Lighting isn’t always the first thing you think of when you start planning your wedding day. However, it can have a huge impact on the way your guests feel in a space. You can use lighting to make the atmosphere warm and inviting, and make your guests look stunning in photos.
From key lingo to choosing a vendor, we have it all laid out – plus some words of wisdom from a lighting professional.
Before diving into the how and why, first there are a few key lighting terms that will be helpful to understand.
Pin Spotting – a soft-focused beam of light that shines directly on to the centerpiece of a table.
Bonus tip: If the budget allows, we recommend to always pin spot tall centerpieces. Those tall pieces are there to be noticed, and when the lights go down for dancing you could lose them in the dark.
Color Wash – a blanket of soft light covering an entire wall/area to create a mood or soften a look.
Gobo – a circular stencil that is put over a light to project a design, image (ex: leaves), or wedding monogram onto a ceiling, wall or dance floor.
Dance Floor Wash – a gobo or general colored wash over the dance floor. This is what softens the area for that warm and inviting feeling, and what makes your guests look even better.
Choosing Your Lights
When choosing which lights you may want to use on the big day, it’s important to find lighting that will match your venue, style, and budget.
A venue often has someone on-site that is familiar with that specific venue and its’ lighting capabilities. We suggest consulting with that person first, and deciding from there if you would like to hire an outside vendor that may provide more options.
It may also benefit you to visit the venue at the time of day your event will be held, so that you know how much natural light you may or may not have to work with.
Types of Lighting
Once you know the capabilities of the venue or vendor of your choice, the next step is choosing the lighting details. This is often where lighting combines with decor. The florist can get involved heavily as they provide things like lanterns and votives.
Glass hurricanes with pillar candles – taper candles are hot right now and they look beautiful encased in a glass vessel. Whenever using candles, we suggest candles of varying heights for more of a statement.
Chandeliers – you can have your lighting professional hang them over a bar, the dance floor, or even in the bathroom. This adds an elegant ambiance to any space. Don’t forget you can even hang them outside!
Hanging Glass Orbs – they can draw attention to any area and add an element of creativity, and the spherical shape can give a whimsical vibe to the decor.
Lanterns – may be used as table decor, floating lanterns, or hanging from trees outside. Using different sizes can add dimension and create a more compelling look.
Light up letters/sign – Spelling out ‘love’ in letters can work in any space. You can place a light-up sign under the head table backdrop.
LED lights – the good thing about LED lights as opposed to regular light bulbs is that they do not get as hot as regular lights. They are also flexible to whatever area you would like to place them in because they can be laid out or hung up in any shape, and their wires are more discreet.
Neon signs– neon signs are super popular right now, and they’re a great way to get creative and customize what you would like the sign to say.
String lighting, bistro lighting, or twinkle lights – these types of lights can create a magical effect or highlight a specific section of the venue. The lights themselves are fairly inexpensive but the labor to string them is where the costs come in.
Bonus tip: if you have a few strands of twinkling lights behind your head table and hang a sheer drape over the twinkling lights, it creates a beautiful and soft backdrop.
For outdoor events: highlight trees that are already there in string lights to make more of a statement.
We asked lighting professional John Strzalkowski from Atmosphere Events Group for a few pointers on incorporating all of the different aspects of lighting.
Q & A With John
What do you think are the top most impactful lighting pieces a couple can use if on a budget?
Uplighting tends to be the overall most cost effective and impactful method of lighting for a whole room if on a budget. However, not every uplight is created equal. In other words, some lights can’t recreate the colors that you may want. For example; warm whites, cold whites, and some pastels/variations of colors cannot be achieved with “budget fixtures”.
Bistro/string lighting tends to be very popular as well and can also be just as cost effective, depending on the space. At the same time, it takes more design time and knowledge of safely installing overhead lighting. This can make it more costly, but the effect is greater in my opinion. I would also always recommend making sure the lighting is on a dimming system, as you want to be able to set the perfect mood for each “scene” of the night.
What options do venues usually have for lighting? What are some benefits for hiring an outside vendor?
Some venues offer in-house lighting, which mostly includes uplighting and bistro lighting. Others offer it but use an outside vendor to provide equipment and set up/remove it. If a venue doesn’t offer lighting options, most of them are pretty “blank” and can be a great canvas for lighting.
Hiring an outside vendor has a few advantages. This includes the quality of equipment being much better. With AEG for instance, we try to invest into the upgraded or industry standard version of the equipment we purchase. This means higher quality products and more features, and typically more reliability than your budget fixtures/equipment.
We typically provide an overhead lighting plot that shows how the lighting should look and illustrates the placement of the fixtures. If we don’t have photos of the exact lighting setup, an overhead lighting plot certainly helps visualize.
What tips do you have when it comes to using lighting along with natural light?
Managing what to expect from lighting in a naturally lit environment will keep you happiest in the long run. The biggest tip I have is with natural lighting is that you can’t compete with the sun. If there is a bunch of natural light around, there is not much you can do with the lighting that will have a large impact visually.
Nevertheless, the bistro lighting bulbs will still have that glow of the filament, twinkle lights will still be visible, and chandeliers will still sparkle. These elements still add something visual to the decor, but won’t provide “functional lighting” which, in a natural environment, is not necessary.
Lighting during the daytime/sun-lit environments is typically mostly for decor. There are lights bright enough to provide effects like a pattern wash or spot-lighting in brighter environments, however, they tend to be more costly and usually push the limits of budget-oriented clients.