It is amazing at how quickly Uplighting is becoming a "must have" item at Weddings. No, it doesn't surprise me that discerning brides are wanting this after all, when done correctly, it adds more "pizazz" than perhaps any other single decoration you can do. That said, as a wedding vendor who does this on a regular basis, I'd like to share a few bits of wisdom that will help you with your own Uplighting. (The Hermitage Hotel - downtown Nashville)
1) "Color selection" - I have to be honest, I generally cringe when a client says "We want a very subtle color." The whole point in going to the time and expense of Uplighting is to enhance the facility. Vibrant colors are what make your pictures jump off the page. They also, quite noticeably change the mood of your guests. It's been proven in Scientific studies that colors have a dramatic impact on mood and energy. If you're really after a subdued vibe for your event, white or amber are excellent choices. However, aren't most brides always the ones telling me they "just want our guests to have a great time"? Use color to your advantage! Magenta, Purple, Blue, or Red (or shades thereof) are some excellent choices.
(a recent event at The Nashville City Club)
2) LED or Incandescent? - Incandescent cans/fixtures still are used fairly regularly by some lighting contractors. I believe it's primarily because these fixtures are cheaper or perhaps it happens to be what the lighting vendor has in their stock. While we do also have some incandescent fixtures, we don't typically recommend them for Uplighting for several reasons; 1) They get hot and little ones are drawn to them like a moth to a flame. It's a sure-fire recipe for little hands that get burned and that translates into wailing kids at YOUR event. 2) It takes a lot more power to run them and that means more and bigger extension cords to power them. 3) Limited color choice. These fixtures use gel paper to shade the bulb for whatever color you're after and that means, no changes at the event. If your chosen gel paper color doesn't mix well with the paint on the walls, tough luck as there's no way to tweak the color shades on the spot.
LED fixtures are cool to the touch, use very little electricity and the colors can be changed quickly, at the venue. If the color you picked at your meeting gets changed by the color on the wall, your technician can often adjust the shading on-the-fly, prior to your guests' arrival.
3) Table/Chair Placement - Uplighting is usually done by placing fixtures on the floor, next to the wall. We recommend a 3 foot buffer zone for all tables/chairs. This keeps guests from bumping, moving or even damaging the lighting fixtures. It also gives the lighting technician the ability to do a more even spacing between each fixture, improving the overall look of the presentation.
4) How much is enough? - One thing I tell all my clients is "Don't skimp on the number of fixtures." When you run short on a color presentation, it's very apparent to everyone in attendance. It's better to slightly over-do it than to come up short. The biggest question I hear is "How many cans do I need?" As you would expect, it obviously depends on the size of the room(s), the number of guests, and what wall-space is available for lighting. What I can tell you is, for most of our jobs (125-200 guests), the magic number always seems to come up to 20. This is roughly a 1500-2500 sq ft room and is what comes standard with our "Diamond Package". For rooms of 2500-4000 sq ft, I generally recommend 30 cans, sometimes more.
(The Doubletree Hotel - downtown Nashville)
5) DMX vs Stand-alone (LEDs only) - LED lighting fixtures have two modes they can be operated in; stand-alone or DMX. I won't bore you with the techy details but basically DMX means the lighting fixtures can be controlled remotely (either wireless or wired). Of the jobs we've done, almost all have been non-DMX. Without going into specifics, basically DMX will add $200-$400 in labor costs, not to mention the fact that it will add tons of cable and tape to your setup. For the little bit of extra flexibility it gives, our customers have stated that it's simply not worth it. Yes, we'll be happy to make your entire venue "beat to the music" or "make the colors change between songs" but in our experience, it's not something we hear on a regular basis.
6) Static or Color-Change - Most LED fixtures can be programmed to roll gently from one color to the other. This is known as "color change mode". We do have a fair portion of our wedding clients that opt for this setup, but I'd place it as the minority. Practically all of our school dances or proms use color change but weddings typically will either go with a single (static) color or perhaps may use alternating patterns of color ("red - white - red - white"). Only you can decide what works best for your color scheme and venue. One thing I will add is that it also can be dictated by the wall space available. We've done a number of venues where they may have a patio area with temporary sidewalls installed. These types of setups will have minimal wall space to be colored and may work better with multiple colors, rolling constantly. A hotel ballroom typically will have a lot of open wall space and will get too busy with so many colors going on. Better to choose a static color, or pattern of statics and stick with that.
7) Chair Rails, how to handle them - When we do an install, one of the things we're always trying to do is to keep fixtures out of the way and close to the wall. First, we don't want guests tripping over our fixtures but also (to be transparent) we really don't want guests stepping on (and potentially breaking) our expensive fixtures. One of the problems we regularly run into are chair rails. While these do a great job at preserving paint from chairs and tables, they also block off light as it travels up the wall area. The only way to overcome this is to set fixtures further away from the wall, usually about a half-foot. However, keep in mind table and chair placement (#3 above).
8 ) Uplighting sets the tone - One of the things that I regularly preach to my clients (most of our engagements include DJ service as well) is that we create great events by setting the tone from the very start. The moment a guest walks in we want them to do "the tilt-back" (as I like to call it). That's where they walk in the entrance, then pause as their eyes widen and they take in all the sights and sounds we're presenting. If we've done our job correctly, this raises the expectation of your guests. Once that expectation is raised, it's much easier to push it on into "off the hook" territory. Uplighting is a tremendous tool for setting the tone of an event. When a guest walks into a room with bright, vivid colors all around, they can't help but to expect a fantastic evening and expectation creates energy.
9) Do it yourself or Pro? - I know that everyone is looking for ways to save a buck, especially in today's economy. While it's true that fixtures can be rented, most people don't realize what it takes to get power to all your fixtures. By the time you rent the fixtures, then buy all the extension cords needed, it often is the same price (or more) than just paying a professional outfit to do the install, not to mention the job of tearing it all back down and returning the fixtures. But even beyond the "hassle factor" involved, having a bunch of extension cords often creates a huge mess and that's not something you want on your special day. We use special zip cord with add-a-tap outlets for our installs. These are long strands of cable (25ft & 50ft) that have an outlet every 5 feet. It puts a much cleaner line against the wallboard but, more importantly, it helps to keep spacing even between fixtures. There's nothing that will ruin a lighting presentation faster than to have a 5ft gap, then 7ft, then 4ft, etc.
10) Children - I debated strongly whether to mention this or not and let me say it first, I LOVE kids. I have two of my own and kids hold a near and dear place in my heart. That said, for some unknown reason, a lot of parents have a tendency to not keep watch over their kids at weddings. Add Uplighting into that picture and you have an almost guarantee that the kids will be messing with fixtures, expensive lighting fixtures. There's nothing worse from a vendor's perspective than to look up, as I did a couple of months back, and see some three year old walking along the wall, kicking your fixtures like a kickball. It's a delicate subject but, if you're going to do Uplighting, please make your guests (with children) aware of the situation and ask their assistance to keep things in control. When things get broken, it's the client who ends up paying.
I hope the above gives you some ideas in planning lighting for your own event. If there's anything I may do to assist, please don't hesitate to contact me anytime. Now, light it up!
(about the author: Rick Ryan owns and operates a DJ, Lighting and Photobooth service company in the Nashville area. His company has become one of the fastest-growing and in demand wedding vendors in Middle Tennessee. For more info, please contact Rick below.)
Rick Ryan www.RickRyan.com Nashville Wedding DJ, Uplighting and Photobooth