Ever look at pictures of a wedding and find yourself blown away by both the details of the space and the intimate, romantic vibe of the event? You have uplighting to thank for that. Though uplighting isn’t a standalone solution for making a reception pop, it is an integral part of the overall lighting design package that will emphasize your décor elements and bring out the beauty of your venue.
What Is Uplighting?
Uplighting is the placement of individual light sources at the base of architectural details or points of interest, typically around the perimeter of a space, to draw attention to those details.
“From a lighting design standpoint, uplighting is the first brush stroke in event design,” says event designer Brian Toner. “Done properly, it gives a sense of depth and background to your photos and videography.”
Meet the Expert
Brian Toner is the owner and lead designer of Philadelphia-based event services firm Eventions Productions. In business for three decades, Eventions specializes in lighting, audio design, video and media projection, pipe and drape, and power generation for over 400 large-scale events each year.
Read on for everything you need to know about uplighting, including how much it could cost—and how not to use it.
Is Uplighting Necessary at a Wedding?
Though nothing is truly “necessary” at a wedding other than the marrying couple, uplighting is, more often than not, a good idea. If you’re having an indoor or covered reception during the evening, uplighting will add drama and elegance, but it will also indicate points of interest in your venue and help guide guests to areas of the event they’ll be interacting with, such as the bar or photo booth.
“Uplighting looks best when it is lighting something,” says Toner. “If you’re in [a historic venue] and they have these killer columns with corners at the top and dramatic fluting, uplighting will bring that out. It puts the shadows and all the little detail into relief, which really makes it pop.”
Uplighting is not as necessary during a daylit event, or in a basic square room with four white walls where there is little to call attention to. For that reason, an outdoor wedding in an open field will similarly not require uplighting, as there will be nothing for the light to bounce off of, but that doesn’t mean all outdoor weddings are off the hook.
“Don’t forget the outside areas of a tented event,” Toner explains. “At night, if the tent is 50 feet from the house and down a set of steps, is there enough light to see the pathway? Same with the bathroom trailer – what does the walkway look like between the main tent and the trailer after it gets dark?” For that reason, Toner’s team will look for trees, bushes, and sides of buildings to uplight, so the light can bounce back into the space. This gives guests reference points and set boundaries for an area so they can more smoothly navigate their way around.
How Much Does Uplighting Cost?
For a professional lighting design package, Toner estimates that costs will begin between two and four thousand dollars. “Uplighting should be one part of a bigger lighting package,” he says. “Because if you only have uplighting in a dark room, you’ve essentially lit all of the outsides of the room. The dance floor, tables, band, etc. will be much darker than everything else.”
Per Toner, the ideal lighting package should also include pin spots, splash lights on the dance floor, and lighting on the band, so that in photos and video, there’s a balance between all focal points of a wedding. “If you take a picture across the room while [the couple’ is dancing], they should be lit along with the centerpieces and the wall in the back,” he explains.
Uplighting Dos and Don'ts
A helpful list of dos and don’ts when it comes to uplighting at your wedding:
DON’T develop your lighting plan in a vacuum.
“I approach every event from a photography and videography standpoint,” says Toner. “The pictures last forever. If it’s not lit the right way, then forever all of your crowd is in the dark, or you won’t see the flowers.” To that end, Toner makes sure to communicate with the event designer, florist, photographer, and videographer ahead of every wedding. Once he understands the focal points and floral and décor plans for an event, he can create a lighting scheme that will best accentuate those details.
DO ask if your vendor uses LEDs.
Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, are a better option because they don’t heat up the way traditional filament bulbs do, so there’s no risk of anyone burning themselves or a décor element such as drapery catching fire. Added bonus: Most LEDs are battery-operated, which means you can eliminate the clunky look and trip hazard of cables.
LEDs used for uplighting outdoors should be waterproof.
DON’T think candles or market lights can stand in place of uplighting.
Candles and string lighting should be considered more decorative elements than core light sources, as they don’t emit enough light to change the feel of an event unless employed in very large numbers.
DO know the difference between pin-spotting and uplighting.
“Uplighting lights around the room,” explains Toner. “It allows you to change the color and feel of a space.” A pin spot, on the other hand, is a concentrated beam of light – similar to a flashlight – that highlights something specific like the cake, a piece of décor, or floral centerpieces. While uplighting comes from below, pin spots typically come from above.
DON’T forget about drapery.
Uplighting and drapery often go hand in hand for more formal events. “Uplighting adds to the texture by emphasizing the folds and bringing out the pleats and scrunch at the top,” says Toner.
DO be strategic with color choice.
Amber is the most universally flattering LED shade for wedding uplighting, as it adds a romantic yet still formal glow. “It also brings out the flesh tones of people,” says Toner, who advises against anything too orange. Uplighting can also be used to unify the color scheme of a wedding. “If you’re doing a very pink wedding, you could uplight the room in pink and tie it together,” says Toner. “If you’re doing a candlelit, white-tablecloth look, you’d probably do a light amber to bring out the room.”
Deep purple and blue uplighting should be used more sparingly, as they can lend a nightclub vibe to an event. That works to amp up guests for the dance party portion of the evening, but may not be right for cocktail hour or dinner, which will involve more intimate conversation and sentimental moments.
Whatever you do, DON’T use green.
“Always stay away from green light,” says Toner. “It makes food and people look sick.”