Lighting for Video – Not as Simple Anymore

Lighting for Video – Not as Simple Anymore
Jim Kumorek

The lowdown on sanctuary lighting and why shooting video in your sanctuary requires more than a camera

MOST CHURCHES, ESPECIALLY those with production-oriented service styles, have some sort of theatrical lighting system installed to achieve good illumination on their stage or platform so that those attending can clearly see what’s happening during the service. When these churches decided to start capturing or broadcasting their services (and in broadcasting I include live streaming or on-demand streaming via the Internet), they find the look of their video doesn’t compare to what is seen when attending in person.

In some cases, it can look pretty bad.

This can be very confusing for those new to video, and some may assume that their video equipment is inadequate. While this certainly can be an issue, there’s an excellent chance that their problem, at least in part, lies with their lighting.

“Cameras see things differently than human eyes do,” explains Jim Uphoff, marketing product manager for entertainment luminaires at Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC). “Our brains intuit and interpret what our eyes see, adjusting our perception of white balance and exposure on the fly. A camera records only what it sees, and it operates within a much more basic spectrum. What you see onstage and what you see on a monitor can be very different. Indigo and really dark blue both come across as blue on camera, for example, and magenta will often appear red.”

“If you aren’t thinking specifically about video,” adds Todd Elliott, owner of Fusion Productions, founder of FILO Conferences, and former technical arts director at Willow Creek Community Church, “you’ll end up with areas that are so bright you have to close down the camera iris to account for them, which causes the darker area to become even more dark. You lose all the detail in those dark areas. Most of the time the difference between lighting for attendees and great lighting for video isn’t that noticeable to the naked eye. But the camera isn’t as smart as we are, so we have to make those adjustments to help the camera create the image we desire.”

Josh Holowicki, founder of E2i Design, points out these additional issues that can come up when not lighting specifically for video. “Bad shadows are another issue. Lighting that is too steep or not in the right position really looks poor by creating negative shadows. Shadows that are intentional are good, but unintentional shadows (which most of them are) are not a good thing.”

“No back lighting is another issue as subjects often just bleed into the background with no stage depth,” Holowicki continues. “And for a teaching stage wash, subjects moving in and out of the light as they walk across the stage is a regular occurrence with what we see. Without an even field of light, the camera is so sensitive to the light, it shows every single flaw in the lighting.”


Clearly, to make your video look great, some serious attention needs to be paid to your lighting.

The first step is to make sure you have appropriate front and back lighting for your stage.

“We need to follow basic lighting principles for key lighting to ensure we give the camera something good to look at,” states Holowicki. “This, in its basic form, means we need two points of light from the front and one point of light from the back for each subject we are trying to light. If we want to create a – teaching wash – we would simply multiply this basic three-point lighting design across the entire teaching area.”

“Backlighting the people is very important,” says Elliott. “It is amazing how dark the background can be, but if you’re backlighting the people, so that we can see their outline, their image jumps off the background.”

At a more practical level, Elliott describes the exercise they went through at Willow Creek Community Church each week. “We lit the background as well as we could and set our camera irises so that we could still see it well. From there we then lit the people so that they looked great and we could still see the background. This led to coming up with a procedure we could teach our volunteers so that it was easily repeatable.”

In summary, states Uphoff, “For the best video results, a designer must adjust the lighting so that it is within the color and exposure range of the camera and trust that the live audience’s eyes will adapt. In general, the more adjustable the fixtures are, the better. If the fixture can be adjusted, you’ll be able to tune your lighting on the fly to compensate for any issues you encounter.”


There was a time when LED lighting received a very bad rap for lighting for video, and justifiably so. Especially with lower-cost fixtures, LED lighting tended to flicker when seen through a video camera, and colors often showed up radically different on camera.

“LED sources are spot on for video applications now,” states Holowicki. “The development from manufacturers with the lamp source has given us the ability to do entire spaces entirely out of LED. Some things to look at often come down to manufacturer. You first want to be sure the product is rated for use with video. This means that it is going to be managed internally at the fixture for flicker. Some manufacturers even allow you to set the flicker rate of their LED diodes in the fixture to align with your video refresh rates. I personally like having a variable white color temp correction within the fixture. This allows us to set the exact color temp for the application as well as adjust for different subjects who may be speaking on our stage.”

“Manufacturers have also started using more colors of LEDs in their fixtures, not just RGB,” adds Uphoff. “The spectrums and adjustability have gotten better, and the dimming performance-which was a problem for a long time-has gotten better. Since LED fixtures are no longer new to the market, people have had time to get better at using them, and control solutions for mixing and tuning color have also greatly improved.”


As video becomes more prevalent and less expensive, churches are increasingly using video sources such as LED video walls on their stage, which get picked up by their video cameras. Video walls tend to have a much cooler color temperature, up around the 6,000K range. If you’re using uncorrected tungsten lighting for your stage, which is around 3,200K in color temperature, the colors on the LED video walls will look completely wrong when viewed by the camera because of this color temperature mis-match.

“In recent years, we have seen a pretty dramatic shift of native color temperatures used for lighting for video,” says Uphoff. “Whereas people used to shoot in the 3,200K range, most studios have shifted to cooler color temperatures, partly because of scenarios like this. Variable-color-temperature luminaires come in handy in situations where you need to tune your lighting to match or balance other onstage elements.”

Increasing the color temperature of your stage lighting brings the lighting closer to the video wall, however, even in the mid- 4000K temperature range, there’s still a noticeable difference.

“Typically, we focus on lighting the subject and we can correct the wall as necessary,” comments Holowicki. “For the most part we can get it to align with our color temperature on the subject. But this is a solid reason to run the key lighting somewhere in the mid- 4000K color temperature range to get closer to matching the screens.”


With all the new light sources a church now needs to deal with, lighting for video isn’t as simple as it used to be. “Making an event look good for both in-person and video audiences can be tricky,” says Uphoff. “At times, a designer may have to choose which audience he or she is lighting.” If you’re a multi-campus church with the majority of your attendees viewing the message via video venues, making your lighting look the best for video may need to be your priority. If you are doing mainly streaming your service online for the handful of people unable to attend in person each week, making the in-person environment may be your priority.

Holowicki sums it up well: “We’ve invested good money for the proper video gear-now we need to be sure we have the right lighting to maximize that investment.”


COLOR TEMPERATURE: A measurement of the color of “white” light in a particular environment. Specifically, it’s the temperature in degrees Kelvin that a theoretical black metal object would need to be heated to for it to radiate that color of white light. Daylight is 5,200K; incandescent lighting is about 3,200K. The lower the temperature, the more red-ish yellow the light is; the higher the temperature, the more blue the light is. The human brain processes different color temperatures naturally; video cameras do not and need to be told what color temperature the lighting is in a space. Paradoxically, blue is considered a cooler color, and red a warmer color. Therefore, the higher the color temperature, the cooler the light is considered.

IRIS: The part of a camera that determines how much light is let into the camera. The iris creates an adjustable sized circular hole through which light enters the camera.

KEY LIGHTING: The lighting by which a subject is primarily lit for the camera. Typically this lighting comes from in front and somewhat to the left and right of the subject via two lighting fixtures.

BACK LIGHTING: Lighting that hits the subject from above and behind, making the edges of the subject a little brighter than the key lighting.

LED LIGHTING: A light fixture whose light source is one or more Light Emitting Diodes. This is a highly efficient way of generating light. However, LEDs can not dim. In order to create an LED lighting fixture that dims, electronics in the fixture turn the LEDs on and off thousands of times per second, giving the impression that the light is at a lower intensity. This can cause a flickering effect that is particularly visible on video, however, manufacturers have mostly figured out how to avoid this.

“The camera isn’t as smart as we are, so we have to make those adjustments to help the camera create the image we desire.” -Todd Elliott of Fusion Productions

The above article, “Lighting for Video – Not as Simple Anymore” was written by Jim Kumorek. The article was excerpted from Jun 25, 2018.

The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”