Lighten Up

Lighten Up

How-to tips on perfecting outdoor lighting for your reception.

2014_Casey Scott
Photo from the 2014 issue of Engaged; courtesy of Casey Nilsson.
By Cissy Yu

So you want to have an outdoor wedding. The fresh air, the trees, the gorgeous dusk…the giant canopy of electric lights you still have to design and rig. Don’t sweat it: We’ve got your back. Here’s all you need to know to start designing perfect outdoor lighting.

Candles, Lanterns or Electric Lights? President and chief event designer Ingrid Adolphs of The Event, a Newport- and Miami-based production company, recommends a mixture of all three. “Candles and lanterns add warmth,” she says, “but their light disappears in big outdoor spaces.” On the other hand, market lights (also known as bistro lights, string lights and fairy lights) can create a good atmosphere, especially if they’re washed a natural shade of amber.

Christmas Eve Luminarias
Luminarias along footpaths add ambience and ensure your guests’ safety.

Add color. Deepen the mood with some blues and violets, or spice things up with red or yellow lights. “Stay away from green, strong ambers and oranges,” says Adolphs. “Those colors show up very heavy in photographs.” Adolph also suggests using blue and purple lights only at certain times, like later in the dancing hour, as those colors tend to intensify the vibe.

A well-lit path makes all the difference. What routes will guests take as they walk to and from the site? A path set with paper lanterns, wax lanterns or LED candles in paper bags can set a warm ambience well before the guests enter the tent. If you’ve chosen a more out-of-way location, make sure the parking areas have plenty of lights, too.

Perimeters and centerpieces. On a tight lighting budget? The two most important regions to keep well-lit, says Adolphs, are the area’s perimeter and the individual tables. Consider stringing the tent edges with pink, orange or blue lights and placing warmer, brighter candles and lanterns in the center of guest tables.

Change it up. Ask your band or DJ if they offer lighting design, since some performance consoles can coordinate the lights to change with the music. Also, think about changing your lighting scheme throughout the night — softer lights that make for a dim, romantic dinner can gradually switch to louder colors later in the night.

Don’t forget your ballroom fixtures. Rustic or elegant? With a perfect set of outdoor chandeliers, you can have both. Hang these candle-lit or electric-powered lights from tree branches or tent frames to give your outside dinner a more classical feel.

Take to the skies on second thoughts, don’t. Sky lanterns — Asian paper lanterns released after dark — have been making appearances these days at outdoor weddings. But if you’re considering these for your Ocean State wedding, think twice: In 2013 the Rhode Island Fire Marshal banned them for safety reasons.

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