Lighting Design: The Basics Behind Which Fixtures Support the Best Visuals

Among the different types of lights available to you, the most important aspect to nearly every design I complete is the back light.

Lighting Design: The Basics Behind Which Fixtures Support the Best Visuals
For most worship space setups, utilizing a mix of key lights, back lights and fill lights offers an intriguing lighting arrangement during worship services.

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Lighting Design: The Basics Behind Which Fixtures Support the Best Visuals

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Lighting is an incredible way to support praise and worship in our congregations.

Each type of light holds a specific purpose, and is best suited for use in their particular ways.

A basic understanding of how positioning a light works can help us to support the visuals we desire to create.

Let’s start by exploring the types of light when lighting a subject.

Key light: This is the primary light used to light a subject.
Fill light: The secondary light that fills in shadows on the subject (typically of a lower intensity).
Back light: The light that illuminates the subject from the backdrop.
Side light: The light that creates additional shadows to show depth.
Foot light: The light located at the front edge of the stage to fill in shadows on the subject, particularly under their eyes.

Each of these lights holds a specific purpose, and is best suited for use in their particular ways. Even the simplest of systems should contain a key light and a back light. This will adequately light the subject and ensure the subject has enough depth to stand out from the back of the stage.

A key light is always located in front of the subject. Ideally, this light or lights is best hung at a 45 degree angle from the subject (both horizontally and vertically). This angle creates a great balance of shadows and creates an adequate front light for a subject. This light is typically used with no color.

Fill light should be a complement to the key light. It should be hung symmetrically to the key light on the opposing 45 degree angle. This light is typically a slight bit lower in intensity to create shadows, but I have used this at a similar intensity in some cases as well.

A fill light can also consist of fixtures that are hung at a lower angle to fill in shadows under the subjects eyes. There are many times, though, that a fill light will be hung at 20 degrees vertically from the subject to fill in shadows under the eyes, if foot lights are impractical. This light is typically used with no color as well.

A back light is imperative to creating good separation on your stage. A back light is the most important aspect in nearly every design I complete (only closely behind key light). A back light creates a glow around the hair line and shoulders, helping the subject appear three dimensional to the viewer or audience member. A back light can also be used well when colored. This colored back light can help to convey the emotion, mood, or energy.

More About Steven Hall
Steven Hall serves churches through his company in Norman, Oklahoma. Mod Scenes creates easy-to-use stage designs that are affordable and flexible. Steven has worked in churches as a lighting director, production manager, and scenic designer for more than 10 years. He currently serves his home church as a volunteer lighting tech. Steven is a graduate of Full Sail University. He lives in Norman, Oklahoma, with his wife, Sara, and son Dorian. You can reach Steven on Facebook at
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Worship Facilities Magazine, March-April 2018
The March-April 2018 issue of Worship Facilities Magazine offers articles about how to prepare, prevent and respond to church violence, a look into what church management software can do for your church community, and a piece on how a once popular nightclub venue was transitioned to become Shoreline Church's new home.

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Technology · Lighting · Visual Arts · Lighting Design · Back Light · Fill Light · Foot Light · Key Light · Lighting Design · Scenic Lighting · All Topics

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By Tom Stanziano on May 20, 2017

Steven, great article thank you for sharing your experience. I would like to add a few things.
The key light positioning for churches using cameras needs to be at a lower angle otherwise “raccoon-eye” or dark eyes sockets gets created. I find that a 30 degree angle works best. The 45 degree angle works great for theatre to help create the dramatic shadows. For TV and imag we don’t want dramatic shadows.

Floor lights: you can add floor lights to help fill in your 45 degree angle key lights but if you have a pastor that likes to walk. Your face full light just became “shin busters”. Only affective if they stay in their zone. Also if you have lots of stage gack( mic stands, pulpits, flower arrangements), these are going to cause unwanted shadows.

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