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Does Your Sanctuary Need Moving Lights?
By: David Henry

I often speak with churches about their lighting systems, and one of the top things I hear is, "We need moving lights," to which I say, "Why?"

Now, I know that is a bit of a loaded question. I remember myself six or seven years ago thinking the same thing for the church I attended. I always recommend that a church thoroughly look inward and figure out what their true needs are before making a large purchase. Then, work with consultants or a production company to figure out what is required to make their purchase happen.

I recently walked into a church as the lighting director for a Christian artist; our crew had gotten there before the church's tech guy, so I had a little walk around to stake out the lighting system and control. I saw two moving lights up in the sky and got hopeful. My artist always likes it when I can spice things up a bit.

Upon closer look, however, I started to question if they would work for me. You see, they were a cheap, LED spot moving light, and they were up against a quite sizable rig of ETC Source Four ellipsoidals and pars. Even before seeing the light output, I was skeptical. I then went back to the lighting desk and saw the conventional console they had to control it all an ETC Express a fabulous console (my choice for running a conventional lighting rig!), but not built for moving lights.

I proceeded to work with the artist and my other crew guy to set up the rest of our staging and audio, and then the church's tech guy got there to aid me with their lighting. He quickly pointed out, rather excitedly, that they have these moving lights and they are "so cool." I asked him to turn them on, and via his computer software lighting console, he did. After seeing the output, I thanked him for his enthusiasm and proceeded to not use the moving lights.

Why Not?

Simply put, this church bought moving lights because they were cool, but had no know-how as to set up the lights. Sure, they got them hung safely, and ran data to them, and had a computer-based controller, but they were not using them in the most effective way. I don't use this story to shame this church, but to show you that it is important to make informed decisions about your lighting and call in experts when needed. 

Besides just the poor choice in fixture, this church also hung the lights in a not-so-prime position right in front of the center of the stage. This might be a good place for your 7th and 8th moving lights, but your 1st or 2nd are probably best suited to light the back wall of your stage, or to use as specials in the areas of your stage that aren't used as much.

There are a lot of great uses for moving lights. You can use it to provide a textured or colored backdrop, for cool aerial effects with haze, to move around and chase during fast songs, or to light the audience in blue for an intimate song. 

There are so many great options, but keep in mind that you can't just go out and buy moving lights without carefully contemplating your needs and the needs/features of the lights. You see, a typical conventional lighting console is not going to be the best at controlling moving lights, and you may find yourself frustrated with the results the effort required just to program some simple scenes. 

However, a basic moving light console or PC version of a console may be just what you need. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but a console designed to program moving lights will be much easier and more versatile in the long run. 

You also need to figure in the cost of data cabling and to the fixtures, and powering the fixtures off of non-dimmed power, possibly 208v depending on the light. Work with a licensed electrician to figure out how to do this and never attempt electrical work if you're not licensed!  All of this can get expensive quickly a $4,000 light is not a $4,000 light when you have to install it too!

Other Options

The other option you have is to rent moving lights, if you're only going to use them for theatrical productions once or twice a year, or for special events. More expensive moving lights that you can rent inexpensively for a short term will give you really nice results and have features that cheaper fixtures don't have.  

In addition, you don't have to worry about fixing the lights when they do break, which they will over time because they have so many moving parts. The lamps inside non-LED moving lights also require replacing periodically and typically cost over $100 each, depending on the fixture. 

The lamp on a moving light is always on when it is struck, even if the light has its shutters closed. Keep this is mind, as it is different from conventional lighting, which is only on when you bring up the fader. Renting is a great way to figure out how moving lights will best work in your venue. A production company may give you a break on price when you decide to buy if you've rented before in the interest of buying. Be sure to discuss this when renting!

Moving lights can be a great addition to your church, and provide flexibility in your lighting rig, as well as provide cool effects and movement. If you're going to use them often, they may be a great addition to your lighting system. Be sure to count all of the costs before buying, and to make sure that you make a wise decision if moving lights are for you.

David Henry is the founder of www.LearnStageLighting.com, a resource dedicated to teaching churches, schools and individuals about the topic of stage lighting.

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