Wedding lighting: the thought process

Wedmin has pretty much taken over my free time this past year (top tip: if you can, get a wedding planner!) and as a lighting designer I’m fully aware of the importance of lighting in creating atmosphere and mood (keep in mind, stimulus = response), and how it must be carefully considered from the outset, as it is with most of our design schemes.

There’s a lot more to lighting than it just being functional or looking pretty. It’s about people making an emotional connection with their surroundings – and that’s exactly what you want at your wedding. So the right lighting is one of the most important parts in helping guests make sense of their environment and, as a result, form that emotional attachment.

For my wedding I was so wrapped up in the lighting plans that I didn’t give the wedding location as much consideration as I should. Turns out that getting the tent I was set on put up on a beach was going to require a team of builders and at least three days’ work. Then in order to power the temporary venue for the evening a shed load of generators. But did I consider downgrading on lighting? Of course not!

I know what you’re thinking – you’ve got an endless list of items for an already stretched wedding budget, can the lighting element really rank that highly? Is having a fully thought out and memorable lighting scheme a necessity? Do you have enough time and knowledge to be certain your ideas won’t end up looking like a circus? Even I’m starting to doubt my ambitious lighting plans. Would it actually be the end of the world if I gambled solely on the basic tent lighting being offered? Or maybe in many cases, the existing in-house lighting at the venue? Possibly not. However, lighting is the only element that can instantly and dramatically change a venue, in a way no other decor at a wedding can. Lighting is how you can create the WOW factor.

By changing an environment through lighting (e.g. soft, warm lighting during the meal and more intense and striking hues for the party into the night) you’re able to trigger a different stimulus and consequently, get a planned and desired response. People generally are attracted to brightness (Michel, L. 1996) so by simply increasing the light levels to a desired area (e.g. the dining space when it’s time to sit down for the meal) you can orchestrate the movement of guests more organically. This not only helps guests with the transition of the wedding day as it progresses, but it can also help suggest where they need to be at specific times during the evening. In addition, it can ease the ushers’ and bridesmaids’ duties, which often involve showing people where they’re meant to be and when, meaning they can actually enjoy the night instead.

With the following understanding you can start to think about and create your wedding WOW factor.

Wherever we are, as humans, we’re constantly making sense of our environment and we do so by using a rank system. Movement and brightness (as mentioned above) are such examples, and the following hierarchy shows the rank in which we absorb our surroundings when we enter a new space:

1.     People

2.     Movement

3.     Brightness

4.     High Contrast

5.     Vivid Colour

6.     Strong Pattern

Michel, L. (1996). Light: The Shape of Space: Designing with Space & Light pg-62

So, could you downscale on the expensive flowers that everyone expects and use lighting as an element to influence your desire for involvement with the environment? That’s what we really want, isn’t it? We want the environment to be interesting, we want it to invite us to explore and engage, we want a sense of complexity and mystery. This underlying desire of involvement within a low familiarity setting makes some unusual environments seem exciting, rather than just plain weird or overwhelming, and it also makes some very familiar environments seem just too uninteresting to us.

Low High Preference Familiarity Environments Wedding Lighting

Image: LiteControl

Bright/dim, uniform/non-uniform, central/perimeter, and warm/cool/RGB – when it comes to lighting, these are your choices and with modern technology, you can have them all. With the intention that, as you change the lighting stimulus along these dimensions, you will produce changes in the human response.

I could go on and list different lighting strategies for weddings (i.e. underlighting, uplighting, candles, chandeliers, pin-spotting, gobos, landscape lighting and so on…) but I want to further reinforce my point as to why the right lighting is one of, or even the most, important part of your wedding in helping people make sense of their environment. Using gobos and pin-spotting tables instantly adds fantasy and glamour to your wedding and this makes more sense for old and beautiful locations. Warm lighting with soft uplights creates a luxury cool setup, which is best on the beach. Hence, paying attention to your wedding lighting can reinforce your theme by adding drama, ambience, and really draw attention to an elegant venue or make a simple setting more special.

Also, your photographer will thank you for having good lighting. Photography is a great skill, but regardless of your photographer’s talent, both natural and artificial lighting will have a big impact on your photos. Let them know your lighting plans well in advance so that they can bring the right equipment on the day. Do you want your photos in gorgeous night-time shots under a sky of fairy lights, or in dreamy sunset shots in an exotic location? Decide early on what you want before you choose your photographer as their repertoire may not be what you’re looking for.

A little goes a long way with lighting and even the most thrilling light display can be surprisingly simple. While many types of wedding decor take a lot to make a big impression, being creative, or hiring professionals to accent your space with lighting could be all the decoration you need and could work out cheaper. But remember to be aware of the in-house lighting and what your chosen location provides – there may be some form of lighting you can use or alternatively will need to insist isn’t used.

If your budget absolutely won’t stretch to wedding lighting, you can always get instant ambience with candles, candles and more candles. You can never have enough candles. If you want to be a bit more adventurous, try firepits or oil lamps. Remember fire and love always go together!

Image: Tracy Morter 

Blog post by Caroline Jonsson