We've spent a great deal of time in our Worship Tools newsletter discussing lighting as a way to transform a worship space. Churches across the U.S. have been asking for help updating their lighting and video capabilities in order to create more engaging worship environments. As stage lighting and video equipment continue to get more cost-effective, we have more accessible tools than ever to help us create dynamic spaces. But once you get all of these tools in place, it's critical to know how to use them to engage your audience. In this issue, we'll discuss how to use one of the most effective tools a lighting designer has: color.
Our society today has become obsessed with the visual. If you want proof of that, take a walk through Times Square and see how many images bombard people for attention. Or take a look at your favorite news channel and see how many streams of information they cram on one screen. We're so used to multiple streams of visual content that content alone won't even get our attention anymore. We expect visual content to evoke emotion and response, and when it doesn't, we tend to dismiss it as less important. This is the challenge that many of our churches face today. Churches with bland environments often find their people disinterested as their constant "need" for visual engagement is going unmet. I'm not here to argue whether that is a good thing, but I do believe with strategic use of lighting and graphics we can create visually engaging spaces that intentionally help move people through the journey we create for them every week. One of the best ways we can do that is by creating a mood effectively with color.
Setting The Mood
It used to be musicians and preachers held autonomy when it came to setting the mood for your worship space. The tempo and arrangement of the music, or the inflections and force of the person speaking were the key artistic elements used to establish the feel of the moment. In today's age those elements are still important, but your lighting and graphics artists additionally have a great deal of responsibility in helping author the mood of an auditorium. The colors you choose can and will invoke, at the very least, a subtle emotional response, so it's critical that your audio and visual art work together to create a unified front in order to accomplish engaging your audience. In fact, let's take a look at what most people agree colors emotionally mean:
Intense, Fire, Blood, War, Danger, Love, Passionate, Strong
Sunshine, Joy, Cheerfulness, Energy, Intellect
Warmth, Stimulating, Enthusiasm, Happiness, Success, Creative, Autumn
Nature, Growth, Fertility, Freshness, Healing, Money, Safety
Sky, Sea, Depth, Stability, Trust, Tranquil
Royalty, Power, Nobility, Wealth, Mysterious, Dignified
The visual artist that helps create an engaging atmosphere will be intentional about their selection and choose a base color that contributes to creating the mood the team or artist is striving to create. If your musicians are leading people in an up-tempo praise song, a base color of dark blue or purple can create a dissonant contrast to the upbeat music with its more tranquil visual feel. Similarly, a slower song about the Lord's sacrificial death combined with bright yellow and orange lighting creates conflict as the music will say somber and the visual will convey happiness and joy. Color is a powerful player in setting the environment. Use it wisely and intentionally.
Start with Two
While you need to be intentional and strategic about picking a base color to help set the mood of the environment, please don't mistakenly hear me say you should only light with one color. While lighting with a single color could be highly impactful in certain situations, I generally teach new lighting operators to shoot for 2 colors, sometimes using 3 and at other times using only 1. One of the most common mistakes I see new lighting designers make is trying to do too much with what they have, bringing focus to the lighting instead of the environment it should be trying to create. Anytime I see 4, 5 or more colors used on a stage it makes me think of the circus. If your intent is high energy and chaos, then by all means use many different colors in one design. But if you're looking to create intentional, cohesive environments, use 2-3 appropriately-matched colors and you'll achieve your objective.
Monochromatic, Complementary and Analogous
So what exactly does appropriately-matched mean? When choosing 2-3 colors for a look I generally recommend (though not always) using a monochromatic, complementary or analogous color scheme. Looking at the color wheel in the graphic to the side (click the image for full size), you can see clear examples for each of the color schemes.
A monochromatic color scheme includes all variations of shading of one color. In the example in the graphic, you see purple being the main color but a variety of lighter and darker shades of purple being available. Lighting with a monochromatic color scheme really focuses in on a particular feel for an environment and can be quite an effective way to set the mood.
In the graphic we see that complementary colors are colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. The example highlights red as being complementary with teal/blue. During mid-to-upbeat songs where color contrast can be fun and add energy, I love to use complementary colors. Orange and blue are a great combination of complementary colors that when mixed together can great a fun and engaging atmosphere.
Analogous colors are your main color choice plus the colors to either side of your main color. In the example in our graphic, we see that orange, red/orange and red are analogous colors. During slower, more intimate music I often prefer to use analogous colors such as purple and blue together to create an environment that mixes feelings of nobility and tranquility. During songs that have a sort of intensity or battle cry, red and orange make a great combination.
Wrapping It Up
As with most art, the above examples are not hard and fast rules but a place to start. Above choosing between a monochromatic, complementary or analogous color scheme, just remember to choose colors that will convey the emotion of the moment. As you gain experience and remain intentional, you'll get a feel, over time, about which color combinations work for which scenarios and will become quicker in matching colors to scenarios. In fact, as your ability to choose color develops, you may find that you have to navigate from these starting points. I tend to stick with the three main color concepts, but sometimes I like using a blue base color with yellow highlights during an up or mid-tempo song, or a mixture of red and purple during a majestic ballad, both creating engaging looks yet stretching the concept of analogous colors. At the end of the day what matters is that our congregations engage in worshiping Jesus, and whatever you do to help that happen is "right" in my book.