How To Plan Your Lighting Needs For The Best Results
Event and party lighting can provide the most bang for your buck.
One of the most commonly overlooked elements for events, parties, and weddings is lighting. Which is a shame because for your dollar you will be hard pressed to find any other accessory that delivers more value in setting the mood, directing attention, and elevating an attendees experience than some inexpensive lighting additions.
But it's not as easy as just throwing a bunch of lights around your venue. Carefully selecting the type of lights plays a huge part of ensuring the correct message and vibe is received by your guests. In this article we are going to discuss a few tips and tricks to guarantee your special event is seen in the right light.
There are countless brands, types, and styles of stage lights in the marketplace so we are only going to cover some of the primary go-to options, and much like who makes the best cheeseburger in your town, the right choice is subjective to your own individual personal preference. There is no hard and fast rule to what is right or wrong but these general tips should help in routing out some potential unwanted side-effects, and deliver the desired results your are looking for.
L.E.D. Uplighting - Colorful Pars or Bars Decorate and set a Theme with Ease
Hands down, without question the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way to transform your event from "Meh" to "Wow" is some thoughtful uplighting. L.E.D. Par Can or Lighting Bars splash a blast of color on boring plain beige or white walls that instantly bring them to life. But the walls aren't the only venue feature you can enhance. Columns, structural beams, sculptures or flora are equally great features of a event center that can benefit from highlighting.
Modern L.E.D. Uplights are cool to the touch so you don't have to worry about setting the facility ablaze or being burned when touched by kids or guests. Not only that, but they can be set to nearly any color you can imagine with the click of a button. a common design found in most uplights will be color mixing Red, Green, and Blue (RGB), while this can reproduce many colors a more advanced uplighting fixture will be RGB plus White, Amber, and UV (RGBWA+UV). This more diverse diode will be capable of mixing colors more accurately in addition to providing a broader spectrum of color to choose from.
Unlike linens, balloons, centerpieces, crate paper streamers, or flowers, uplights can really drive home a color scheme or theme quickly and with little expense. With only a few setting selections on the lighting fixture you can choose a color that matches your wedding colors, or even brighten and liven up a dark corner or dance area. The capabilities of uplights don't have to be limited to a single color choice either. Most uplights are capable of being linked together for a synchronized effect, and those effects can range from strobing, to fading color changes, they can even detect sound levels with their built-in microphones to automatically change color to the beat of music. This feature is epic when paired with a dance floor or party atmosphere as it elevates the party experience to that of being in a club. This energetic change of color encourages guests to let loose, have another drink, and dance like nobody is watching.
The form factor of L.E.D. uplights are generally in two categories, par can or light bar. Both can vary in degrees of the wash spread but Par cans typically range from 5-35 degrees with the numerically lower degrees being a "tighter" or more narrow beam of light and the higher degrees spreading out the beam of light to cover more area in light. Bar lights are ideal for covering broad wider expanses of walls or drapes as their light sources are spaced on the horizontal axis making them best for coating whole walls and drapery in a bath of color.
Some uplights come with built-in battery packs enabling them to be placed nearly anywhere without the need for a power outlet nearby or unsightly cables running to them.
For these numerous features and benefits L.E.D. uplights are best used at just about any event type. They can be subtle and discreet, perfect for a classy low key wedding, family gathering, special event, awards ceremony, corporate Presentations and so much more. They can also be vibrant, dynamic, and eye catching for birthday parties, Bat mitzvahs, Quinceañeras, dances, festivals, or New Years Eve. The only condition in which uplighting would be ineffective would be events with bright sunlight and in environments that are wide open with very little to cast the light on. The other side effect to keep in mind would be for photographers as too much colored light could alter the color temperature and white balance in photos, this can typically be overcome with a flash but is definitely a situation to discuss with your photographer or videographer prior to your event so they can plan accordingly.
Spotlights & Gobos - Focused Lights With A Designated Purpose
While L.E.D. uplights can be universally used in any number of applications spotlights and gobos are used for very specific purposes. The venues and event types and reasons for which spotlights and gobos are used can be quite diverse. For example a business or company presentation may want to have a product or speaker at a podium illuminated to focus a crowds attention on a specific item or person, whereas a wedding might want the newly weds to be the highlight on a dance floor. Spotlights can also aid in video recordings or photography when the ballroom or conference hall is dimly lit so that they can capture non-grainy and clear images.
Whatever the event or venue may be it's important to plan in advance for the use of this type of lighting fixture. While most up-to-date and current forms of spotlights use L.E.D.s as their lighting element, which operates significantly cooler than an incandescent or halogen bulb, they still produce a fair amount of heat. This means the placement for spotlights should be out of the reach of children and guests at all times, in addition to the fixture not coming in contact with such things as the wall, linins & drapes, balloons, or any substrate that can be potentially flammable or subject to damage from a heat source. Typically these are mounted on lighting trees with wide tripod style bases to reduce the likelihood of getting bumped or knocked over. Best results can be achieved when these lighting trees are placed in the back of the room away from guests and high traffic areas. You will also want them to be mounted above and to the side of a presenter or target subjects eyeline as looking into these immensely bright fixtures can have a blinding affect.
You may or may not have heard the term "gobo" before but they are fairly commonplace on a stage set. Gobo's are thin discs in which have either a printed image on glass or a cutout in stainless steel of an inverse image you'd like projected. For events and parties theses can be custom made in advance to display silhouettes of company logos, varied patterns, or even the names of the bride and groom. The gobo disks are then inserted into a frame within the spotlight and projected on walls, floors, backdrops, or items for a one-of-a-kind custom lighting effect. Because of the advancements in printing and laser cutting the cost to achieve such an awesome reusable and larger than life effect has dropped dramatically in the last decade, usually being under $100 for a steel gobo. It's important to note that the color of the projected image is limited to the color of light that the spotlight produces but can be altered with a single color gel frame at the cost of a loss in brightness. Alternatively for a higher price a glass gobo can be printed with multi-colors in the same projected image.
As stated before spotlights and gobos are excellent tools to enhance and spotlight your audiences attention but they do require a thought out and well planned execution for them to be most effective at the goals you want to accomplish. For that reason these fixtures are best suited for corporate and high end events with large attendance numbers and ballroom sized venue space. There are some smaller scale applications in which a gobo or spotlight can be commonly utilized with gear to match. Weddings for example can make use of a smaller scale specific gobo projector to project their names on a wall or dance floor and intelligent moving head spot/gobo fixtures can be used to highlight and follow them on a dance floor.
Just like with uplighting, spotlights and gobo use is really only effective in dimly lit or dark areas for the most dramatic and worthwhile application. It's important to mention the use of spotlights to your photographer and videographer as well as potentially your presenter in case they need to make adjustments to their equipment or if the presenter has a light sensitivity condition.
"A custom gobo is one of the best wedding lighting ideas if you're looking to add an ultra-personal element to your wedding decor." – Samantha Iacia @ WeddingWire
Bistro & String Lights - Keeping it Classy & Lowkey
A fan favorite found at weddings everywhere you'll find this lighting effect romanticized for a good reason. The in-house fluorescent lights at offices and venues is harsh, bright, and off-putting. The solution is to bring in your own softer dimmed and quaint feeling lighting solutions. The best way to do that is with some overhead bistro or string lights.
What these lights lack in lumen output they make up for in classy lowkey style. Whether it's over a dancefloor or lining a patio the romantic glow is undeniably brilliant at serving up a specific vibe. When faced with an area that either has too much light or not enough these fit the bill to give guests a calm yet usable amount of light for dining or dancing.
Important things to consider when wanting to add string lights to your event would be the amount of area to cover, power source and cabling, and mounting. Since the string lights have a very low light output per bulb you'll need numerous strings of lights crisscrossing your desired area to sufficiently illuminate the space. This can be made difficult if the venue doesn't provide sufficient enough mounting points or if the mounting points aren't secured adequately to support the tension and weight of the lighting strings. The string lights also require a wall outlet to power them and/or extension cords to reach the strand or strands. All these requirements must be met before your event to ensure usage of the string lights is a viable option.
For all the benefits this type of lighting can provide and beyond the challenges of installation there are a few other noteworthy caveats that may or may not make them a good fit for your event. Inherently they are dim, so don't expect them to be bright enough to be sufficient in activities like cake cutting or toasts where guests want to see the action or be able to see adequately lit faces. Be sure to tell your photographer and videographer in advance so they can bring secondary lighting solutions. Clearance can also be an issue as these strings droop downward towards the heads of your guests, making it problematic for throwing a bouquet for example, getting in the way of tall decorations, or in some circumstances people jumping with their hands in the air may come in contact with them. It's highly recommended to source light strings that use L.E.D. lighting elements as the power draw and fire hazard is significantly reduced over that of its incandescent counterpart. For safety reasons it's a good idea to check to make certain that the bulbs use a plastic bulb as opposed to glass since the glass is very thin and fragile should they get bumped and knocked/pulled down. Some of the L.E.D. string lights can offer color changing options and the cheaper versions will use an RGB mix to achieve white, this is a very "cool" unnatural perceived white that is less than desirable for most applications, so be sure the light strings you select are capable of producing a "warm white" color temperature for the best results. Lastly, remember that combining multiple lighting sources can have diminishing returns at a certain point. Too many string lights or string lights over the dance floor can reduce the effectiveness of your colorful and fun party lights, you'll find that in the case of bistro lights or party lights the finest payoff will be one or the other, rather than both on and blazing at the same time.
DJ Light Fixtures - Party Lights For Party People
We've all been there, sitting or standing on the sidelines of a dancefloor, when all of a sudden the DJ puts on a banger, the lights dazzle your eyes and the courage to let your freak flag fly peaks. It could be the alcohol talking, it could be that slapping bassline pulsing through your body, or it could be the lights transporting you to a magical place where Monday doesn't exist, and the possibilities seem endless. Whatever it is that created this mesmerizing and intoxicating rush of excitement it wouldn't be possible without the energy generated by dynamic, moving, and colorful lighting.
Your mama always told you there is a place and time for everything, and this couldn't be more true when it comes to DJ lighting fixtures. They are fun, energizing, awe inspiring, and transformative, but they can just as easily be distracting, annoying, and out of place. There is nothing worse than sitting down to eat a nice meal and have a conversation when you get blasted in the eye with a rogue beam of blinding light. So when considering adding a combination of DJ lighting fixtures to your event be sure they have a suitable place and time.
Lets start with place, a designated dance floor is ideal for a setup such as this, you'll need some space for the setup as these lights are typically mounted on truss or tripod stands with wide footprints. You also don't want your guests bumping into the lights so a few feet from the dancefloor is preferable. As mentioned above if you have multiple activities going on at the same time you'll want to put your DJ lighting away from things such as dinner tables or areas where people will be engaging in conversation.
As for time, that's a pretty obvious one, turn em' on and let em' rip when the time is right. Too soon and people will be annoyed, too late and you'll lose your fun party vibe, it's good to have a presence early on to inform your guests of the fun to come but it's distracting if it gets in the way of other activities.
Dj lighting sets can go from mild to wild as can the pricing so be sure to talk with your lighting coordinator regarding how big you want to go. Something like an all-in-one gig-bar can feature all sorts of effects to entertain your crowd while staying under budget and not have an overwhelming presence. however, it can just as easily be insufficient, and look out of place in a ballroom or in a large crowd. The scale of your DJ lighting set should be proportionate to the venue space and crowd size.
Unless you are hiring a DJ to compose a lightshow i would recommend setting your lights to either "Auto" or "Sound" this removes the programming skills needed to coordinate a show and lets the fixture do the work of cycling through different scenes to mix up the look and feel. Auto will simply cycle through all the pre-programmed colors/motions/patterns while sound will do the same but only if the internal microphones in the fixtures detect a beat or noise loud enough to engage them. All that may seem very simplistic but setting the lighting fixtures to the correct setting and wiring them together properly can be pretty technical so you should probably hire a company or professional that is both familiar with those specific fixtures and is willing to set them up for you. That being said, it's no reason to be intimidated and avoid giving your guests a party experience to never forget. Get a lighting system that fits your venue and crowd, have a professional deliver & set it up for you, then let the lights amp up the party to 11!
Some cautionary warnings with DJ lighting, again it doesn't work well or have the same affect in bright rooms and/or daylight. Most DJ lighting fixtures are best when paired with a fog or haze machine which is why most will include or suggest such a device. The microscopic particles in the air give the light something to reflect off, giving you more than just a spot of light shining on the ground but rather a three dimensional beam of light projecting from the fixture all the way to the ground. Both fog and haze machines can cause smoke detectors to go off so be sure to address those or speak to the venue management regarding the use of fog/haze before your event. Certain people are sensitive to flashing/strobing lights or may have conditions sensitive to fog/haze use, *BE SURE IN ADVANCE OF YOUR EVENT TO ADVISE ALL ATTENDEES THAT STROBING/FLASHING LIGHTS AND FOG/HAZE WILL BE IN USE* The randomness and color of the lights/lasers/fog are horrible for clear consistent and unobstructed photography/video recordings so make a plan to get those types of photos/video preferably before the DJ lighting is active and fog/haze is in the air.
There are countless types of DJ lighting fixtures with numerous effects but here are a few foundational common styles/types you might see being offered or combined into a single fixture. Variations of these basics are plentiful in order to create something just a little different and unique but most can be based within one of these categories or subsets.
Derby - A fixture that projects hundreds of beams of light through a prism of glass or plastic lenses that move in a uniform pattern.
Strobe / Blinder - A flash of bright white or color that can be sped up or slowed down in frequency of pulses.
Wash / Par / Bar - A wash can also referred to as a flood is a highly diffused splash of light in either white or a wide spectrum of any color mixed from the basic colors available on the fixture. A par is form factor commonly associated with a wash but has varying degrees of the fixture's diffused spread/coverage, and typically has it's light source lenses grouped together in a cluster of sorts. A bar is similar to a par except the light source lenses are organized in a long line rather than a clump or cluster.
Moonflower - A set number of beams of light in a round flower like pattern, that typically move rotationally or turn on and off certain colors/segments of the pattern.
SMD Lights - These are best described as light beads used to enhance a fixtures attributes such as surrounding a lens or outline of the fixture, they aren't bright enough to illuminate anything in particular but rather as decor to a fixture giving it more presence and pizzaz.
Moving Head - This is a genre of fixtures that incorporate dynamic movement of something like a wash, spotlight, or gobo as the head of the unit. There are numerous iterations of how it's used but can be generally be recognized as a fixture that incorporates some sort of physical external servo motor driven movement.
Fog/Haze/Smoke Machine - a solution or mixture of propylene glycol, triethylene glycol, glycerin, and water is pressurized and vaporized over a heating element creating synthesized clouds for light to reflect off. These compounds are considered to be food grade safe but as the case with most things, too high of a concentration, or ingesting it directly can result in negative side effects.
Spots & Gobos - A spot is a focused singular beam of light. A spot can be modified using a gobo to project stencil like patterns in a wide range of colors.
Laser - Laser fixtures used for DJ lighting are dense powerful beams that aren't distorted by distance as they will retain a pin like focus and accuracy throughout its throw range. They are intense in brightness and can feature a handful of color options. Most DJ laser beams are split, bounced, diffused and manipulated to create numerous patterns, shapes, and other eye catching designs.
Scanner - This is a fixture that combines a spot/gobo with a moving head mirror platter, this enables the spot or gobo to be moved around a room depending on the angle or movement of the mirror platter it is being reflected off of.
UV Light- Ultraviolet is a colorband that reflects certain colors making them appear to be more vibrant. It is commonly used to enhance neon colors and white while the overall brightness in the room remains dark and unaffected by the light.
Lighting Board - This is a controller used to send code via DMX protocol to devices informing them what functions to execute. These can be very complicated to someone unfamiliar with DMX programming therefore best left to the professionals to operate.
All of this information regarding lighting your event or celebration might seem like a lot to digest, and it can most certainly play a significant role in the success of your get together, but by having a little basic background knowledge into the do's and don'ts will help navigate you to social gathering nirvana. Be sure to talk to your lighting coordinator before your event and ask as many questions as you can to uncover any missed details. A team member from U Be The DJ is always happy to assist you in determining what will be a good fit for your event and help you get the results you are wanting while staying on target with your budget.
Original Content By Gavin Bohne