Lighting Need to Knows


Auditoriums and lecture halls appear in buildings where you might not expect. Whether it is small (holding 50 people) or large (a 10,000-seat church), these rooms are tricky to light. The lighting in such a room needs to satisfy a wide range of requirements in order to accomplish each task at hand successfully. A lecture hall or an auditorium needs to be a very flexible multi-purpose space requiring the most scrutiny and effort for lighting design. “A single auditorium can range in functionality from simple, single-screen presentations to town hall meetings to live performance to distance learning,” says Jamie Trader, AMX director of Technical Resources. “Each of these applications requires unique lighting accommodations.”

Before getting started on lighting design, it is important to answer a few questions. The variables are the size of the space and what will be happening there. David Shaw is the senior lighting designer and controls specialist at Brightline and also an IESNA (Illuminating Engineering Society of North America) Standards committee member. He suggests starting with the question: For what application are we lighting? Following that: Does the room’s aesthetics take priority over the video results? Are we lighting for the human eye, the camera or both? Is the room being built for multiple uses? If so, are there differing criteria that must be met? “It is important to establish a list of uses and try to achieve IESNA standards for all areas that are lit for video,” says Shaw. “Evenness of light levels across subjects of equal importance is key.”

In a big auditorium with theatrical lighting, an integrator often addresses lighting for distance learning. “For an auditorium, similar to lighting for videoconferencing, the integrator has to consider if they are lighting the presenter at the front of the space or people sitting at a table,” says Jim Yorgey, technical applications manager at Lutron Electronics. “The light has to accommodate the back of the room while also providing the right kind of lighting for the presenter in the front of the room and white boards.”

In a lecture hall, the conundrum is that if the audience needs light at a working level for taking notes and using laptops, the light still has to accommodate whatever display technology is being used in the front of the room. “If I have front projection, the projection screen is great at reflecting the light from the video projector but it is also reflecting the ambient light in the space,” says Yorgey. The light must be controlled so that the screen is not washed out. “That is why the transition to large LED, LCD screens, and plasmas, has allowed light to be more flexible. It has allowed for higher levels of lighting because with an LCD type screen, I don’t need to dim the lights way down.”

Finding the right light level is a key part of a successful room that also requires some study in human behavior. Creating uniformed lighting throughout the space with strong consideration for attendee comfort (eye fatigue) while keeping the contrast levels within IES standards at the front of the room. “This always comes up in my world as a ‘thorn,’” says Michael Zihmer, senior sales manager at Brightline. “Too dark and people doze. Too bright and people get antsy. There should be nothing shiny or bright as those things will cause distractions.”

When installing room lighting, feedback from clients has emphasized the importance of understanding the element of human behavior within a designed space. “Clients all too often allow the space itself to be the focus of the lighting design; planning lighting coverage to illuminate square feet — as opposed to illuminating the human subject specific to their unique applications,” says Trader at AMX. “For instance, any use that requires video capture (for distance learning, broadcast or recording) requires as much background illumination as it does subject and foreground illumination to offer a sense of depth.” That same space that is then used for a single screen presentation requires absolutely no background lighting as that would wash out the presentation display.

When lighting changes from use to use in a room it can also change from instructor to instructor. “Does the instructor or presenter traverse an entire stage and therefore require cohesive lighting across stage?” asks Kathy Katz, partner at Brightline. Shallow stages using front projection can be problematic in controlling light spill-off of the projection surface. This is particularly the case when space between the presenter and screen is limited. Precise placement of the lighting fixtures is paramount in this situation.

In lighting large rooms and lecture halls, the mounting positions of lighting fixtures are important to keep in mind. “Can the ideal locations for lighting be accessed?” asks Sam Cercone, partner at Brightline. “Is there interference from HVAC ducts or other existing elements?”

Understanding the ins and outs of lighting can be a daunting task. Don’t take it all on yourself. Contact MCC’s Audio Visual Solutions Division and let us provide the right solutions to fit your needs! 

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