More and more we see our church clients wanting lighting control to highlight areas of the worship space. It could be that they want to have a different set of lights to highlight the baptism, it could be that at times they want to light up of the choir area, or maybe they want to have a dim the lights and just have light shining on the pulpit.
Traditionally this is done in one of two ways; simple track lights or a full theatrical dimming system. Theatrical dimming systems give you an immense amount of control and options, but the systems cost a lot of money, are not the prettiest things in the world, and can be intimidating to the average user. Tracks systems give you an inexpensive product that is more attractive, but these systems give you very little control. Usually tracks have 1 or 2 (sometimes 3) control circuits, so your lights have to be grouped into the number of control circuits available.
We have found one possible solution to this problem, and have used it quite successfully in the last couple of projects. The solution is Altman Smart Track. The Altman system looks just like a track and installs just like a track (and comes in white), so it is a little more attractive than theatrical lighting. The ingenious part of the Altman system is that each head has its own dimming control module and the track has a communication wire in it. This allows each head to have an individual identification number on the control circuit which in turn allows each head to be controlled individually. So there is only one electrical feed and control feed to the track, but every head is independent. There are options for barn doors, colored lenses, even color-changing LED heads to get the lighting you want.
They have control systems that then let you program different scenes by controlling each head. They even have touch screen panels and lighting control boards to allow the most basic novice and the most advance lighting person to use the system. Typically we have switched to ETC controllers because their dimming systems allow us to pick up other loads like the house lights (even if they are not dimmable) and simply and easily have control over the whole space.
Be sure to discuss your needs and budget with a design professional, full theatrical dimming may be what you need, but the Altman system can get you a lot of functionality for less money.
Tips to think about
- If the space is a multi-purpose space, how are you protecting the lights from balls and other items.
- Typically, lights are placed at 45° angles horizontally and vertically from their targets.
- The 45° angle means the lights are often high which means you need to think about how you will change them (especially over fixed seating). LEDs help with this as they have much longer lives. Using a dimmed incandescent can greatly extend the life of a incandescent bulb. We sometimes spec higher wattage lamps, so that they never need to get above 3/4 power.
- Multiple spots on a target helps with shadows.
- Color changing LED heads have really been improving, but you will want to be careful if you are using them to light people. Many of the heads now have more the just Red, Green, Blue LEDs so that you get a more natural skin color. Make sure you test out the heads you are looking at before purchasing a whole bunch of them.
Smart Track Offers a variety of Heads for your lighting needs.
How much do you know about lighting? Do you need an overview of basic terms and technologies? Eric MacInerney has prepared a terrific resource: Lighting Basics - What You Need To Know. Download now, it's free.