Lighting 101

Layers, Color, & Setting the Right Ambiance

Lighting is often an overlooked and underestimated element of wedding and event décor. Sometimes you don't know how amazing the décor of your wedding could be until you add the right lighting. We're going to explore Lighting 101, the basics, and how to layer in lighting to make your wedding day pop!

The Problem With Dimming the Lights

A common lighting request is dim lighting for a more romantic ambiance. Good in concept, but too all too often dim lighting can make the room too dark to enjoy the incredible detail of your wedding decor. The intent is often to eliminate harsh overhead ceiling lights built into the event space. Couples want the luxurious chandeliers to sparkle and set the tone for the reception. Unfortunately, sometimes it can take a little more than dim lights to transform a room. 

To create a warm and intimate lighting experience, consider what parts of decor would best be highlighted. From a sweetheart table to the dance floor—ask what are the focal points of the event and ask how you can strike just the right balance of dark and light in those areas. From candles, to LED, to twinkle lights, there are lots of ways to uplight a venue where your decor simply does not pair well with the harsh overhead lighting. 

Wedding Lighting
Photo by Carmen Santorelli Photography, Courtesy of Francine Ribeau Events by Suher


Table Top Lighting

Guests spend the majority of a wedding reception sitting at their table. Adding light to tabletop design can provide a warm glow – and who doesn't look better in the glow of candlelight?

Votive candles can add a gorgeous base to table lighting. Votive cups come in hundreds of colors and textures that can be styled and paired with the other elements of the table décor. Another layer of table lighting to pair with votives is taller pillar candles or floating candles. For a more minimal look, or to pair with candles and votives, some table designs may call for tiny, fairy lights intertwined throughout floral arrangements or laid loosely across the table. This type of layered lighting will dance around eye level creating a comforting ambiance. Another option is to see if the venue allows tall arrangements such as a candelabra with taper candles. This can add another layer of lighting at eye level as guests walk up to their table. Newer LED taper candles can also replace the open flame of wax taper candles, ideal for venues that don't allow open flames.

Wedding uplighting
Photo courtesy of With Love and Embers

Make Floral Arrangements Pop

Add another layer of lighting design with pin spots. These lights are either suspended from the ceiling or attached to a pole and directed onto flower arrangements. They can also be used to highlight a wedding cake. Adding pin spots to highlight tall centerpieces makes them stand out in the dark space between your tabletop and the chandeliers. It is incredible how different the floral design can look by highlighting it with a pin spot. Tall centerpieces dotted with darker flowers can appear as a hollow black space in your centerpiece without the addition of lighting. A simple pin spot on a wedding cake can blow your mind. Even with this type of overhead lighting don't forget to include some lighting elements on the cake table itself.

Wedding lighting
Photo courtesy of Rachel Smith Photography

Wall to Wall Lighting

Beyond candlelight, uplights are probably the most well-known lighting element. Affordable, battery-operated LED lighting allows many DJ companies to add lighting design to their packages. Uplights around the room's perimeter can open up a room, add a wash of color, and accent architectural details. Boring beige banquet room walls can be transformed by adding a warm candlelit glow or pops of complementary colors. A simple change of settings and a pale pink or purple wash can add dimension to the color story of a wedding. Architectural elements, like columns, also love the kiss of uplighting.

green house wedding
Photo courtesy of Mi Belle Photographers

Another popular lighting element is a GOBO—those patterns, monograms or names and wedding dates projected onto a wall we often see on Pinterest and Instagram. GOBO is the abbreviation for Go-Between Optics. It refers to the metal disk's position with the pattern to the light. Too technical? Basically, a metal disk is used to blog light except for your name or monogram. A free blank wall is a perfect place for these projections! Dance floors are also a great location for them.

Dance floor wedding
Photo courtesy of Julia Franzosa


Wash the Floor & the Ceiling

Ask any DJ, and they'll tell you that after liquor, the thing most people need to get up on the dance floor is dim lighting. Once you've added lighting elements around the edge of the room and layered them on your tables, adding a little light to the dance floor keeps from leaving a black hole in the middle of the room. A patterned disk can be used to add some texture or pattern. If your venue has high ceilings, a ceiling wash can be used to draw people's eyes up and open up the room. A pattern projected there can add interest as well.

Wedding reception design
Photo by Aaron Young Photography, Courtesy of LVL Weddings & Events


The More You Know 

Consider crafting a plan for your lighting when looking at your wedding inspiration photos. Chances are the pros designing those luxurious floral pieces and cakes had a professional lighting plan. Lighting should be added in layers and is reasonable enough to add several elements – but it is best to start with the tabletop. Deeply think about the colors you are using. While LED uplights and lighting gels are available in blues and greens, most professionals will tell you to use them sparingly. No one wants to look like an Oompa Loompa on their wedding day. If you are moving forward with DIY lighting, be sure to check power specs with your venue. DJs and bands are use power, typically on the same circuits. You don’t want to blow a circuit in the middle of your wedding. If power is ever in question, invest in a generator. But be sure to consider the noise level and placement too. 

Additional lighting is miraculous, but never underestimate the power of natural light. The moon washing in through a window can add that just perfect touch of romance.


Hero photo courtesy of Weddings by Paige Vaughn

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