Uplighting for Weddings and special events
A fabulous and attractive addition to any special event! Uplighting has been used for centuries on stage, buildings & monuments. It is a "go to" of lighting designers around the world. We go into some of the dos and donts below.
Uplighting is a technique of aiming any light upward: pen light, spot light or searchlight. No matter, as long as it's reaching for the sky!
There are no hard n fast rules for uplighting, but good design is simply good design. An uplight is not a make/model of light, but rather what you are doing with it. Us lighting nerds tend to use terms like: fixture, wash, par, leko, etc.
Uplighting is incredibly easy if you believe everything you read online... While it is possible to execute DIY uplighting, those are never the pictures you see online. A trivial search through google will reveal the best uplighting is always done by professionals. If you want to DIY, remember KISS.
Photoworthy uplighting is most successfully paired with other effects such as gobo textures or pinspotting. Effective lighting design incorporates contrast / juxtaposition of some sort.
Here are some interesting architectural lighting photos we consider well thought out. It is hard to go wrong at your wedding being inspired by classic architecture and lighting.
Uplighting for a wedding
Uplighting a gazebo
Classic Lighting Technique
Uplighting Greek columns
Lights generally fall into 2 main categories: Profile & Wash.
Lumens (lm) are the real measurement of brightness. Watts are not a measure of brightness. Watts are to a light what gas is to your car. A valid comparison between fixtures would be lumens/watt, similar to fuel economy between cars.
Profile fixtures are highly focusable with a hard edged beam. Named after it's ability to project the silhouette or profile (pattern/gobo/monogram) of anything put in the gate. AKA: Leko.
Profiles are rarely used for uplighting as the beam edges are hard. We use profiles for special effects or accents.
Wash fixtures create a softer edge light that is not focusable. Often known as 'pars'. Generally available in narrow, medium and wide flood with various lenses.
Wash fixtures are most commonly used for uplighting. Some wash fixtures have adjustable beam width (e.g. fresnels). More sophisticated fixtures have motorized control. LED lights are generally fixed beam width and not adjustable.
RGBW LED fixtures use 4 color LEDs for additive color mixing. E.g. red + green make yellow. These types of fixtures are commonly used for uplighting. They are low heat and generally more efficient than traditional incandescent light fixtures. They do have limitations and are not a 100% replacement for incandescent fixtures.
Incandescent wash/pars are the traditional warm white light you may be familiar with. Color is achieved by using gel filters in front of the lamp. If you have a vintage or rustic wedding planned, these are a must for obvious reasons. LED fixtures are not able to recreate the exact light output of par fixtures.
LED Par Fixture
Incandescent Par Fixture
Sooooo, do we need any narrow beam fixtures to accent some cool pillars at the hotel entrance or are we washing an entire wall? Using the same fixture for separate tasks is lazy, but even worse, is simply bad design. The right tool for the right job!
Narrow Beam Width
Medium Beam Width
Wide Beam Width
There are companies locally renting "uplights" for $25 that we rent for $10. BUT, our lights are 3X as bright. WHAT? Yes, that means that our price is $0.11 per watt and their price is $0.83 watt. Caveat Emptor as they say. There are numerous metrics available to compare fixtures: power, heat, brightness, beam widths, weight, remote control, etc. Price by itself is completely unreliable source of comparison unless the fixtures are identical, which is quite rare.
Experience has taught us that battery powered leds are NOT suitable for major events for several reasons:
Battery powered LEDs are improving of course, just not ready for prime time yet, IOHO.
Typical uplighting means placing lights at the bottom of a wall, feature or drape and aiming the fixture up. One of the drawbacks of a busy room: guests will nudge, bump, tip over or spill drinks on your light fixtures. As a result, putting some real thought into your physical light deployment will save you some potential headaches. You can't count on party goers to take the long route to get anywhere!
The last question on a couple's/event planner's mind is "Where are we going to get all the power we need for our awesome uplighting?"
Certain hotels and venues charge astounding rates per power outlet, some venues won't charge you for power if you use their in-house providers for Sound/Light/Video, other facilities have barely enough power to cover a small DJ system. These are all questions you should ask your venue salesperson before you sign your rental agreement. It is significantly easier to negotiate power, early setup times, vendor preferences, etc. before you sign a contract.
As far as cabling goes, we tend to avoid running cables across doorways and we like to discretely keep to the baseboards. Our power cables are custom pro black with black ends. 15' 25' & 50' lengths. Yellow, blue, orange, etc power cables are completely unacceptable for special events and weddings.
There is no magic uplight calculation formula. This completely depends on walls/features you want to light, how intense you want certain colors, etc. For a continuous wall, a basic count you can use is 1 per corner and 1 every 10' as a minimum. Take at least 2 extra. You can't go wrong having some extra units on hand. "Oh I have all these extra lights I don't know what to do with" said no lighting designer, ever.
There are online rental places that recommend "1 up light per 20 guests", seriously? The # of guests has little to do with the number of fixtures you will need to achieve the look you desire. A short discussion with one of our lighting designers will get you sorted out!
With our lighting, we have two options. Static Control and Dynamic Control.
Static Control is choosing one color for each light fixture for the duration of the event. Once you setup everything, colors and intensities are basically locked in. Set it and forget it! Each light must be individually changed.
Dynamic Control involves using a DMX light controller that provides us 100% on demand color, intensity, strobe & fade control. This is not a battery powered remote control or any such toy. This is real lighting desk control that our production team uses on world class events. We can even program special effects and have the uplights integrated with the dance floor. The whole room turns into your own private club. Say it's near the end of the night and its time for a little slow dancing after busting some serious moves ... all the lights fade to deep red or magenta ... Total wow factor and quite frankly a lot of fun.
One side benefit of Dynamic control is that you (e.g. bride or event planner) can ask us to change colors on demand. Say it's cocktail hour and you want a lighter pink blush or a brighter/softer yellow - BAM - done! Just like that. We get these requests quite often as once your room is setup with all your floral, custom decor, linens, etc, the perfect color hue suddenly says 'pick me, pick me'!
If you are considering uplighting -- we ask the following: