Spotlights, fairylights and candlelight all play a part at a wedding – get them right and you’ll be glowing with success, writes Beth Forsyth
One of my guilty pleasures on TV is Dating in the Dark. If you have somehow managed to miss the magic of the show thus far, let me bring you up to speed. It sets up guys and gals on a series of – quite literally – ‘blind’ dates, where they first meet each other in a pitch-black room with only a night-vision camera for company. The segment of the show where the lights come on and the participants get to see each other for the first time can make or break what may have been a blossoming relationship. If you forget about the lighting at your wedding, your hopes of matchmaking the groom’s cousin Scott with your bridesmaid Jenny could end up like an episode of the aforementioned programme.
All joking aside, lighting really can make a difference to your day, as Luci Anderson of venue dressing specialist Eventsdecor explains: “It’s not only a basic, practical consideration – if there’s not enough light, guests aren’t going to be able to see what they’re eating and drinking, for example, and it’ll hinder the waiting staff too – but it can really set the atmosphere and tone for the day.”
Great, I hear you cry: I’m spending enough on my big day as it is and now you’re suggesting I start splashing the cash on something that my venue provides anyway. Well, yes, that is exactly what I’m proposing. But creating the right ambience with illumination doesn’t have to be an expensive business. Here’s our guide to lighting up your love…
GO TO THE DARK SIDE
When you’re visiting your chosen venue, check out the light sources it already has. Does it have much natural daylight? Does it have fluorescent strips overhead? Although couples are likely to scope out their venue during the day, Luci advises making a second visit – if you can – after sunset or on a rainy day to see how the in-house lighting will look after dark. “That way, you can judge if the atmosphere will be right for your wedding,” she says. “Ask if any of your venue’s overhead lighting happens to be controlled by a dimmer switch. If it is, you’re onto a winner, as you can turn it down to create the right ambience for the evening. If not, you’re best to keep the main lights off in the evening and think about decorative lighting instead – as overhead glare doesn’t offer much in terms of creating a romantic mood.”
Jon Gamble, who runs Go2 Event Hire, also suggests asking your venue if it has photographs of previous events. “Don’t just ask to see images of weddings, though; look at other events too. These could give you an idea of how your room could look, as well as providing inspiration and ideas on how to create something suitably atmospheric for your own guests.”
THE CHARM OF CANDLELIGHT
Romance and candlelight go hand in hand. The flickering flames inject a special atmosphere to proceedings for minimum outlay. But always check what your venue’s policy is on candles: some will be happy to have them dotted about wherever you want; others will insist the flame is protected by a container such as a hurricane lamp; some will allow candlelight during the ceremony but not in the evening when guests are dancing and moving around a lot more. Venue decor expert Ruth Marshall of SuperNova Wedding Design and Flowers thinks candlelight’s special quality is unsurpassed, especially during the ceremony. “It is romantic and elegant and always looks perfect. Even on a summer’s day, candles will be seen. And they needn’t be expensive – our selection of tea-lights starts at £1, with church candles at £3 each, hurricane or cylinder vases for the aisle at £8 each, and floor candelabras at £45.”
But there are a lot of venues that won’t allow candlelight at all. We’ve all heard stories of tipsy guests inadvertently placing their jackets/bags/hats/menus (delete as applicable) on top of candles and watching as they go up in flames, so it’s understandable why some places refuse to allow them. Don’t despair if this is the case with your venue. LED tea-lights and candles in the right containers (to hide any battery packs) are just as effective, maintains Ruth. “If you want to cheat the look of an exposed candle, you can get chunky candles that are made from wax but have an LED ‘flame’ – they genuinely look great,” she says. The bonus is they’ll last up to eight hours – much longer than the real thing.
Underwhelmed by your venue’s plain walls? SuperNova can change them for you – without going anywhere near a paintbrush. Colour-washing walls using light is one of the most cost-effective ways to inject a colour theme, and you’ll reap the atmosphere rewards, as Ruth reveals: “If you keep your wedding breakfast lighting neutral – washes of ambient golds, warm whites or ambers all work – you can then inject colour to your reception and really transform the space,” she says, adding that SuperNova can colour-wash a venue’s walls (with a colour change included) from £495. “Our lighting tech can provide a colour change for your evening do, using deep jewel colours, such as rich purples, bright pinks or any colour theme you wish, upping the wow factor and indicating it’s time to party the night away.” LED battery up-lights can be placed anywhere, so you don’t need to have a power source. Look out for any special areas or features (such as alcoves, cornices, beams, pillars and columns) that you may wish to highlight with coloured light.
If you’re really strapped for cash, Ruth suggests that even a simple backdrop of lights behind the top table would make a real difference. Luci agrees: “Curtain lights make a fantastic backdrop, especially when used behind the top table or where the band play in the evening. Our basic curtain light backdrop is 2.8m high by 6m wide and includes three sets of curtain lights on a free-standing frame with white fabric under the lights and white organza (other colours can be arranged) over the lights, from £270.”
Cleverly placed fairylights and string lighting can be particularly cost-effective and create an amazing effect. “These can be draped anywhere as long as there’s something to fix them to, and they won’t damage the surface of whatever they’re attached to. We’ve used them successfully in all sorts of venues, from halls to hotels,” says Luci. Canopy lights (warm, white strings of light that drape overhead) make dramatic visual impact, but are only suitable for rooms that have a central fixing such as a marquee, warns Luci. She also suggests using star cloths (tiny pinpricks of light on a black or white cloth) to create an effective ‘night-time’ feel in a marquee.
‘What on earth is a gobo?’ I hear you ask. It’s essentially like a stencil that can be placed over a light source to project an interesting effect, pattern or phrase on to walls and floors. Ruth has more: “We can use lighting gobos to transform the walls and dancefloor with a whole range of patterns to fit the venue and theme. These can also rotate into moving features around the walls and dancefloor. They can be personalised to project ‘Mr & Mrs’, say, or the couple’s names and wedding date. It really does look stunning and is always a talking point in the evening for your guests,” she says.
Even you do nothing else in terms of illumination, Luci recommends incorporating lighting into your table centres. “Firstly, it’s practical for your guests when they’re eating; secondly, it stops things looking ‘flat’ and creates a lovely, ambient glow; finally, it lights up all those elements you’ve likely spent time, money and effort getting right, such as the flowers, favours and table settings.”
Pin spots are spotlights that produce narrow beams of light and are used to illuminate small areas, especially to focus attention on detail. “Pin spots are excellent for highlighting and accentuating table centres, flower arrangements and specific features of the room and look magical once the rest of your room lights are low,” explains Ruth. She points out that they are very much venue-dependent in terms of what can be done
If you’re planning to take advantage of the great outdoors, don’t neglect exterior lighting. As daylight starts to fade, switching on or sparking up your outdoor illumination will keep the party ambience going. “Lighting a patio or garden looks stunning and creates another space for your guests to use,” says Ruth. “You may wish to add fairylights to pillars, doorways and even trees or bushes in the gardens.” This is especially worthwhile if you’re using the exterior of your venue for evening photographs or inviting guests outdoors for a fireworks display. Homemade jam-jar ‘lanterns’ with tea-lights in them can look stunning as dusk draws in, or go all out and use Enchanted Trees to transform the boughs and branches around your venue.
There are all sorts of lighting extras that will really switch your guests into party mode. Take light-up dancefloors, for example: destined to bring out the John Travolta in every guest, these LED wonders have proved so popular that some venues have bought their own, ready to be rolled out at your request. An illuminated bar, meanwhile, will draw your guests to vital refreshments like moths to a flame. All Event Hire in Glasgow and Edinburgh has a superb selection, along with dazzling light-up furniture to match. Last, but by no means least, is one of our favourite 2014 wedding trends so far: 3D illuminated letters. Go2 Event Hire has seen these soar in popularity recently. “They’re the latest trend in lighting effects,” says Jon Gamble. “You can personalise your wedding with 5ft-tall initials, light up the room with glowing ‘MR & MRS’ letters, and spread the love with a small or large LED ‘LOVE’ sign.”