Getting the Right Live Stream Lighting

by | Production, Streaming, Video, Video Connections

The lighting design for both a regular church service, event, or live stream should take both standard theater lighting and video recording techniques in consideration so live streaming looks great to the live congregation and the online congregation.

So, let’s take basics first. In theater design we need front light, back light and background light. Video is similar with what is called 4point lighting, a key light, a fill light, a rear kicker and a background light.  Different names, slightly different angles and position, but both do an amazing job in creating depth. 

Next, let’s describe the theatrical positions, then the video positions, with a what I would put together to accomplish both.

Front Lighting

Front light is specifically in the rig to provide visibility for the people on stage. Lights are hung in the Front of House positions: catwalks, truss or beam positions over the heads of the audience, and pointed at the stage so that performers can be clearly visible to the audience.

Back Lighting

A good rule of thumb for stages is to position your backlighting lanterns directly upstage of the area that they will light and at a fairly steep angle. A steeper backlight angle (60 degrees or so) means that you get a good “halo” and avoid blinding the audience.

Background Lighting

Background lighting is the act of illuminating the area behind the actors, which is often out of focus and perhaps even obstructed by the performers themselves.

4 Point Lighting

Four-point lighting is basically a lighting setup where you have four distinct light source positions to illuminate a subject in a scene.

The Key Light, The Fill Light, The Backlight and The Background Light

The Key Light

This is your main source of light, and is the brightest light on your stage. The key light is what will give your stage and performers the overall exposure. Usually, it’s placed in front of the subject, and is often off to one side to create some dimension and depth. The shadows created by setting it off-center to your subject are what create the depth and dimension.

How you decide to place your Key light is very important because it sets the mood of your scene. The fill and the backlight just help you shape the scene better to bring out he mood. More on this in just a bit.

Depending on how far off-center you place the key light, you could end up with anything from a high-key image to a low-key image. What, you may ask, is a low-key and a high-key image?

Well, a high-key image is one where the shadows on the subject’s face and in the scene in general are very light and soft, almost nonexistent. The overall lighting is generally very even and low-contrast. This is achieved by having your key and fill light at almost the same brightness. This cancels out almost all shadows on your subject.

On the other hand, a low-key image is the exact opposite. The image has high contrast, deep shadows and is often very moody. Now that we’ve covered what the key light is and the role it plays, let’s move on to the fill light and the backlight.

The Fill Light

This is your second source of light. It’s usually much dimmer than the key light, and is used to fill in any shadows created by the key light. The reason you may want to use a fill light is to retain some detail in the shadow areas and to reduce the overall contrast of the scene.

The fill light also comes in handy to create a catch-light in the subject’s eye, which helps to give the character a more “alive” look. This light is doesn’t always have to be an actual light. It could be a reflector, a bounce card, a wall, or anything that will bounce back some light onto the subject to fill in the shadows.

Your fill light works together with your key light to determine the mood of the image you’re creating. How bright your fill light is can also depend on whom you’re lighting; are they male or female? For example, female characters are often lit with a brighter fill to create more softness on their faces.

The Backlight

This is your third and final source of light in a three-point lighting setup. It’s usually placed behind the subject, sometimes off to one side, directly behind or overhead but still behind the subject. The backlight is used to create separation between the subject and the background so that they don’t disappear into it.

It achieves this by creating a “highlight” around the outline of the subject. By the way, a backlight is different from a background light, which normally lights the background of the scene, and not the character.

Background Light

The background light is intended to give depth to the image by putting some mixture of light and shadow on the wall behind the subject or subjects. Make sure that there are several feet between the subject and the wall. Give the light that you are using an intermediary to alter the beam. A conventional use of this process is to have the background light from the four-point lighting set up come through a window so that a graphic of the window pane will be blasted onto the wall behind the subject. You can also try to use different nets, gels, or scrims to alter the background image.

My Combination Lighting for Video Streaming

I like taking all this in and merging both styles making everyone life easier.

Using your front lighting position make sure your cross focusing creating that even front wash but taking advantage of the key light and fill light idea creating a light face with shadow character but not washing it out, we will get back to intensity late on.  Your backlights, kickers, ground row lights, should never overpower the front light in a live stream unless you have a reason for that look.  We do have needs for dramatic looks which will keep your online view ship involved.  Remember not to overdo it with moving light and gobos and colors.  I saw this because I have seen some services where the lighting becomes distracting. Just because it can move doesn’t mean it needs to.

Best Fixtures for the Job

We have so many products available now with pricing that can fit anyone’s budget, but I am a believer in you get what you pay for. At my production company we have low end product line and high-end product line, some low-end products really do an amazing job, but they are far and few in between.  I like to stick with companies that have customer support and sales teams, if you have a problem on average it can be replaced or serviced immediately.  The product lines stay around longer, which makes growing your system easier.

LED Fixtures

Light-emitting diodes, more commonly known as LEDs, have revolutionized the lighting industry in the past two decades. Without consuming a significant amount of power, they are able to emit a high output of light. Energy-efficient, long-lasting, and low-maintenance, LED lighting is at the forefront of the event lighting industry. So why, you might wonder, is conventional lighting still so popular (and in some cases preferred) for stage lighting?

Conventional Lighting

When we talk about conventional lighting, we’re typically referring to halogen lamps and high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps. Although old-fashioned when compared to new-fangled LED lights, conventional lighting remains popular largely due to its strong light output and low cost. Its brightness and affordability come at a cost, however.

Conventional lighting consumes far more energy than LED stage lighting, making it extremely inefficient. The fixtures produce a lot of heat as well, and the hot equipment can be difficult to handle and manage. Finally, because they live a significantly shorter life, conventional fixtures must be replaced and repurchased often. If you dread maintenance and are often frustrated by burned out lights, you may wish to transition to LED lighting.

LED in the Lead

LED lighting had to make a splash in order to overtake the popularity of long-loved, conventional fixtures. And indeed, LED steers clear of many of the drawbacks of conventional lighting. LED fixtures last for tens of thousands of hours of use time, so you may outgrow them before they burn out on you. Due to their long life, they require less maintenance, and since they produce less heat, they’re safer to handle. Finally, of course, LED stage lighting is far more energy efficient; it will reduce your electricity consumption and lower your utility bill.

In addition to all of these practical advantages, LED lights offer aesthetic appeal. The feature set available from LED light fixtures is impressive. Many include a built-in dimmer, which increases the flexibility of the product. You won’t have to worry about the extra cost of an external dimmer, and the LED light can stand alone, without a light board, controlled directly using DMX. You can even set the light to control itself in numerous special-effects modes, or to control other LED fixtures (in slave mode) so that they work in sync with one another.

Three main types of LED stage lights exist: PAR cans, strip lights, and “moving head” lights. They can replace any conventional lighting fixture.

Which I prefer is always a question, and the answer is, I like both.  Color wash LED Units just make you life easier in creating beautiful color mixes which would tasking so much more power, labor, gel color and lighting instruments.  I keep a lot of conventional units as side light and front light.  Some of the newer LED Ellipsoidal have amazing lens, color mixing and have additional color mixing like RGBW, RGWA, RGBWAL – LIME.  I am sure within a few years it will be all LED as technology just keeps getting better.


Intensity will make or break your Live stream.  This is where the live stream crew member needs to work with a lighting designer or operator.  Testing the light intensity before going live is a most.  We need to light the service, but your eyes will adjust to lights while the camera will blow out to washed out images. If it’s too dark people will complain it’s dark and the video will be grainy.  The lighting design should try to stay around 65% to 75% intensity to start and the streaming team should white balance all cameras, to make sure the live stream looks as good as the live service. Take your House of Worship to a professional-looking level with good decision-making on your live and streaming lighting choices.

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