Christmas Eve stage design: lighting

After doing the stage, it was time to attend to the lighting.

This was a bear. We had 19 lights on our 30-foot ceiling to move. I am so thankful that one of our church members generously donated a lift they got off of Craigs List. I can’t imagine doing all this with a ladder. But the lift did not have wheels, which meant to change each light it meant theoretically the process was supposed to be:

  1. Drag lift over to light.
  2. Go up in lift.
  3. Put colored gel in light.
  4. Move light to correct position.
  5. Cover light edges with black foil (because we didn’t have enough of the lights that let us focus).
  6. Go down in lift.
  7. Drag lift over to the next light.

But in reality it was like:

  1. Drag lift over to light.
  2. Go up in lift.
  3. Realize forgot gels.
  4. Go down in lift.
  5. Go over to get gels.
  6. Go through gels and pick a few.
  7. Go up in lift.
  8. Realize got the wrong sized gels.
  9. Go back down in lift.
  10. Get right color.
  11. Go back up in lift.
  12. Basket for Peter is too small to juggle everything. Accidentally drop gel on the floor 30 feet down.
  13. Go back down in lift.
  14. Pick up gel.
  15. Go back up in lift.
  16. Put gel in.
  17. Adjust light.
  18. Angela looks at it and decides it doesn’t look right and we actually need the ALT light instead of the PAR light.
  19. Peter disconnects light.
  20. Goes down in lift.
  21. Gets new light.
  22. Goes up in lift…

You get the idea.

While Peter was doing all of that, I was directing and also learning how to program the use the light board, and creating lighting cue plans and cue sheets. (Between tearing apart the whole stage, setting up all the platforms, changing lights, and setting up tech, we went 4 days straight… Easy to see why when most of the work for the stage was done 25 or 30 feet off the floor! Peter is my hero… he is a volunteer who was the first to arrive and last to leave many times and not only did Christmas Eve but also covered rehearsal and Sunday service tech for the 26th. God sure has blessed us with awesome people like Peter!)

Meanwhile, Glen (and then Shelley and then Grace) were our “stage mannequins.” They needed to stand there to make sure the color looked right (since I had no idea what I was doing). After a while we started to get the hang of it so Glen drew a face on the piece of paper and taped it on a mic stand and that was our stand-in person.

I haven’t done stage lighting in like 6 years… forgot what very little I had learned, so we were starting over. In the end I realized it sure would have saved us a lot of time if I had planned this beforehand, so after quitting that day, I went home and drew up a lighting plot. I’m sure this is not the right way to do it. I learned a lot browsing online and finally got around to learning about mixing additive colors, which I have avoided successfully thus far in my life. But it’s a necessity for lighting!

After I actually sat down and drew I realized I should have done this from the beginning. Things went a TON faster. In January we will need to rework some of these again for maximum efficiency and re-use specific lights we used for the drama.

But adding color makes a huge difference. Contrast last year’s service. We had the same number of lights but no color or very little color. Here’s what Keith looked like with the lighting we used during the service last year. This year, the colored lights make everything feel different. (How funny that Jack took a picture of Keith this year that was almost the same pose!)

It’s more than just the dark background. A big part is the shadows and highlights are colored.

Rusty from last year and this year.



No pictures of the drummer close-up last year, but here he is in the back.

And here’s a picture with the black curtains from a few weeks ago.

The “after” picture… I love the colored blue and pink and aqua highlights on the drums.

The bass player was new on the team this year. He’s my favorite person on the whole team.

It’s kinda funny he and I were wearing the same color… like bookends on the stage.

This view from higher up demonstrates another lighting principle… use lighting to focus attention. The band was more dim so that the singers could stand out more. Notice how there is a dark spot in the middle in front of the drums. I misjudged where Keith would be standing so you can kind of see on the floor how the bright spot is a little to his left. Oops. (We tried to aim to have his face be the brightest spot but it’s a little to his left.)

Notice the difference from just the week before, which was before we switched all the lighting around. The lighting was mostly white, without the singers and band being lit differently. Compare it with two pictures above, which is taken from almost the same location.

It was really nice to light up the front of the stage because it helped all those instruments fade into the back and focus on the front more. It’s been driving me nuts for months that the instruments are so bright on Sundays, which means it makes it that much harder to focus on the speaker during the sermon.

Since mixing certain colors of light makes white, it means that the shadows have color in them. Such as, purple light… (in the shadows)

… and green light from the other direction means the highlights are white. (Purple plus green = white.)

Other lights are darker and not obvious but add color in the highlights… like dark blue in the microphone.

Or the turquoise on Keith’s shirt and guitar.

This picture was taken a few weeks ago and the worship leader was standing in the same place as Keith above, with white lights instead of colored.

I’ll have to go back to church and take pictures of the other lighting configurations that I don’t have pictures of.

Nineteen lights (plus a few above the stage) sounds like a lot but it really isn’t considering we had 8 different stage areas to light that needed to be lit 6 different ways for each of our special elements. We ended up with something like 24 channels combined into 10 submasters (groups of lights) and had overall over 30 different light cues, operated by…

…my son, Daniel!

Since our board does not have the capability to program cues, there was one time he had to operate like 5 different sliders at the same time. But since Daniel is a skilled video gamer used to multi-tasking, this was not a challenge and he found it quite fun!

So, in conclusion, lighting is a huge impact on the atmosphere and experience of an event. It’s something people don’t usually think about, but it helps people focus, feel, and worship God better. And I’m all about that last one!

Now if only we had money for a hazer to add atmosphere and paint with light… 🙂



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