Immersive Colour in Houses of Worship. Colour plays an important role in human cognition, as artists have recognized for thousands of years. It can also be a valuable tool in houses of worship. It can help capture and direct people’s attention, raise the energy level in a space, make it more aesthetically appealing, create or enhance the mood, and more.
Immersive Colour in Houses of Worship
Colour & Colour Combinations Can Evoke Strong Emotions
One of the most important developments in the use of colour was when Johannes Itten, a painter and teacher at the Bauhaus school, codified what great artists intuitively understand about colour in his book “The Art of Color,” written in 1920. In it, he describes a colour wheel with 12 colours (yellow, yellow-orange, orange, red-orange, red, red-violet, violet, blue-violet, blue, blue-green, green, and green-yellow) and he identified seven types of colour contrast, including:
- Contrast by hue or colour
- Contrast by value or the lightness or darkness of a colour
- Contrast by colour temperature
- Contrast by complements
- Simultaneous contrast
- Contrast by saturation
- Contrast by extension
These colour combinations are pleasing to the eye and work well together.
A natural response to red is an increase in appetite or energy, while green is very calming and soothing. And how can one see a combination of red and green and not think of Christmas? The emotional reaction to coloured light and the seven types of contrasts can be a great starting point for designing lighting looks in houses of worship. Here are five ways to use colour and light to enhance the church goer’s experience in houses of worship.
Storytelling – The Spoken Word
Creating a uniform wash of tuneable white light across a large platform that is accurately repeatable is very important for focusing attention on the platform in houses of worship. Tuneable white light helps to ensure that skin tones and set pieces are rendered naturally regardless of the complexion of the subject(s) or the colours of the set. White light can range in colour temperature, colour rendering index (CRI), R9 value (an extended measure of colour rendering), TM-30 value (an even more extended measure of colour rendering), and in its television lighting consistency index (TLCI), which is a measure of how faithfully a light source renders colours and skin tones on video. White light with low colour temperature, which is what is produced by tungsten lamps, ranges from about 3000 Kelvin (K) to about 3200 K. White light with high colour temperature can range from about 5600 K to about 8000 K, which is what daylight looks like with a clear blue sky when the sun is at its highest point in the daylight sky. Tuneable white light can be adjusted to match the desired colour temperature.
Lighting designers might choose to light a subject with a lower colour temperature for front light to bring out the red in skin tones and a higher colour temperature for backlight to create a contrast that emphasizes the depth or modelling of a subject. At times, a lighting designer might use a value in between tungsten and daylight, or around 4500 K, for front light, especially if there is a mix of light sources with different colour temperatures in the same lighting rig.
Luminaires with a high colour rendering index (CRI), TM-30, and a high TLCI are great tools for lighting a subject for the camera because they make colours look “right” on camera. Another important consideration is that the white light produced by a fixture is balanced between green and magenta so that skin tones look natural. Some fixtures have a +/- green shift setting in the menuing structure, which allows you to compensate for an uncalibrated camera or another light source that might be polluting the subject. One such fixture is the PROLIGHTS EclPanel TWC. It is also useful for creating a uniform wash because it has a wide field angle of 159ᴼ, which is especially important for video because the camera is much more sensitive to hot spots and cold spots than the human eye.
Fixtures like the EclProfile CT+ from PROLIGHTS that can output high CRI, high R9, and high TLCI are great for front lighting a subject while also allowing the designer or operator to add dramatic colour. For lighting the sanctuary with white light or coloured light, consider the Chroma-Q Inspire, Mini, and XT.
Experiential & Emotionally Connective Music
Music evokes emotion, and lighting can enhance or heighten the visceral response to music. This is one area where colour theory can help. Colour can be used to symbolize a “mood” or an emotion by washing the platform with saturated colour or colour combinations.
Red is often associated with high energy (like a red sports car), excitement, or love. Green can be a calming colour (think of a forest) or it can represent money or good health. Blue is an appealing colour, and it probably has the widest spectrum, although the camera sometimes has difficulty reproducing subtle shades of blue. Yellow is the happiest and brightest colour, and violet can evoke strong emotions. With a little research and experimentation, you can learn how certain colours affect the feel of a space. As a starting point to experiment with colour combinations, the colour wheel provides a good tool to explore the seven contrasts.
Starting at any point on the colour wheel, combining it with the colour on the opposite side of the wheel creates a contrast of complements. For example, medium blue and bright yellow create a strong contrast with a lot of tension, yet, for most people, it is a very pleasing look. Combining colours closer to each other on the colour wheel can create less contrast and combining adjacent colours on the colour wheel (analogous colours) creates simple colour harmony. Combining three colours equidistant from each other on the colour wheel creates a colour triad and it can be visually pleasing and balanced. There are several other colour combinations that can be discovered by taking a deeper dive into the seven contrasts.
To create looks with saturated colour, a LED wash fixture like the Chroma-Q Color One 100X LED PAR is a powerful tool. It outputs 1,950 lumens of saturated or pastel colours using an RGBA LED light engine. It has a 19ᴼ beam angle and the optics are homogenized so that it produces clean shadows with no colour separation.
For more dynamic and temporal looks, special effects, patterns, and movement can also be incorporated to raise the energy level or create flow in a music environment. Fixtures like the PROLIGHTS PixieWash XB or JetSpot 4Z offer rich, saturated colour and, in addition to crossfading and pulsing effects, they also can pan, tilt, zoom, and strobe to add dynamic looks and beam movement.
Hosting community events outside of normal church activities is a good way to raise your profile in the community and increase traffic through your facilities. Events like holiday celebrations, fall and spring festivals, clothes drives, blood drives, public school events, and carnivals help to build a bridge to the community and grow your congregation. Colour-changing lights can be used to highlight these events, drawing attention to the space, and help to reinforce a theme such as using patriotic red, white, and blue colours for the Fourth of July or for hosting public elections. Weddings, funerals, retirement parties, or other celebrations can also benefit from splashes of beautiful colour accents or a colour wash to completely transform a space.
Using coloured light can be very cost-effective as well and using LED colour makes it very easy to transform with the push of a button or the click of a mouse to suit the occasion. Whether it calls for Christmas colours or an Easter sunrise, fixtures like Color Force II 12, 48 and 72, and the PROLIGHTS EclCyclorama 100 can be used to wash large swaths of surface area in environments that are protected from the elements, and the EclProfile FS can provide image projection as well as colour light projection. For lighting large surfaces, walls, soft goods like drops and curtains, LED colour wash fixtures like the Color One 100X can provide a wide gamut of saturated and pastel colours.
Colour is the New Stained Glass
Stained glass is a classic means of telling a story or depicting a scene. One of the most breath-taking examples is in Barcelona, Spain at the Basílica de la Sagrada Familia designed by Antoni Gaudi in 1883. On a clear day, sunlight enters the cathedral at varying angles through numerous panes of perfectly placed colourized stained glass, washing the entire Nave in a rich, saturated colour for a period of time. As beautiful as stained glass can be, it relies on natural sunlight for illumination, which yields varying results. On clear, bright days when the sun is high in the sky, the colours of the stained glass can be magnificent, but on overcast days and at night, they are less spectacular. Supplementing natural light with artificial backlight ensures that the beauty of the stained glass is always available regardless of environmental conditions. Fixtures like the Chroma-Q Color Force II 12, 48 and 72, and the Chroma-Q Inspire are ideal for washing large surfaces with coloured or white light.
It’s also possible to re-create the look of stained glass without the costly coloured glass by using projection and coloured gobos. EclProfile FS fixtures are available with HQ glass lens tubes in 14ᴼ, 19ᴼ, 26ᴼ, 36ᴼ, and 50ᴼ, and high-resolution dichroic gobos can be inserted in the gate to project beautiful images of stained glass. An EclProfiole FS with a 14ᴼ HQ glass lens tube produces a 10-foot image at a throw of about 40 feet, while a fixture with a 50ᴼ HQ glass lens tube produces a 7-foot image with a throw of about 12 feet.
As early as the 19th century and before, artists and architects like Gaudi knew that abstract, immersive colour could beautifully tell a story and create an engaging environment in the sanctuary for centuries to come. With today’s LED tools, we can now tell the story using colour-changing light and projection at the push of a button. We can create an environment that connects people to the space and to a story using lighting technology that is convenient and effective.
A church service that invites active participation rather than passive observation and envelops the congregation in community is much more engaging and energizing. Coloured, dynamic lighting in the sanctuary can create an inviting space and an immersive environment that helps unify the audience and the worship leaders, and it can extend the look and feel from the platform into the house. Starting before the service, a brightly lit and colourful walk-in look can help welcome and usher in attendees upon arrival and signal transitions in the service or signal the end of a service. Special occasions and holidays can also be recognized with the appropriate colours and colour accents can help create an aesthetically pleasing environment for worship.
Some white light LED fixtures also have the ability to change colour and having the ability to immerse the sanctuary in saturated colour can help set the mood for the delivery of a message or for praise and worship. It can allow the pastor to tell a story in a more engaging way and it can help engross the congregation, set the mood, and capture their attention. Some of these luminaires use a simple combination of red, green, and blue LEDs to produce white light and coloured light. These fixtures typically do not render white light or colours well. Other fixtures use a combination of red, green, blue, deep blue (or royal blue), mint, and amber LEDs to better cover the colour spectrum. These fixtures tend to render white light and colours much better.
Whether it is more subtle or drastic, colour-changing house lights can heighten the experience and enliven the mood in the sanctuary. The Chroma-Q Inspire, including the Inspire Mini and Inspire XT are great tools for creating energy and extending it from the platform into the house using white or colour-changing LED lighting.