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Lighting for Video vs. the Room

Before I get into the “why,” I’ll first lead off with my personal belief about how to balance lighting for video vs. lighting for the room.
If you are using IMAG, then that should take priority over lighting for the room.

OK, if you made it this far, then you are either a video director or possibly an angry lighting designer. Either way, you are still with me right?

So let’s continue.

This subject was rarely a tension for me over the years I believe, because for many years I served as the Video/Lighting Coordinator at Port City Community Church in Wilmington, N.C. This had me directly in charge and responsible for the look and feel of both video and lighting. While that might have put me in the position to argue with myself over the course of the week, it also might have gotten me admitted to the hospital had I done so. Instead, I chose to have both elements work together to create the best experience possible.

After just a few short weeks, I discovered that I could adjust my lighting to look great on camera primarily and still look great for the house. I did, however, have trouble lighting the house primarily and have that translate to the screens/broadcast.

There are a lot of technical decisions that go into making lighting look good for both video and the room, but I won’t get into those here. There are quite a lot of factors that go into dialing it in such as: color temperature, camera sensor sizes, iris levels, skin tones, lighting fixtures and so on. What I hope to provide here is to begin with a few tips and tricks to see from both sides of the decision making process.

Work Together

Your weekend service or event doesn’t happen without all areas of production coming together to create one entire experience. Whether you work together to create this experience is up to you and your team, but the people experiencing the service/event assume that each and every one of you worked together.

Watch the Recording: Spend some time each week watching back the service as a team and work toward being able to critique not only each other, but your own work and how it helps or hurts the other elements.

Watch the Work of Others: Attend other shows with high end productions, and watch how they light for the room. Share with each other what you loved about the feel of the room and not how it would translate to video just yet. Begin to learn what you both love about the lighting specifically. Next up, then watch a few of your favorite concert films or church services online. Here you share what you love regarding the look of the video. Spend some time discussing how the lighting helped accomplish the looks you see. You can now dip back to the first live show you watched and talk about what elements and ways you can help create the “feel” you experienced in the room and have it translate to video.

Watch During Run Through: I wrote all about the run through process here, but take some time each week to walk through each lighting cue/step and how it relates to video together. This is not the time for video to review and ask or demand changes. Instead, this is a time to join together to find what works best for the experience you are creating for everyone in the room and those watching a screen, TV or computer screen.

Program with Cameras On

Something I began to do during my last year or so as an lighting designer at Port City Community Church was to turn on our studio cameras and occasionally a mobile camera to use as a reference while programming. Then I would use a program monitor or multi-viewer to monitor the scenes as I would create them. For the majority of time, I did not need to reference this during my programming, because I had set levels for all key lighting on band members. But during special intros or instrumental breaks, I would rely on these cameras to find the look that was best seen in the room and on video. And I could accomplish this by using the following tip:

Use a Mannequin

We picked up a mannequin after years of kicking around the idea and it helped me out personally while programming. Simply place it in key positions and use it as a stand in to see how your scenes might play out on the screens. Using a mannequin will not solve all issues due to different skin tones, but it will get you very close. I usually did not need to adjust key light levels when using the stand-in mannequin.

Set Your Key Light

This one I highly recommend personally, if you are not able to have a true shader position in the control room on all your cameras. Go ahead and pick up a simple light meter to begin with. Then find the lighting level you and your team find as the sweet spot for both the room and on video. This can take a while, and a few weeks of adjustments to find the right look and technical specs. But here you are determining the level of key light on each subject, alongside your camera settings. Those camera settings will consist of many options such as iris level, shutter speed, focal depth, gain level, etc. Once you land that look, save each position’s levels on your lighting console and use those as your program.

And as a picky personal opinion, I run my key lights at the decided levels or they are completely out, with the exception of the occasional backlight only or uplight. Running your worship leader’s or band members’ light lower to create a dynamic look in the room usually creates terrible lighting for video on those large side screens in your room. But, this is only if you have no way of properly shading during your experience. With a proper shader, you can break many of the tips I have suggested in this section by adjusting your iris levels on the fly.

These are just some of the simple ways to begin helping create a healthy marriage between lighting for both the room and for video.

I will leave you with this before you go. You can figure the technical side of things out. I hope to write an article that really dives into the technical side of making this happen, but the first step is coming together as a team around the common goal: to create an overall great experience for everyone participating. Whether one comes together in the room, down the hall in overflow or hundreds of miles away in their hotel room – the key should be to work together to create the best experience possible.

HD Video Upgrade: FOR-A

Port City Community Church (PC3) moved into their very first permanent facility during the summer of 2008 with a full SD-SDI system in the main auditorium. This was a major upgrade from our existing mobile solution which consisted of all composite video lines that found their way to an old Panasonic MX50 video switcher. The new system at the time was pushed by a Ross Synergy 100 SD switcher with 16 inputs, which at the time gave us room to grow. The initial set up had no multi-viewer, but instead consisted of a video wall of different size monitors for viewing each input. This system served us well over the years until we began to upgrade existing smaller rooms in our building with new HD switchers and projectors. And then as we began to launch new satellite campuses we ran into multiple issues with our original campus, which now is our dedicated broadcast campus.

Before we upgraded our video system at our Wilmington Campus we had three satellite campuses and two other auditoriums on site that were equipped and ran as a full 1080p HD system. Over the years we also had upgraded our entire camera package and computer graphic suites to 1080p as well. At one point we were downgrading seven cameras and four Mac Pros from 1080p to a 480 SD signal before hitting the Ross Synergy. And then before hitting other campuses, auditoriums, recording and other destinations we had to upgrade back to 1080p. The problems that all this caused at times can be discussed in another article in the future. But all of this was solved plus many other incredible additions after we upgraded to a FOR-A HVS–390HS.

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For months we had researched many different switchers and had landed on moving forward with the Ross Carbonite series. We had had only one issue during the seven years with the Ross Synergy and the customer service team helped us solve it in less than thirty minutes. Ross is an industry standard and knew what type of product we would be getting. We contacted Next Creative Media who we have worked with on multiple projects over the years that include all three satellite campuses launches. Bob Nahrstadt from Next Creative is a trusted friend of PC3 asked us if we would be willing to demo one more switcher we may not have heard of. So we linked up with Marc Shroyer to demo one of his many FOR-A switchers to walk us through all the options and more importantly why he chose FOR-A. Marc is the go to guy for Hillsong United and Hillsong conferences when they make their way through the U.S., so we trusted what he had to say.

So now that you know our past, let’s talk about a few key features from the FOR-A that made us change our mind from moving forward with anyone else.

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Price

We had a budget that we were aiming for and we know that project scope creep can occur and will mostly likely happen once you get into a project. So we were looking to begin with a project quote that would come in under budget. After looking over the many different control surface options we and the additional output and input options we were able to land on exactly what we wanted and stay under budget. We decided to move forward with the HVS–392WOU: 2 M/E 28-button with two additional HVS–30HSDO: HD/SD-SDI Output Cards and two HVS-AUX16A AUX control panels. I will go over a few of the features below, but we were able to do this all for under $33,000. That price gave us room for additional items, one-on-one training session with Marc Shroyer, and one onsite tech to help with the install.

Features

The FOR-A came packed with features that we began to use from day one that we just simply never had before. A simple list of the features include: 16 HD/SD-SDI Inputs, 12 HD/SD-SDI, 2 Down-Converted SD-SDI and 1 HDMI Outputs, Frame Synchronizer on each Input, 4 Channels of Resize Engine, 4 Keyers with 2.5D DVE per M/E, 2 Chroma Keyers per M/E, 2 Independent 16 Channel Multi Viewer Outputs, 4 Still Stores, Redundant Power Supplies.

Those are the main “physical” features that we loved, but there were many other features that helped us make the decision.

Advanced AUX & DVE

The HVS–390HS offers a full powered primary Mix Effects (M/E) like any other broadcast switcher, yet this one also offers what FOR-A calls Advanced AUX technology. Each AUX can cut, mix, wipe, key and move graphics with a DVE. This has opened up the door on utilizing AUX outputs to send to multiple auxiliary screens or confidence monitors. The HVS–390HS also has 8 channels of 2.5D and 4 channels of 3D DVE. All 12 channels are included in the base price. This differed from most at the time because most suppliers required an upgrade beyond the typical 4 DVEs included.

These advanced features allowed for us to adjust the size and location for our alpha channel lyrics coming from one single Mac Pro. Pro Presenter is set up for lyrics to be lower-third/centered. But we wanted to also display these lyrics on a center screen from the same input source. With the AUX and DVE capability we were able to adjust the lyric location to be in the absolute center and decrease the size of the font via a KEY and then send that KEYER to an AUX output. This allowed us to have one signal operator for all lyric content and the timing in in perfect sync.

Web Browser Control Center

Another feature we love is the web browser control surface that comes with the HVS–390HS. After connecting the HVS–390HS to our production network we are able to set up, adjust and operate the HVS–390HS via a simple assigned IP address. This allows us to use a simple web browser to access the system from anywhere in the building if connected to the private network. This works even via wifi which allows us to use our iPads or iPhones to make adjustments. We use this feature often when we are making adjustments in the room and have no one in the video control room which is located on the second floor. The web browser allows us to cut cameras from anywhere on campuses which is a huge help when troubleshooting in other auditoriums within the building. This also allows easy recalling and editing of macros, key-frame sequences and event memories.

Independent Dual Multi-Views

This is a simple one but it was a major upgrade for us after having a monitor wall. The system gives you two independent multi-viewers right out the box with up to 16 windows that can display safety area markers and audio levels.

Frame Synchronizers

The HVS–390HS comes with frame synchronizers on all inputs. We will use a black burst generator and use the reference genlock on all cameras and our two primary Mac Pros, but with the frame synchronizer we are able to add additional inputs without needing to send the devices a reference. This has been a huge help when adding additional laptops from stage or additional cameras such as Go Pros. One thing to note is that if you are passing audio through the SDI line you cannot use initiate the frame synchronizer on that input or you will lose the audio signal. We learned that the hard way.

It has now been about a year and half since we originally upgraded our video system. We continue to find new ways to use the HVS–390HS to our advantage. Overall the system has given us a numerous amount of output configurations and dozens of macros that we did not have on the old Ross Synergy 100. You can find most of the above features from other great companies for the right price point. We went with FOR-A because they were able to deliver a great product that brought along great features we needed for a price that we could fit into our budget.