize, “Hey, we can’t really get out of this. We’re stuck.” So it’s not that they really set out to do production beyond the capability of their gear, I think a lot of times it’s they don’t really plan accordingly and correctly to purchase the gear that’s going to meet their production need. [Timestamp: 13:05]

Yeah I think you need to try to have as accurate a mental picture of what you want as you can develop and talking to experts can give you a clearer idea of what it takes to do what you want to do with actual hardware instead of just running out there and buying stuff.
Right and it also depends on who they buy it from too. I’ve seen people that buy it from a real production company and they tend to have a much better system than the guys who just go down to the local music store and buy a system off the shelf because the price is right and a lot of times churches are really bad about not really doing their research or doing incorrect research so they research stuff out and they find, “Oh well we can get eight lights and two dimmers and stands and everything we need for $3,000.” The unfortunate part of that is that $3,000 system isn’t really going to light their stage. [Timestamp: 14:04]

They frequently seem to underestimate the amount of area they have to cover but it all depends…every church and congregation has its own collective personality. One of the big things that’s come along in recent years has been LED lighting and since we’re talking about portable and weight and fast set up, what do you think the impact of LED lighting has had on the portable church movement?
I think LED lighting is great because it’s low power; it tends to be very durable. There are a lot of really great durable LED fixtures out there and LED gives a lot of versatility. The thing that is bad about LED is LED comes in all shapes, sizes and qualities and like you said that every church has its own flavor and personality—their own DNA, and sometimes they just want a little splash of color and the quality level of that is not really important to them. They’re not shooting videos so it doesn’t really matter whether the fixture is really video safe or not and so you can get away with a really cheap $150 LED fixture and give that little splash of color and make it look really nice but then some churches they want to do a lot of big color changes and they’re shooting video and so it’s going to be seen by the camera and they don’t realize that, “Hey, there’s different flavors and qualities of LED” and they get burnt. You have to get up into a little more expensive fixture when you start shooting video. And then the other thing I get asked a lot about with LED is “Well what about LED for front light, for face light?” or key light as it’s called in the video world and LED is just starting to get there where it makes really nice, warm flesh tones. Typically in the past it’s been very cold, a lot more blue light in it—in the white instead of an actual warm white and now you can actually start getting nice warm white LEDs in really great looking fixtures. The thing is, with that technology you pay a lot more for it. You’re looking at a $1,000 fixture versus a $150 fixture. So while the technology is great, you have to balance that and remember that, “Hey, I’m making concessions,” or “I’m getting the low power consumption and I’m getting the lighter weight instead of having to carry multiple fixtures to do different color I can get a whole lot of color out of one fixture.” But at the same time you get what you pay for so with that technology comes a higher price tag. [Timestamp: 16:44]

A lot of things to consider when you have a church that’s set up and taken down every Sunday and you want to give it a professional production appearance and that’s why they call you. Greg Persinger with Vivid Illumination in Nashville, Tennessee, lighting for portable churches and thanks for being here with us Greg and in Part 2 we’ll get into heat considerations and making audio and lighting peacefully co-exist. So thanks for being here.

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