We spend a lot of time thinking about centerpieces, music, and flowers when wedding planning, but one of the most impactful wedding décors is often overlooked. We’re talking about lighting, from votives to spotlights and elaborate string light tents, which gives a whole other meaning to a “wedding glow.” This one element can create so much drama and really set the vibe for your dream wedding.
It can also help highlight the architecture of your venue, put a spotlight on your dancefloor or wedding cake, and keep the party going well past sunset. Leaving room in your wedding budget for lighting is an investment you won’t regret. Even the slightest bit of lighting can bring a lot of warmth and intimacy into your space. With the right ambiance, you can even save on other décor. Use this guide to gain insider tips, learn about the different types of lighting, and be inspired by creative set-ups.
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Tips to Consider Before Hiring Your Lighting Expert
Take another look at your wedding Pinterest boards; you’ll probably notice that many of your favorites have uplighting, pendants, or string lights in the background. It’s these little elements that create that romantic atmosphere. Now that you realize how important lighting is, you might want to rush to hire a vendor, but there are a few things you should consider first:
1. Decide if You Want to Hire an Event Designer
Your event planner is there to keep everything running smoothly, and while many include set-up on your wedding day, they do not provide the full-scale service that an event production company or designer does. An event design company can handle everything from lighting to the overall branding.
Some florists or venues also staff lighting experts, so before you seek a professional, be certain you're hiring the one that works best for you. If you have room in your budget, you might consider an all-in-one event design company that can create your invitation suite, source your rentals, style your reception, and plan your wedding lighting. This takes many to-dos off your list so they can work with their suppliers rather than you having to vet separate vendors yourself.
2. Set Your Lighting Budget
Whether working with an event designer or taking a more hands-on approach, you must figure out your lighting budget. On average, most professional lighting packages start around $2,000, but they can vary based on location. While several DIY lighting options are available, we don’t recommend them. It isn’t as easy as plugging in some lights and requires specialized rigging, electrical, and equipment knowledge. This is why many lighting experts have theatrical or production backgrounds.
Once you’ve researched costs in your area and set your budget, clearly communicate it with your hired team. If funds are tight, ask what will give the most impact for less, like uplighting or scattered votives. You could even check with your venue to see if there’s another wedding happening immediately before or after yours that you could split lighting costs with.
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3. Take Stock of Your Venue’s Inventory
Some venues might include an optional lighting package or keep an inventory of candles, hurricane lanterns, or permanent outdoor lighting. Before you get vendor quotes, speak to the event manager at your wedding venue to assess what lighting is already included in your package.
When you tour the venue, pay extra attention to the built-in lighting. Ask what type of bulbs they use (incandescent, fluorescent, LED, halogen, etc.), if the different fixtures can be controlled separately, and which ones are dimmable. Consider how the venue’s lighting will fit into your overall lighting design.
4. Understand the Limitations
You might love the flickering glow of candlelights, but if your venue has a restrictive no-open-flame policy, it won’t happen. Before you get your heart set on a style that is not possible, review your venue contract and make sure you understand their candles and lighting policies.
While you are at it, you should also talk to the venue about their electrical capacity and get a floor plan with all outlets marked. This way, your lighting specialist can know off the bat if they will be able to accommodate your vision at your selected venue.
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5. Use Natural Light to Your Advantage
Plan a site walkthrough around the same time of day as your wedding start time. If you have a year or more to plan and can visit during the same season as your wedding, even better. This will allow you to see how much natural light shines through the windows or skylights.
For outdoor venues, aim to visit in the evening so you can check pathways and know how much lighting is needed to keep the space safely lit. You’ll also want to check that there’s an outdoor power source and determine if your vendor needs to bring in a generator.
6. Keep Your Photographer in the Loop
Introducing your wedding vendors to each other before the Big Day always helps keep everyone in sync. If there are two most important people who should meet in advance, it’s your lighting professional and your photographer/videographer.
Lighting has a lot to do with how your photography turns out, so keep them in the loop of your lighting plans and the vibe you are aiming for. This way, they come prepared to load the proper equipment for your wedding day.
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Learn to Speak the Lingo
Are you wondering what your lighting expert means when they ask if you want a custom Gobo or a color wash? Not to worry! Here are the lighting terms to know so you can speak their language:
If you’ve ever seen a pattern or monograms projected onto a wall, floor, or ceiling, it was done with a Gobo. This small light projector allows you to insert custom circular stencils. It’s the perfect way to add a personalized touch to your wedding.
You can also choose from patterns or textures to cover an accent wall or ceiling, your names and wedding date displayed on the dancefloor, or a cute saying projected onto a wall.
This modern lighting type stands for "light-emitting diode” and is best known for replacing old incandescent lightbulbs. They emit much less heat and are more energy efficient; they’re great for producing vibrant hues and can even be wireless for a safer, discreet look.
Uplighting is one of the most popular wedding lighting choices. These lights are placed around a room’s perimeter or used to highlight a column or wall. Modern uplights are LED-based and can be wireless or remote-controlled, so you can easily light up your space in one, multiple, or rotating colors.
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These are suspended individual light fixtures that hang from the ceiling. They’re great for overhanging a food station or bar and fit perfectly with an Industrial style when using Edison bulbs.
If you’ve ever walked into a ballroom blanketed in vibrant colors, like pink or purple, you’ve already seen a color wash. It’s a lighting method that fully covers a room in a hue to create a specific vibe.
These focused lights are hung overhead and shine directly onto an element in the room, like table centerpieces or your wedding cake. They can be used with other lighting techniques to highlight a focal point and create an elegant look.
If you want to bring the night sky and stars into your venue, a Blisslight is what you need. It covers a wide area, creates a stunning star effect that works great over a dancefloor, and is the perfect lighting for a celestial-themed wedding.
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These enchanting strands are some of the most requested wedding lights. They can be hung on trees, stairways, above a patio, or even in a canopy to create a tent-like visual effect. It’s a great way to add romance and magic to your wedding reception.
What Areas Need Lighting?
When it comes to wedding lighting, each room is unique. Think about the architectural details and areas or wedding moments you want to highlight and those you prefer to be a bit more hidden. What do you want to be the focal point, the dance floor, the sweetheart table? Centerpieces or food stations? Here are some of the locations you might want to add some lighting to:
- Venue details like columns or a vaulted ceiling
- Outdoor walkways and patio
- Venue entrance
- Dance floor
- Ceremony aisle
- Cocktail tables
- Reception tables
- Food stations
- Wedding cake
- Sweetheart table
- Ceremony or reception backdrop
- Dessert table
- Bar & lounge areas
- Overhead lighting
- Guestbook table
- Wedding exit
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Lighting Ideas You Will Love
Are you having a boho or 70’s retro-themed wedding? We can’t get enough of rattan lanterns hanging above reception tables. Add some glass orbs and florals to complete the chill, cozy vibe.
Candelabras or Taper Candles
Taper candles are a major trend for weddings this year; from floral designs to bright colors, they double as lighting and décor. Use a cluster of them as centerpieces or scatter them along longer, rectangular tables with flowers in bud vases. If you want to add a similar but more dramatic effect, go for vintage candelabras instead.
Custom Neon Sign
Add a bold display to your wedding with a custom neon sign; it could have a cute saying like “drunk in love” hung above your bar or showcase your names in front of a greenery-filled backdrop. Best of all, after your wedding is over, you can use it as home décor that will forever remind you of this special day.
Photo Credit: Anete Lusina, Pexels
Tunnel of Lights
You'll love this next idea if you’re having an intimate wedding with close family and friends. Create a twinkling canopy of lights by draping string lights along square or hooped frames above your reception table. It’s a dreamy installation that your guests will forever remember.
Chandeliers are no longer limited to indoor ballrooms. Add some unexpected elegance to your outdoor wedding by hanging antique or crystal chandeliers at different heights. If the opulence of this idea turns you off, skip the traditional look and go for beaded bohemian chandeliers instead or bring the rustic vibes with an antler chandelier perfect for a barn-style wedding venue.