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Stage Light Basics: Creating a Smooth Front Wash

Modern worship team on stage

In a contemporary worship setting, stage lights have dual roles: they illuminate pastors and musicians while also enhancing the stage's visual appeal. Primarily though, lighting directs the audience's focus and provides sufficient brightness for video recording. The initial and most critical step is to achieve a uniform "wash" of light across the front of the performance area.

Effective stage lighting requires careful planning to ensure an even and sufficient illumination. It's important to first define your objective with front lighting: do you aim for precise lighting zones at specific locations on stage or do you create a more uniform layout for broader stage coverage?

Both approaches offer advantages in certain situations. Focused pools of light can create a dramatic effect while broader zones can provide a more even field, especially important if performers move extensively.

Hand drawn stage plot

Once you've decided on tight well defined or wider zones, divide your stage accordingly by creating a simple stage plot. Ideally, each zone should include three fixtures: one on the left, one on the right, and one at the back to provide depth and separation. Common zones might encompass the front, back, center, left, right, and upstage/downstage areas. The front wash fixtures should be mounted such that they can be angled at 45 degrees to the stage to achieve a natural combination of highlight and shadow.

Lighting aiming diagram

LEKO lighting fixture

Choosing Your Fixtures

There are two main front light fixture types. LEKO (Ellipsoidal Reflector Spotlight) and Fresnel. Briefly, LEKO fixtures offer a more controllable beam of light with their interchangeable lenses as well as shuttering. LEKO’s are easily aimed and focused on specific areas.

Fresnels produce a softer more diffused light. They have a stepped lens design that smoothly focuses the light while reducing harsh shadows. They are often used to highlight a specific area without harsh beam edges.


LEKO’s tend to be preferred for applications

where precise beam control and sharp edges are required. Fresnel lights, on the other hand, are ideal for general stage lighting plots and providing a smooth illumination over a large area.  Fresnels also tend to be lower cost for equivalent output.

Aiming & Output

Once you've established your lighting zones, It is time to carefully arrange and aim the fixtures. After selecting the optimal front light angle, typically around 45 degrees, proceed to populate each zone with two to three fixtures, choosing the type of instrument best suited to the task, delineating highly defined areas or evenly covering large areas in a broad wash.

Handheld light meter
Incident Light Meter

Finally, utilize an incident light meter to measure the brightness in each zone and adjust the intensity to achieve uniform lighting throughout the performance space.

The ideal stage light level for modern video cameras in a church or performance venue can vary depending on several factors, including the sensitivity of the camera's sensor, the desired aesthetic, and the type of performance or event. However, a common recommendation is to aim for a lighting level of around 50-100 foot-candles (fc) on the stage. This level of lighting typically provides enough illumination for the camera to capture clear and detailed images without over or under exposure.

You may also consider the color temperature of the light if you are using adjustable fixtures to create the desired ambience and mood for the event. Regularly test the lighting setup from different vantage points in the venue to ensure a well-balanced and visually appealing result.

Wrapping Up

While there are many ways to light a stage and equipment suitability and availability varies, These are the basics to achieving a solid result. It will take plenty of trial and error as finding a solution that works well in the room as well as on video/streaming can be tricky. These simple guidelines give you a good head start when it comes to defining your goals and purchasing the correct fixtures for your specific application. For additional advice or consultation on adding a stage lighting system or supplementing your existing setup, please give AVE a shout.


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