December 18

by David

As I work and talk with people in the church world, I find a lot of churches that rent or borrow small lighting systems for outdoor events or other special events indoors.

Though it may seem simple(or maybe it doesn’t), by using a few tips, you can make you portable lighting system really shine and set up well.

Today I want to run you through the basics of setting up and focusing a small lighting system, so that you are prepared in advance next time you have one of these events.


The first thing you’re going to need to setup is your lighting trees or pipes.  Lighting trees typically work like a speaker stand, having a tripod and extendable pipe with an additional crossbar for the top.

If you’re using a weighted pipe and base, just thread the pipe into the base and place the crossbar on top and tighten it down.  Make sure to sandbag these support systems before you put your lights on them so they don’t blow over or have any chance of tipping.


Next, you need to find power for your dimmer packs.

Each dimmer pack is going to need it’s own, dedicated 20 amp circuit, so be sure to plan in advance where you will get these.

You can find out which outlets in your venue are on each circuit by plugging in lamps to each plug and turning off breakers, one at a time.  Be sure to make a diagram and label outlets for future knowledge.

Next, run power out to your lighting trees using 12 gauge extension cords.  Leave the slack coiled up at the bottom of your lighting tree.

Using a wrench, place your dimmer pack in the center of your crossbar, or as close as possible.  Run power to it, and make sure you tape, tie or otherwise take the strain off of the power connection!

This is very important to make sure that your dimmer pack doesn’t arc or unplug itself!  Make sure you tie off or electrical tape the cables to the pole in a way that still allows you to raise the stand once you have the lights hung on it.

Then, address your dimmer pack, either via the menu system or dip switches.  See your manual if you are unsure how your dimmer pack works.


You next want to clamp the lights onto the pipe, hanging them underneath and tightening them down with a wrench.  If you are clamping to an aluminum pipe, be sure not to go too tight, bending the pipe!  Hang the lights and then use the tilt knob to swing the lights forward so that they are close to where you will focus them.

Plug the lights into the dimmer pack, going from house left to house right so it’s easy to find them on your console.  This would also be a great time to put gel color into your lights if you are planning to use any.

Console and Cabling

The next step is to setup your console and cabling.  Figure out if your console is going to be at front of house, or if it will go off stage on one side or the other.  Starting at your console, run a DMX cable to your closest dimmer pack.

Then, run out of that dimmer pack and go to the next dimmer pack, repeating this step if you have more than 2 dimmers.  Get power to your console from a nearby outlet.

Your console can share power with audio or instruments as it doesn’t need much power, but make sure it is on the same power panel as the rest of your lighting rig.

Now you’re ready to bring up your lighting trees to height and get out a ladder.  Get a friend to help you loosen the knobs on the trees and hoist the lights up to the appropriate height.


The last thing you want to do is focus, or point your lights.  You want to point your lights to cover the stage evenly, starting with the first light at downstage, and moving the next light where the first light starts to fall off.

Continue this until you’ve focused all of your lights. If you’ve got colored lights, you start over that process, pointing them where you need them.  Be sure to use proper ladder safely, and have someone always foot your ladder.  Consider wearing gloves as lights can get pretty hot.

Safety first is more important than being fast or doing it yourself!  If you are focusing in daylight, get a third person to give you a hand.  Have this person stand on stage wearing sunglasses and point the light at them.

Have them look into the light and tell you when the light is the brightest- this will tell you when it is focused on that spot.  When you’ve done all of your lights for that tree, have them walk side to side and see if the lights seem to transition well, or if they can see or feel dark spots.

A portable lighting rig can make night-time outdoor events possible, and enhance special events in your church.  If you don’t already have one and want one, check out this starter system from Leviton. It’s very simple to setup and use for a variety of uses. Check it out here.

Use these basics to make setting up a portable lighting system a breeze, and have a great event!

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