Lighting can be your best friend or your worst enemy and I aim to help you tackle this often daunting challenge with some helpful information.
First, you need to understand the different kinds of lighting that you will likely come across. Please note that the first four types listed will require external dimming or control.
When I visit small churches, either in the middle of the city or out in the country, I often see track lighting being utilized as a cheap alternative to proper stage lighting. This can be quite effective for small rooms, but because the church was looking for cheap solutions, they often have cheap controls, as well. Light switches and maybe a Lutron consumer-grade dimmer are the most common. The advantage of track lighting is that it’s inexpensive compared to stage lighting. The downside is that you can’t control the beam and so you end up with a big wash of light that spills onto anything it can reach. This often requires all the lights to be turned off for any projected content, which also usually turns off the house lighting over the audience, so they cannot read their bulletins, hymnals, etc. You also have bulbs (what the industry calls lamps) burning out that have to be replaced, as well. Finally, you are limited to 100-watt lamps and so you have to increase the number of fixtures in order to get the level of light needed on the stage. This also creates heat on the stage and in the room that has to be vacated by the heating and cooling system.
This is the next step up and at least gives you the option of higher wattage lamps (usually maxes out at 1000w, though 500w lamps are most often utilized). You also have the option of barn doors to control your light spill. These are fairly cheap, easy to mount, and are pretty idiot proof. The lamps will cost you more to replace, will consume the same, if not more, energy than the track lights, create more heat, and will not give you an even beam of light (the light level will vary from the center of the beam to the outside). However, these generally are the workhorses of stage lighting. They will also require a higher quality dimmer than the Lutron unit that’s used to dim household lighting.
These lights have thick glass lenses on the front with concentric circles and can zoom from a wide light beam to a narrow spotlight beam. It accomplishes this by physically moving the lamp assembly towards and away from the front glass lens. These are the workhorses in television studios as they cast a very even light beam and casts a fairly soft beam of light (less harsh shadows). However, they also burn very hot and the same disadvantages of heat generation and energy exist as the par cans. The additional disadvantage of these fixtures is that even when the lamp is spotlighted, the amount of light past 15 feet just is not that bright. For most churches, multiple fresnels will have to be added together to create the light levels that you need; especially if you have a video ministry where lighting is critical.
My favorite lights-these lights have a VERY efficient reflector that allows for more light to be shot at the stage than any other fixture I’ve mentioned. The beam can be adjusted and the barrel of the fixture also has shutters, metal blades that can shape the light beam so you get exact control. In addition, you can also soften the light so the shutters can cast a soft edge rather than a hard line. There are multitudes of attachments for these fixtures that I won’t go into, just know that this is by far my favorite light and there are many reasons why. One of those is that I can use a 575w lamp and get the equivalent of 750w of light at the stage, or a 750w lamp and 1000w at the stage. Remember that really efficient reflector inside? That’s the secret!
These little guys are quickly taking over the church market because they run cool, can change colors, and they have built-in dimmers. You can change from a cool white to a warm white to blue, red, green, orange, etc. Of course, there are literally thousands of fixture options in this category alone, so make sure you do your homework before you assume that ALL LED fixtures will allow you to use any color you wish. One big drawback to LEDs right now is their firepower; to get equivalent light output to a Leko you will have to shell out a couple thousand dollars per unit. LEDs come in a variety of shapes and sizes: pars, strip/batten, and effect. Strips/battens are narrow and long, with the intent of washing walls and large surfaces. The effect lights can provide multiple colors simultaneously on a surface or they can play an effect on the face of the fixture itself; you can even buy LED tape that’s about an inch wide and you cut to length and do the soldering of the power supply yourself. The technology is constantly getting better and every month it seems a new fixture is announced that is more powerful (in both power consumption and light output) than the last. Just realize that a low-cost LED fixture is really designed for the club environment which is very dark and not for a brightly lit church sanctuary.
We call these movers for short and simply put, they move. You can pan, tilt, project patterns, change colors, zoom (on some fixtures), change the focus and program. Of course, these are the most expensive lights on the market. You can expect to pay anywhere from a couple thousand to over $20k per unit, depending on features, lamp size, etc. These are the lights you see moving around and piercing the air at your favorite concert or on “Dancing With the Stars.” They offer incredible flexibility and features, but you are going to pay for them. There are some movers that are under $1000, but understand they will not be able to compete with the $5000+ models in firepower; however, if simple and inexpensive is what you’re looking for, take a serious look at Blizzard Lighting’s product line. Movers can be be LED-based or lamp-based, so know what you’re getting before you purchase. Also, some movers require 220v power, so make sure you look at the power requirements, as well.
These are the basic fixture types you will run into and I hope that answers some questions in your mind and maybe fills in some blanks.