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A Look at Industry Tools for Working with Color

If it’s spring, then it must be time to look at color. The most basic principle of lighting design is that you want to use the controllable properties of light — intensity, direction, movement, and color  — as visual information to help convey emotion. Of those four properties, color is one of the easiest to change and is can be fairly low cost. A sheet of plastic color filter lists for around $7.50, and depending on the light, you can get six or eight cuts out of a sheet. If you don’t like a particular color you can easily change it out for another one. You can easily change the look of your scenery, backdrop or overall space or you can use colors to highlight an area to move audience focus. The right color choice will help support the message or moment that you are trying to convey by underscoring a mood or setting the tone of a moment.Stanziano_Baptist_West_Campus_8049_HR_sized

The key to using color is to know your options. First you need to define and articulate the emotion you are trying to reinforce with your color, and know that trial and error lead to great discoveries. As you experiment with different colors you may ask, “Why are there 18 different reds?” As you become more experienced, you will be surprised in the difference subtle variations in color can make in lighting.

Numerous tools, many of them quite inexpensive, are available to help you make an informed decision when working with color in your lighting.

Analog Tools

Despite a quantum leap in many lighting system technologies, when it comes to picking color, the standard proceedure remains using a color filter (gel) manufacturer’s color swatchbook. The primary color manufacturers are Apollo, GAM Products, Lee and Rosco and all offer swatchbooks. . [Rosco recently purchased GAM Products and has stated that Rosco will continue to market and promote GAM worldwide through its global distribution network.] These are small samples of every color in the different lines offered. You can get swatchbooks, most often at no cost, at the various trade shows, your theatrical dealership where you buy your color or you can put in a request with the manufacturers via their websites. Most of the manufacturers also make larger designer swatchbooks with samples large enough to put in front of a light. Prices for these designer swatchbooks vary so check with your supplier or manufacturer. Also, check with the manufacturer or your theatrical supplier to see if they have combination packs of color, sometimes available in 12×12-inch sheets. These are usually a small collection of popular colors and let you play around and try colors out.

Most of the color manufacturers sell plastic color filters in sheets and rolls. Consider getting a roll if you use a lot of a particular color since that may be more economical for you. Remember when you cut the color into the frame sizes for your lights, it is a good idea to label each one with the color number. I generally also add a letter to the front of the number to keep straight which company it came from, i.e., A4870 for Apollo, L201 for Lee, R80 for Rosco. It is best to do this in the corner of the cut filter with a white china marker or grease pencil. Don’t mark across the center of the filter.  No, the numbers won’t project a shadow, but the markings will block light, causing more heat in that area and shortening the filter’s life. Remember that even though color filters are considered expendable, you don’t have to throw away the color after one use if it is still good. More efficient fixtures, short usage and better filter technology have all gone a long way in extending the life of color filters. To prolong a color filter’s life, it is best to always have an even, flat focus with no hot spots; try a heat shield product to reflect heat away, or use an extender to move the color further away from the front of the light. I recommend a file drawer(s) to keep the cuts of color organized for use in your next production.

Digital Tools.  Going from the analog nature of a swatchbook to the digital realm, there are a lot of tools available to make working with color simple and fun.

iPhone/iPod touch Apps

The smart phone is the new multi-tool. When Apple introduced the iPhone (and the iPad and iPod touch) they opened up development of applications to outside, third-party developers. Dozens, possibly hundreds of apps are available for the entertainment and presentation technology. All the apps can be purchased at the iTunes App store. Most of the programs are under $5.00 but a few go up to $9.99, fairly reasonable costs considering the time that goes into developing the apps.

Digital Swatchbook

The Wybron Gel Swatch Library ($9.99) allows you to browse, search, and compare over 1,000 Apollo, GAM, Lee and Rosco colors. This app gives you several ways to find color, even look at similar shades with a side-by-side comparison window. You may still want to look through the swatchbook with a light but this app is a great tool for quick reference, crossing over and, in fact, does a fairly good job of color representation, especially when you are at a dark tech table. There’s now a version for iPad—Gel Swatch Library HD that sells for $9.99 on the Apple App Store.

Color Mixing

The CXI Color Calculator ($4.99) also from Wybron, works with the company’s CXI IT dual color string color changer to find the right mix of colors. You scroll through two overlapping color strings of cyan, magenta, and yellow to find the perfect color out of nearly 500 different shades. Then plug its numerical values—either decimals or percentages—into your console to create the color. This is a quick, handy solution, especially if you keep misplacing your fancy (analog) Wybron color index wheel.

Color Calculator

LD Michael Zinman, a prolific app developer, has created a number of lighting apps including GelCalc ($4.99), which allows you to calculate the number of sheets of color that you would need depending on the color frame sizes of the lights that you are using. A cool feature that I really like is that it figures out the best cutting direction to yield the most frames per/sheet. The other handy feature of GelCalc is that you can enter what you pay for a sheet of color and it calculates how much it’s going to cost to color your show. The app also includes a frame picker with over 60 common frame sizes or you can manually enter any frame size.

Color Measurements

SeaChanger, the company that produces the SeaChanger dichroic color changer for the ETC Source Four ellipsoidal, makes the colorBug, a handheld device with a light sensor for photometrics. It’s no larger than a typical mobile phone and comes with applications that allow you to easily determine output. colorBug’s exclusive software allows you to share data with your iPhone or iPod touch, where you can store and analyzing data with its software program. With its wireless capabilities, colorBug communicates directly to an iPhone or iPod touch without the need for a PC or cables. The software is downloadable for free on the iTunes site and the colorBug device has a list price of $480.


 The websites for all the color manufacturers, as well as the sites of many theatrical dealers, are a wealth of information about color. From suggested uses of color, to color theory, crossover comparisons between different manufacturers, and even how to use color correction if you are mixing different sources like tungsten and discharge lamps, the websites have a lot of great information.

 Working with color in your lighting should be fun and not in the least intimidating. Try some colors, experiment with different combinations. Explore the websites of the different color filter manufacturers and try some of these tools when you are working with color. Please feel free to let us know what you find and if there is a tool that you really like for working with color.

Michael S. Eddy writes about design and technology.  He can be reached at

How Cool Is Too Cool for Church?

I had to reprint this excellent article regarding the transitioning of worship styles within the church.  Read on for the author’s insights and findings with just two churches and how different the approach should be.  The short-story is know the vision of the church and follow the direction of the pastor.  The techs, especially your volunteer team, must be very involved in the process.  Enjoy!

by Andy McMillan

20621_bannerA few years ago I was attending a church that was in the process of transitioning their musical style. In less than a year they went from a single worship leader/singer, a drummer (that wasn’t mic’d), a bass player that just played out of an amp on stage, and a piano player, to full band with a guy who brought in three different guitars every week, three keyboard players (piano, keys and organ), a drummer with a fully mic’d kit, a percussion player, and 12 background singers on wireless mics. Needless to say the volume more than doubled.

During this same time, the lighting for the services went from no colored lights at all and a bright room, to tons of color and moving lights, and a dark congregation. During that year the church experienced a large congregation shift. Many left the church because they felt what was happening was “over the top”. They felt it was too “showy” and too much like a performance.

Many churches have successfully transitioned their worship style. But how far is too far? How cool is too cool for church?

Every church is unique, so we asked two pastors from two very different church environments for their opinions were on this topic.

Dr. Jeremy D. Sims is the music and high school pastor at Kingwood Church in Alabaster, Alabama. Dr. Sims says, “It isn’t about what is ‘too far’, it is about the vision of the church and the goal of who the church is trying to reach.” He says he’s observed a consistent issue with some church production departments where the techies are more interested in “playing with their toys” than they are concerned with supporting the vision of the church. To further illustrate his point he adds, “I would rather have a mediocre production guy that was excited about the vision of the church, than have an incredible production engineer that was not concerned with the direction the pastor desired.” He made it clear that “too far” is relative to who you are, the background or history of the congregation, and the vision of the senior pastor.

Next we talked to Pastor Jason D. Mayfield, music pastor at Bethany Assembly of God in Adrian, Michigan. His perspective is very different. He says, “There is no such thing as too far or too cool, but there is a such thing as too fast.” Pastor Jason concludes that lighting or video effects or even volume levels in church are never too much. He suggests that church congregations can handle it as long as they are transitioned into it. “It takes time to get any church acclimated to change,” Mayfield says. “If you want moving lights running through haze, then start out with the just moving lights for a while and slowly add haze to the room. If you want your audio to be louder, take time to slowly raise it to where you want it. Don’t just turn it up.” He says that it simply takes time to transition any group of people to what the goal is. He believes it had less to do with what they will tolerate due to their background and more to do with how to transition them to the new way of doing things.

So how far is too far? A single answer could never cover all types of churches. The more important questions are: 1) What are the vision and philosophy of the church? And, 2) How, and how fast should the service transition to fulfill the vision of what the leaders desire?

If the tech staff is properly addressing these two questions, then there may not be such a thing as “too cool”.

After spending almost a decade as a FOH engineer and integration specialist, Andy McMillan left his FOH position and is now student pastor at Turning Point Church in McDonough, Georgia.

Do-it-Yourself A/V Installations: A Recipe for Success or Disaster?

“Should we do this A/V/L install ourselves or hire a contractor?” is a question I’m asked often. Too often, the question comes down to budget. On paper, it looks like hiring a contractor is always a more expensive option, but this is rarely the case when all factors are considered.

20569_bannerThe illusion of cost-savings comes from the fact that most churches (and many companies) don’t factor in the cost of labor for their staff. But there is always a cost, and a wise manager will take that into account.

This isn’t to say that doing a job in-house is always a bad idea; it’s simply a matter of weighing the options and determining the best approach for a particular project.

Here are some guidelines that to use when trying to decide how to proceed.

Do the job in-house when:

1) You Have the Skills In-House.  Some churches have highly skilled tech staffs, and it makes total sense to use that skill set to do the work of an install. The team will be working with the equipment day in and day out anyway, so installing it makes sense. Having people on staff who can lay out cable runs, pull said cable, solder, interconnect and commission systems is a blessing to many larger churches. If you have the skills, by all means, proceed.

2) You Have the Manpower In-House.  Sometimes a church has one or two highly skilled people on staff that could do the install, but is that enough? Depending on the size of the project, more hands may be required. Often, larger churches will have larger tech staffs that can put in significant time on an installation. So again, this makes sense.

3) You Have the Time.  Larger churches with sizable tech staffs have those large staffs because the church is very busy doing ministry. If the project is not extremely time-sensitive, it’s entirely possible that this team can get the job done. Deciding two weeks before Easter that you’d like a new video system may not allow the in-house team enough time to get the job done, however.

4) The Budget is Tight.  Sometimes we have to do installs within a tight budget, and the easiest way to save money is to self-install. Even factoring in the costs that really do exists with self-install, it’s often easier to stomach that bill than paying a contractor.  Sometimes it can even mean the difference between getting the job approved or not.

Note that the order of those criteria is intentional; as hard as it is, budget should really be last in the decision-making process.  If you put budget first, you may not truly consider the other three factors fairly.

Hire a contractor when:

1) You’re Hanging Things Overhead.  Very few churches have tech staff that are truly qualified to hang hundreds (or thousands) of pounds of speakers, projectors, screens or other stuff over people’s heads. And even if you are qualified, why would you want the liability?

2) Time is Tight.  Some projects have very tight timelines and the in-house staff doesn’t have the bandwidth to get it done. This is a perfect contractor job. They can bring in additional installers who do this every day, and will probably do better work in less time.

3) Manpower is Limited.  A solo technical director will probably have a tough time installing a complete A/V/L system by himself. Even if he can pull in some volunteers, it’s going to be a long, hard install. Churches that don’t have professionals on staff will almost always come out ahead when they hire a reputable contractor.

4) The Church Wants to Protect Its Staff.  Some churches are wise enough to know that pushing the staff to the limit all the time will not result in long-term employees who are committed to the organization. Sometimes it’s a smart call to let your highly qualified, fully capable tech staff leave at 5PM while someone else does the install. As a church leader, would you rather have energized, fully-engaged and excited or tired, disengaged and aggravated staff? You make the call.

Sometimes a hybrid approach is best; install what you can and bring in a contractor for the rest. I generally recommend hiring the rigging, because it’s just safer. But pulling cables, installing amp racks, consoles, patch bays and the like can often be easily be handled in-house, especially if the install company has helped with the design, making sure things are well thought out.

This decision-making process is not hard, but it should not be taken lightly. It’s almost never as easy as, “We’ll save so much money…” so be sure to think it through. You may find that at the end of the project, everyone will be better off if the install was handled by professionals. Or maybe not.

written by Mike Sessler, Church Production Weekly

What Every Church Needs To Know About Lighting Systems Upgrades

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New lighting systems are more versatile and offer a wider array of lighting designs. They also require maintenance and increased skill in programming. So the important question to ask your church is: “Do we have the personnel to operate and maintain this technology?”

by David Martin Jacques

Are you ready to make the commitment to a state-of-the-art lighting system? The evolution in the high-tech lighting marketplace is to develop smaller, more efficient, more reliable lighting fixtures. But one thing most of these fixtures have in common is that they require maintenance. This is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to committing to high technology. The important question to ask your team and your senior leadership is: “Do we have the personnel to maintain and operate this technology?”

Some of these fixtures have thousands of moving parts, and repairing them can be challenging. Experts say you should also plan on purchasing at least one spare fixture for each six moving lights so that a light can be taken down and repaired while the spare takes its place. It is a huge commitment for someone to be properly trained in repairing moving lights. Therefore, the church must be ready to invest in the required training.

There is also the common belief that high technology saves time in the lighting process. State-of-the-art lighting systems give the lighting designer more options that can be accessed instantly. Therefore, the lighting process becomes more efficient. If you wish to change a color in a light, instead of getting out a ladder and changing the gel, all you have to do is turn a dial and the color will change. The same goes for focusing. Most parameters in a moving light can be changed from the lighting desk.

There is no doubt that adding moving lights to your church’s lighting system will offer you an increased amount of artistic flexibility. Although the design concepts are the same as when using conventional lighting equipment, with moving lights you need to consider how all the fixtures’ attributes change in time. For instance, when you fade a conventional lighting fixture, you are only considering the fade time of the lamp (intensity). When you fade a moving light, you can be fading the intensity in five seconds, the color may change in three seconds, the focus can soften in six seconds, and the shutters can delay one second, and then move into position in two seconds. This amount of variety in movement offers the lighting designer great opportunities for sophisticated cueing. So, in addition to a more sophisticated maintenance plan, the designer must expand his or her design process to take advantage of these possibilities and adequately use the inherent flexibility of moving lights.

Due to their increased power, long lamp life and reduced heat output, LED fixtures are becoming an increasingly viable solution — and not only for stage lighting, but for house lighting as well. Long lamp life not only saves money in replacement lamps, it also saves money in personnel costs, because the lamps do not need to be replaced for many years. Plus, LEDs consume much less energy that conventional tungsten halogen lamps, thus saving a considerable amount of electricity.

It is very tempting to introduce high technology into your worship experience. These technologies can help make your worship experience more exciting and engaging, and at the same time make your service more accessible to younger members of your church. But investing in this technology also means investing in training and maintenance. After learning the true cost of this investment, many churches successfully transition to these new systems, other churches decide to add technology in phases, still others decide to forgo the latest in high technology and continue to invest in improving upon their current lighting systems by updating their existing lighting fixtures and controllers. None of these are bad decisions. It really depends on your church’s situation, the commitment from senior leaders, the current technical and personnel infrastructure, and their goals for the future.

But for those who decide to take the leap into high tech, consulting with an independent lighting professional will help you make the right decisions. Remember, the independent consultant works for you, and not the manufacturers. They will assure that the equipment that you purchase is appropriate for your needs, and will help set up training for your designers, operators and maintenance staff.