Clearing the Haze

At many churches, haze seems to be one of the last components of the lighting system to get attention. There may be several possible reasons for this: Leadership doesn’t like it? Not as sexy as moving lights and flashy consoles? Production staff doesn’t understand the importance of it? Whatever the reason, it is often neglected and here’s a few thoughts as to why it should be the first thing we focus on, instead of the last.

Let me start with a bit of Haze 101. Haze is not fog, fog is not haze. The sole purpose of haze is to create particulate in the air that shows off the “fixture to floor” light beams that we all love so much. Adversely, fog is simply a thick cloud of smoke. A cheap hazer tends to act more like a fogger by producing clouds of thick haze. A quality hazer should create an even level of particulate across the entire room, although several factors make this easier said than done.

Haze gives mass to lighting. In a room without haze you only see light where it has a surface to reflect—usually meaning the lens of the fixture and the surface where the fixture is aimed. We know that there is light between the two but it is often barely perceptible—by introducing haze we can create individual beams of light that help give our lighting a perceived mass. This mass is what allows us to use lighting as scenery.

At COTM, I am fortunate to use some very nice fixtures along with a great hazer. If this wasn’t an option, I would choose a slightly lower quality fixture but keep the great hazer. Any fixture will look brighter in good haze, but even the best fixtures will suffer in thin or uneven haze. If you’re working on a budget for a new system and are having trouble fitting in the $1000 to $5000 for a quality hazer, consider spending less on fixtures to make room for it. Every light in your rig depends on the quality of your haze to operate at its full potential.

So what I’m saying is that if you buy the nicest hazer out there all your problems will be solved, right? Wrong. Enter the dreaded HVAC. There should be a proverb that says “He who hazes without regard to air flow will suffer the pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth.” At COTM my haze always seems to look great during rehearsal. The minute the doors open and the HVAC units kick in, everything changes. What was going left goes right, what stayed down now goes up, and what hung in the air for ten minutes now dissipates in only two. EVERYTHING can affect your haze—some common culprits are air conditioning, doors being open/closed, temperature, humidity and barometric pressure. Even our most recent stage design has caused a change in onstage airflow patterns—as of this writing I’m having to consider a new location for my hazer to combat the changes.

Is there then no hope for great haze? There absolutely is. Start with the highest quality hazer you can afford, then put in the necessary time to understand your room and how the haze reacts. Try multiple locations. Try it with a fan and without. Try saturating the room before the event and then not using the hazer during. Try everything until you find what works best in your room. You may not be able to make it look perfect every time but with better understanding of your room your chances will increase. Once I have the lighting programmed for an event I find that most of my time from then on is spent monitoring haze levels. Put in the work and your diligence will pay off.

There are lots of great hazers out there and I hesitate to endorse any specific brand although we’ve had great luck using the MDG Atmosphere in the In the main auditorium of COTM.

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