It's important to select lighting that enables your guests to see the details you've selected.

megan henock wedding reception golden and greenery table decor
Credit: Lynn Dunston

Weddings should be magical—everyone knows that—and a great way to transform an empty space into one that's absolutely stunning is with lighting. Some couples choose chandeliers, others fall in love with string lights, and others still prefer the soft, romantic glow that only candles can achieve. But how do you ensure the lighting you choose for you wedding will actually provide enough light?

Mix the Aesthetic with the Functional

Though you might think that your reception would look beautiful lit entirely with tea lights, that's simply not a logistically sound option. "It's really important to have both aesthetic lighting and functional lighting," said Sarah Glick, co-owner and planner/designer at Brilliant Event Planning. "You need a little bit of both to have the effect you see in photos. We recommend the functional lighting needed to complement the aesthetic lighting, but not overshadow it." Luckily, there are some great options for functional lighting that aren't just bright white spotlights that ruin the atmosphere. Your wedding planner and venue coordinator should be able to guide you towards the right options for your space and preferred style.

Hire a Lighting Professional

As with most things related to your wedding day, a professional is needed when it comes to lighting. Whether you're looking to make a large space warm and intimate or an airy tent magically glow from within, a lighting professional will be able to point you in the right direction. They can both advise a couple in the exact way to light a space or help you create an atmosphere from the ground up, and they will know where to get all the items and accessories you'll need to bring whatever vision you have in mind to life. If you're creating a space from scratch, like a tent or park, you will definitely need a lighting professional who knows how to manage that type of space. Each has their own set of challenges and requirements, and its best to have someone on your side who knows exactly what type of lighting is needed and where.

Vary the Height

If your reception is in a location that has plenty of functional lighting but not necessarily enough magic, there are plenty of ways to DIY that extra glow. "I love to suspend lighting fixtures of various shapes and sizes from the ceiling of a tent," Glick said. "Especially when we can combine this with greenery or florals! I'm working on a wedding now where we are hanging assorted bell jars—they will cast a soft candlelight around the tent and are a real focal point!" If a ballroom or event hall is your reception location, keep in mind that the regular ceiling lights, as well as any chandeliers or wall sconces, should take care of the functional lighting. Focus on the tables and how to give individual pockets a warm glow. Candles of varying sizes make everyone and everything look amazing; also consider combining battery powered twinkle lights and mirrors. And don't forget to use natural light. Some venues have large, high windows that you can easily take advantage of.

And if you're DIYing the lighting completely? Varying the heights of your ambient lighting is always a great idea—combining the larger bistro lights over your guest's heads with candles on the tables can provide a natural glow that works for many brides.

Think Outside the Box

There are more lighting options available to the modern bride than just twinkle lights and candles. Uplighting is a popular option that is appearing at more and more ceremonies and receptions. Take it a step further and head outdoors—uplighting can transform the front of your reception venue, or perhaps the trees or greenery that you've used as décor. Choosing a warm white or yellow will provide both ambience and utility. Hang a variety of chandeliers in the trees or from the rafters and bring your guest's eyes upwards. You could also line the pathways or border of a room with lights—it won't be immediately noticeable, but it will give the space that something that every couple wants.

Don't Forget to Budget

Lighting isn't something that traditionally gets a spot in the wedding budget, but it should be. Whether you're hiring a lighting professional or working with your planner, if you need to rent string lights or bulbs or chandeliers or dimmers, or if you need to purchase dozens of candles for table tops, lighting needs to be a separate section in your budget. "People tend to forget about lighting and then add it at the very end of the planning process when the budget is maxed out and they can only afford either functional or aesthetic lighting, not both," Glick pointed out. "My advice is to build lighting into the budget from the beginning, so that you can have the statement chandelier you love, but really make it pop with the functional lighting that's needed."

No matter your theme or vision, with the right tools and professionals, your lighting dreams can come true.


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