A lighting design can enhance any event, from a summery afternoon soiree to a truly formal affair. Here's how to illuminate your wedding so all the details shine.
Decide If You Need It
When you book a venue, pay attention to overhead fixtures, sconces and windows. Make sure important elements, like the escort-card table, will be well lit. Pin spotting and dimmers might be available (reduce brightness as the party progresses). If so, instead of hiring an outside vendor, you could just ask the site manager to highlight certain areas.
If the current setup seems inadequate, explore light-design companies four to six months in advance, suggests Jon Retsky, owner and lead designer of Got Light? in San Francisco. Ask recently married friends or your planner for recommendations. Talk to the vendor you choose about the site's layout and details you want to emphasize. Once you settle on wedding colors and other elements, your lighting team will conceptualize the design.
Know What to Light
Some couples include a lighting design where they say “I do,” but this moment “should be more about the actual ceremony than any theatrics,” says NYC-based celebrity wedding planner and 2006 MB Trendsetter David Tutera. If sunlight isn't sufficient, use candles or a warm wash— or patterns projected onto a surface, using a gobo in a light. Consider adding light if marrying outdoors, too: Uplighting (a light on the ground, projecting up) makes a chuppah or altar glow, Retsky says.
For a reception in a tent, some couples project their monogram onto the ceiling. It's a fantastic way to light structures with uneven surfaces, which can be a challenge. Displaying the monogram, or a symbol from the invitation, on the dance floor is the biggest trend in nuptial lighting, Retsky says: “It ties together the entire look or theme of the wedding.”
Eco-friendly options are also big, says Bentley Meeker, NYC-based lighting expert and 2004 MB Trendsetter. LED (light-emitting diode) lighting uses 20 percent of the energy of traditional lights and is programmable— for the dance floor or after-party. Start with soft shades, then add hotter hues later to liven things up.
Consider all aspects of your event. Pin spotting is popular for accenting side tables. For the bathrooms, Retsky suggests softening stark fluorescent light by covering fixtures with colored filters or gels. Dimmers or candles give a flattering glow, Tutera says, but remember to keep them bright enough for guests to reapply makeup.
Choose Your Hues
Keep tables well lit so guests can see one another easily. Don't try pin spotting here: Sharp light is too harsh for faces. Candles achieve a natural look; or try warm washes, Tutera suggests, in hues like yellow, pink and soft orange.
Purples and blues, which can be unflattering during dinner, are fun on the dance floor (but bold colors might be unfavorable for first-dance photos). Steer clear of green: “It makes guests look terrible,” Meeker says.
Know the Cost
Don't assume a lighting design will put you over budget, Retsky says. Truly elaborate designs can be pricey, but basic uplighting starts around $1,000. A full-scale scheme, which could include dance floor and band lighting, highlighting for tables and accents for flowers, can vary a lot, anywhere from $3,000 to $15,000 and up.
Before deciding on a package, find out your venue's installation and removal rules. Putting together lights takes several hours, and labor costs could shoot up if time is crunched. Also ask about power requirements: You may need to pay for an added generator.
Keep in mind that a lighting scheme could let you cut other costs. Strategically lit centerpieces, for example, can look more elaborate, Tutera says—so you might get by with fewer blooms. “Proper lighting will not only enhance your decor but will make it seem like so much more.”