Lighting Design on a Dime

Here are a few more photos of cheap lighting design ideas that can be accomplished with only two ellipsoidal fixtures and a few PAR cans. Gobos (metal or glass discs that create patterns in the light) make all the difference in being able to change the look of your stage quickly and easily. When money is not an issue, the way to go is to use projection mapping and LED wash lighting, but when you need to conserve funds, you just can’t beat the bang-for-the-buck that you can get from a few used ETC Source 4 fixtures. Here are some of the looks we achieved.

I mentioned this briefly in a previous post, but the patterns on the chancel wall in these photos were made by inserting easily-changeable gobos into two ellipsoidal lights mounted on our back wall (the only exception to this are the words in some shots, which were done with a cheap projector fired from the back wall). The colors are a combination of the two Source4 ellipsoidals hitting the chancel wall straight on, and four or six Source4 PAR fixtures providing a color wash upward from the bottom of the wall. Color gels are inserted in frames mounted to the lights in order to color the light.

We started out by renting a few PAR fixtures with bases for a weekend at a time and plugging them straight into wall outlets, getting nice results with a simple setup:
Interesting lighting with just 4 PAR fixtures
Renting from a local theatrical lighting company is a great way to test out equipment, experiment with ideas, and demonstrate what can be done with a few lights. Once people saw how much lighting added to the feel of some events, it became easier to justify lighting purchases. We gradually added a few lights and dimmer packs at a time until we had what we needed. I think we were able to get everything we needed for under $2k, spreading that out into purchases of a few hundred dollars at a time. If you need to skimp, you can actually do it for considerably less than that—just leave out the controller and the dimmer packs, and plug the lights straight into the wall like we did when we first started. You just won’t be able to dim them or balance brightness between colors. You can also go with cheaper brands for the lights themselves and save money that way.

We found Premier Lighting to be a great source for color gels and gobos, but if you can find a local source, you can save a lot on shipping.

The important thing to remember is to make the most of the resources you have instead of bemoaning them. We started with no curtains to block daylight, cream-colored drywall everywhere, only white lights, and no money whatsoever budgeted for improving that situation. Given time, patience, and creativity, you can transform the look of your space. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Try Ikea lights if you need to—but try something!