How do you light up a wedding reception?

Wedding Lighting Ideas

We are all about the wedding details—cakes, flowers, monogrammed invites, and more. But we have to admit this understated fact: Lighting is the single most important décor element at your wedding. And while, at first, that thought sounds more functional than fun, hear us out: The bulbs and candles you select (whether they're simple votives or over-the-top chandeliers) are what will ultimately light your perfect venue, make your photos just right, and keep the party going—even after the sunsets. So, yeah, lighting is important, and it's an essential element of both your budget and wedding-day décor. But that doesn't mean you can't have fun with it—in fact, you should have fun with it. As with any other design detail, treat choosing, planning, and installing the night's illumination as yet another opportunity to carry out your design vision—whatever style that is.

And we don't just mean "style" in terms of whether you're a modern, romantic, or glam bride. Instead, take a moment to think about your priorities and create a lighting plan around that. For instance, if you're a foodie bride who envisions a wine-fueled night under the stars, consider hanging string lights above the dining area or placing a long line of taper candles down the middle of the table. Both would spotlight the night's main show (the food) and keep your guests in their seats way past the final course. Same goes for you flower ladies. If you're spending that much per bloom, show them off with plenty of votives scattered about. And if you already have your dancing shoes ready for a night on the dance floor, make a show of it with a disco ball up top or paper lanterns around the area's perimeter. (You can see examples of both below, but a lighting statement here almost guarantees a good party—why do you think you like dancing at a nightclub so much?)

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What is Mood Lighting?

Up-lights, Pinspots and Textured Lighting are the three main types of lighting that commonly make up a Mood Lighting package.


LED Up-Lights are strategically placed around the perimeter of a room to highlight architectural features and to paint a venue with light. The result is a complete transformation of dull, unsophisticated spaces into a magical room that your guests will be talking about for years to come. You can choose virtually any colour; you may wish to start with a static colour to match your bridal colour scheme and then move to a slow colour fade change to set a disco-esque feel after your wedding formalities.

Pinspot Lighting

Pinspot Lighting is the icing on the cake when it comes to lighting up your event. Pinspot lighting directs light to where you need it most, such as your tables and other standouts like your wedding cake. Incorporating Pinspot Lighting to design also allows for the main venue lights to be switched off, which will highlight both the Up-Lights and Pinspot effects even further!

Textured Lighting

Lighting designers use Texture Lighting to create dimensions and visual interest by breaking up boring flat walls and turning them into extraordinary art pieces. By breaking up a light source, patterns can be created on a dance floor, ceiling, walls or any other surface that requires the character to 'lift' the room.

Wedding Lighting Ideas

Why Should I Have Mood Lighting At My Wedding Reception?

  • The right Mood Lighting sets the mood and totally provides the 'Wow Factor' when your guests walk in the room.
  • Mood Lighting is the most cost-effective way of transforming an entire venue.
  • It is a more affordable option than hiring wall drapes for older venues and DIY function centres.
  • Your bridal scheme colours can be selected
  • Highlight venue architectural features
  • Boring walls can turn into a vibrant theme
  • Directs light to where you need it most
  • Allows for venues lights to switch off increasing the DJ dance floor light effects.

Power up

Before you and your groom start debating bulb colours and chandelier styles, ask your venue for a quick rundown on their power options. First, see what they offer and what their traditional lighting package is. Then the next question is what they will allow. Ask about the number of circuits and the amps that you'll have to work with keeping in mind the power needs of your band, DJ, caterer, and photographer-and whether your location allows open flames, provides places to anchor suspension cables for overhead lighting or requires you to put down path lighting from your location to the bathroom or parking lot. From that, you can determine what you can and can't do creatively and come up with a composite in the middle.

Check out our post on Important Tips on Choosing a Wedding Venue.

Mix old and new

Advancements in LED technology have made these types of bulbs an increasingly popular option for lighting designs, especially since newer versions offer a warmer, more natural light than the older generation. LED lights to use up to 90 per cent less energy than traditional bulbs, so they're indispensable when power is at a premium, and they run on batteries, which makes them easy to arrange to suit your space. But be wary of using too many of them, Even at the "ideal" warmth of 2700k, an event lit entirely by LED won't have the same glow as one that combines LED with traditional bulbs. You're going to have a flattering look. There's a spark missing. You can adjust the colour temperature, but if you want that warm, cozy feeling for your wedding, you have to be really careful."

Make space your own

Along with the practical effects of lighting-like allowing your guests to see each other (and your dress!) -there's a decorative aspect, too. By drawing eyes toward or away from different areas, lighting lets you show off (or hide) features of the space. Use uplights to highlight a stunning architectural detail, as the Manchester's did for a wedding in Italy, or a put a pattern wash on the ceiling of a sailcloth tent to make space feel more intimate. Putting battery-operated pin spots above each centrepiece to allow more light in areas where guests are eating and chatting. We hit the florals, not the whole table. The detail that it adds is just phenomenal. Another idea is to create a focal point over the dance floor with a hanging chandelier, even if you're not inside a tent; hang chandeliers from oak tree branches and suspend them from redwoods.

Our list of Melbourne Wedding Decorators have you covered for all your wedding day decoration needs.

Light the surrounding areas

After you've lit the space immediately around your tables, dance floor, and band, consider the rest of the property. Lighting the trees or nearby buildings expands the scope of your reception area. At weddings, use a soft wash on the outside of buildings around a tented reception. Instead of being in a lighted tent in a dark outdoor space, it gave a nice glow and felt like [space] extended beyond the tent. Lighting nearby greenery, too. That's the background for the whole weekend. The backdrop that it creates makes an incredible difference.

Dos and don'ts of wedding lighting

Before you sign any contracts with a lighting designer, follow these simple guidelines when dealing with wedding lighting.

Do: Hire a professional

Lighting is, without a doubt, a very technical thing. Therefore, it's not recommended to handle or even plan your wedding lighting all by yourself. If you want to DIY some parts, it would still be okay; how about making your mason jar lights, for example? Hiring a professional lighting designer ensures quality and safety on your wedding day. It would be good to have a technician stand by to help you with any lighting needs and mishaps that might happen.

Don't: Forget to see what your venue has to offer

Before spending too much on a lighting vendor, check to see if your venue offers lighting in their wedding package. If the venue has all the lighting options that you like, it would be better to have your venue handle it for you. Your wedding venue will know which spots to enhance and shade, as well as the electricity that they are capable of handling.

Do: Consult your vendor

Bring along your lighting designer to do site checks so that they can determine the kind of lighting that will suit your venue. Will your wedding be held indoors or outdoors? Be sure to tell your lighting designer as it will affect the setting and production costs as well. Also, brief them about your theme and how you want your wedding to look and feel. Lastly, disclose your budget to the team so they can produce well-balanced lighting without going over your wedding budget.

Don't: Forget your research

Before deciding on a lighting vendor, do your research first. Find and compare different lighting vendors before choosing one. Read articles about wedding lighting (like this one) to get inspirations and a general idea of what you want your wedding lighting to look like. Also try to understand common lighting terms, as they will come in handy when you're dealing with vendors.

Do: Check your venue's terms and conditions

Always check your venue's terms and conditions before agreeing to all the items offered by your lighting vendor. If possible, bring your lighting vendor when meeting with your venue. Some venues have restrictions regarding lighting, and it would be best that you know of them sooner, rather than on the wedding day. Would you need to pay for extra electricity? What kind of lighting equipment is necessary? Are there any that are not allowed? Be sure that both parties have a clear understanding.

Don't: Overdo it

When it comes to lighting, moderation is key. Going over-the-top with lighting will only make your wedding look tacky instead of beautiful. Adding too many coloured lighting or applying too many different lighting types at once is not recommended. Just keep everything nice and simple, you'll like the results so much better.

Do: Watch the weather

Especially if you're having an outdoor wedding, pay attention to the weather. As lighting uses a lot of electricity, it would be dangerous should it be exposed to rainfall. Think of a back-up plan and ask your lighting vendor to help you on this.

Don't: Forget to talk to your photographer

Lighting is an essential part of any wedding photography. When you've set the mood and lighting for your wedding venue, tell your photographer so that the team will be able to adjust and bring all the necessary equipment to produce good quality pictures of your wedding day.

If your wedding budget has room for lighting, you're in for a great experience. Not all weddings need lighting, but the right lights lend warmth, elegance and drama to a room. Here are some points to ponder, as you consider lighting your party room.

Modern uplights can match your décor perfectly. With the magic of LED uplighting and DMX controls, your lights can be fine-tuned to millions of colour variations, including the colours you've chosen.

A lifeless room typically means a lifeless party. But animated uplighting, with colour transitions, chases and strobes, can ignite the entire room, and drive your guests to the dance floor for non-stop dancing.

Venue uplighting vs. DJ uplighting. If your wedding venue offers uplights, they typically are set to one of a handful of pre-programmed colours; and that's how they stay -- all night -- even when your guests dance. Static, non-moving light can drain the energy from your dance floor. A lighting company can set up single-colour lights, or even program them for a single pattern when dancing starts. But a DJ who provides his uplighting can run the lighting effects, so they change colours and patterns and change to match the speed and energy of each new song. It's worth the extra money to let your DJ provide your lighting.

Uplighting for outdoor events. If you're having an outdoor wedding with dinner and dancing in a plain white tent, you desperately need uplighting! There is nothing more sterile than a pure white room -- an empty slate. Adding lighting changes everything! Suddenly, your space is alive with colour; and most uplights can be aimed toward the middle of the ceiling, to make the entire space come to life.

Your name in lights. Adding monogram lighting with your names or initials can put your individual stamp on your special day. Today's monograms can be cut from metal plates with a virtually infinite combination of artwork, fonts and messages. For a little more money, a special glass monogram can include a picture of the two of you; and it can be coloured to match your room. Your monogram light can be projected onto a wall or your dance floor. Take a look at some of your options here.   

Dance floor lighting. If you can't afford uplighting, a cheaper alternative is dance floor lighting. Most DJs offer 5 or 6 different lighting effects, including a disco ball for slow dancing, in their light shows.

When you DON'T need lighting. If you're having a daytime wedding outdoors, or in a room surrounded by windows, you don't need lighting. If you're having a summer wedding with a 9 pm sunset, and your wedding reception ends at 10 pm, you won't get much bang for your buck from a light show. If your wedding is held at the top of a skyscraper like the John Hancock Center or the Sears/Willis Tower, you already have the world's best light show outside your windows. If your party room has fluorescent lighting that's either on or off, and can't be dimmed, you're out of luck. The room lights will have to stay on all night, and a light show would be a waste of money. Finally, if your party room has dark walls, you won't get the full benefit of a light show; lighting is better with white or light-coloured walls.

See it for yourself. Ask your DJ to show you his lighting options in action so that you can make an informed decision. If he won't show you, hire someone else.

Your wedding guests' most lasting memories of your reception will be their first impression upon entering your dining room, and the fun they had on the dance floor. Elegant lighting makes a great first impression and turns your dance floor into a virtual explosion of colour, sound and motion. You'll know it was worth the money when all of your guests rave to you about what a great time they had. 

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Remember that less is more

While you shouldn't expect a single chandelier to light an entire space, you also don't want to go too bright. It is easy to overdo the lighting. You want smaller pockets of light, more of them, and you want to keep them dimmer." Consider eye-catching pendants, a collection of hanging paper lanterns, elegant tabletop candelabras, or gallery-worthy installations of Edison bulbs in the entry. If you have your heart set on string lights, incorporate them into a design that includes more formal candelabras or embrace their more casual style. There's still such an appeal for them, in the same way, that outdoor weddings will never go out of style. People are still looking for that feeling of a beautiful outdoor evening.

Frequently Asked Questions About Wedding Reception

We typically advise clients to budget $1100-$1300 for a small, one feature wedding. If your wedding fits inside a 40 x 60 tent outside, a simple bistro lighting hang will do the trick. For a mid-sized, multi-feature wedding, you should budget between $1500-$3500. Most weddings fit into this category.

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.

There are many different types of string lights, including twinkle lights, Edison bulbs, paper lanterns, and fairy lights. Most typically cost between $3 and $5 per linear foot, but you may need to pay more for the cost of installation and any extra equipment, like extension cords.

Fairy lights feature tiny LED bulbs on a thin, flexible metal wire that can be bent or shaped to fit around decorations or into tiny spaces. Many LED fairy lights are battery powered with a convenient timer function, however some longer strings have plug in adapters

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