Florist? Check. Musicians? Check. Lighting guy? Err…excuse me? While hiring a professional lighting designer may not top your planning list, it's actually one of the most dramatic ways to customize your wedding space. If your reception is indoors, a lighting designer will work hand in hand with your florist to highlight your table arrangements and other decorations by altering the ambient light (using dimmers, replacing white bulbs with pink) and creating focal points. Even the most bare-bones elements—a small pin spot over each centerpiece, for example—can really pay off. If you'll be holding the party in a tent, it's even more important to think about lighting; not only because you'll need a source of illumination after dark, but to create an atmosphere that's both inviting and festive. Got a bright idea? A lighting designer will make it happen.
The most basic lighting includes the aforementioned pin spots, which can be adjusted to complement your flowers—a soft champagne light, for example, makes white roses shimmer. Cascading strings of tiny, twinkling lights, chains of glowing lanterns, and tables illuminated from below are other popular treatments. But that's just the start. In a ballroom, you can use light to bring out interesting architectural details while creating a welcoming ambience. A narrow gold spotlight directed up a gothic column will make it pop dramatically, while a richer rose light will keep the dance floor hopping. Uplighting (pointing small lights toward the ceiling) can make a room appear taller, and spotlight fixtures used with a gobo (a stencil placed over a spotlight) can cast colored patterns—the bride's and groom's initials, for example—onto a wall. White fabric draped behind the lead table can be a great, and inexpensive, canvas for colored lighting, says Chris Shick, of Vincent Lighting Systems in Cleveland. He's also used gobos to create leafy textures on an outdoor tent, as if the moon were shining through a forest. A pale color wash diffused over the ceiling is another way to transform a plain white tent: Think about amber light if your linens and flowers are white or pale; sunset colors like lavender, blue, or pink if your decorations are richer in tone.
How much does lighting a reception space cost?
It depends on such things as what kind of illumination you want, the size of the room, and where you live. Each item is priced separately ($20 to $50 per pin spot, for instance), but designers generally have a minimum of about $1,600, says Randie Wilder Pellegrini, of Cordially Invited in Beverly Hills, California. More elaborate work, such as a dance-floor color wash or uplighting the perimeter of the room, will cost more.
The Fine Print
Your best bet for locating a qualified lighting designer is a recommendation from an event planner or florist. Many event-lighting companies (which can be found in the Yellow Pages) also do weddings. But be sure to inquire whether the one you're considering has actual experience in working on weddings, not just splashy corporate events. Before signing a contract, check if the lighting designer is insured (if you're wary, ask to see a license) and discuss whether the negotiated price includes a generator (and backup in case of emergency), which might be needed.