A Complete Guide to Wedding Lighting + 5 Bright Ideas

Wedding lighting can illuminate your special day in the best ways. Find out how to create a #nofilter wedding here with Zola's guide to wedding lighting!

By The Zola Team

Wedding Reception Lighting
Photo by Shutterstock

On your wedding day, you and your partner will be shining with love and joy from the wedding ceremony through the wedding reception. But a poorly lit event can dim any celebration. After all, bad lighting is why photo filters were invented. The good news: With strategic wedding lighting, your wedding celebration can be a glowing, glorious scene that’s effortlessly #nofilter—from start to finish.

Here’s more on why good lighting is so important, plus the wedding lighting ideas you need to illuminate your path to fantastic, flattering, and festive lighting.

Benefits of Lighting Up Your Wedding

Why should you care about lighting at your wedding? Because lighting creates atmosphere and atmosphere influences ambiance.

Think of the candlelit glow of your favorite romantic restaurant, how the flickering light casts golden shadows on you and your partner’s faces, beckoning you to lean in closer to each other.

Or, think about the natural light of a picnic in early spring, how that gentle pre-summer glow illuminates smiles and brightens the colors of flowers, picnic blankets, and sundresses.

Now think about your workplace’s fluorescent-flooded bathroom. Yuck.

When it comes to your wedding celebration, lighting is an incredible tool that can transform any wedding venue. Here are just a few benefits to prioritizing your wedding’s lighting:

  • Highlight the Space: Lighting can help you show off your venue. Strategically spotlight architectural features, vista points, or stunning vaulted ceilings to create a focal point and draw wedding guests’ attention to the details of your wedding.

  • Heighten Themes: Whatever your wedding style, lighting can help amplify your event’s themes and wedding decor. For example, light that simulates a spring morning can enhance a floral-focused wedding. Soft firelight-like lighting can make a winter wedding feel warm and cozy—while warm lighting can help to complement the autumn-inspired wedding colors of a fall wedding.

  • Enhance Drama: No, not the kind of drama that occasionally sneaks into the wedding scene. The good kind of drama, the kind that transports guests into a space of love and celebration.

Wedding Reception Lighting Photo Credit // Shutterstock

Tips for Illuminating Your Wedding

Now that you’ve had your lightbulb moment and are excited to strategically illuminate your wedding, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Visit the Venue at Night: Typically, couples will tour a venue during the day to take in all the sights and details. But to fully understand how your venue will look on your wedding night, you should take an evening tour. There are many options to consider, such as paper lanterns, string lighting, bistro lights, or even a chandelier. Be sure to come prepared with questions about lighting options, fixtures, and even an inspiration board of your favorite light designs.

  • Check the Rules: If you’re thinking of hanging fixtures, using heavy-duty lighting equipment, or incorporating candles into your wedding design, double check your venue’s rules. Since the extreme heat of certain lighting equipment can pose a fire hazard, your venue may have strict lighting policies to help protect their buildings and grounds.

  • Talk to the Venue: Your venue knows itself best. Walk through the space with the event coordinator and talk lighting—they may have some tips and tricks to help give your wedding the glow it deserves.

Should You Hire a Lighting Designer?

That depends on your wedding vision, how well the venue can fulfill your lighting ideas, and your budget. A few simple spotlights or chandeliers may be all you need to create your perfect wedding atmosphere. But if your event lighting requires more equipment and complex design, you might consider hiring a lighting designer.

Lighting designers typically cost upwards of $1,000, which includes labor, installation, and equipment. And don't forget: In addition to a lighting designer, you may need a lighting company to assist with setup and breakdown.

We know what you might be thinking, “All that money just for light?” But consider the potential dangers certain lighting and lighting installation projects present—fire hazards, property damage, or equipment falling on someone’s head. Lighting is a serious business and, when not handled correctly, can pose serious risks to your big day. A professional lighting designer knows how to avoid these potential problems, spot safety hazards, and still bring stunning luminosity to your wedding.

If you’re in search of a good deal, talk to your vendors—sometimes vendors offer to bundle their services with a partnered lighting designer. You can also talk to your venue to see if they have a favorite designer who’s familiar with the space and can bring your vision to life.

Lighting Lexicon

If you decide to work with a lighting designer or, if you want to DIY your wedding lighting, it’s helpful to know the lingo. Below are some of the different types of lighting to help you articulate what your dream event lighting will look like:

LED: LED lights use less electricity than regular light bulbs, plus they don’t emit as much heat. They can also be wireless—and therefore discreet—and paired with fun color lenses.

Color Wash: If color is a key theme for your wedding, you may consider a color wash effect. A color wash lighting technique covers an entire area with colored light. This can create a nuanced atmosphere or highlight aspects of your wedding decor.

Pin Spot: A pin spot is a ray of light that’s focused on an object or area. You might use a pin spot to light up your wedding cake, the dance floor, or the guestbook area of the reception.

Gobos: When you think gobos, think the Bat Signal. Gobos are stencils placed over lights that project designs onto a venue’s ceiling or floor. You can project your new initials, the date of the wedding, or cool designs on the wall or dance floor.

String Lighting: String lighting is a design achieved using—what else?—string lights. String lights are just another word for Christmas or twinkly lights.

Uplighting: A popular choice for weddings and events, this lighting style creates dramatic ambiance and depth. Lights are placed on the ground discreetly and shine upwards. This creates pillars of light throughout the event space. You can use different colors to enhance your venue’s architecture and create a dramatic atmosphere.

Wedding Lighting Ideas

Lighting plays a vital role in curating your ideal wedding atmosphere—and there’s tons of room to get creative with your lighting design. Check out these five lighting designs for inspiration:

1. Luminous Greenery

Give your big day a green glow with a hand from Mother Nature. You can hang greenery or branches around LED lights, votive candles, string lights, or even chandeliers. Your guests will feel like they’re dancing in an enchanted glen. Just be careful to keep the branches a decent distance away from the heat-emitting lights.

2. Ceiling of Lights

Hang dozens of string lights across the ceiling of your venue. You can crisscross the lights in fun patterns or line them up evenly to create a sparkling blanket. The gentle glow of the lights will create a soft, romantic atmosphere.

Lighting Tip: Play with layered light by using icicle string lights instead of standard, straight-lined string lights. By covering your venue’s ceiling in these icicle lights, you’ll create a blanket of falling stars caught mid air. Swoon!

3. Hang a Luminous Light Fixture

Stunning light fixtures can illuminate and enhance the theme of a wedding. Hang statement light fixtures over tables or key celebration areas throughout the venue. Choices may include:

  • Chandeliers: Nothing says elegance like a chandelier. Hang chandeliers over your guest tables or even the dance floor.

  • Lantern Cluster: A cluster of bronze lanterns can cast a rose gold glow over your guests. Experiment with different hanging levels to play up the ceiling height of your venue. (If you don’t have the option to hang lanterns, keep in mind that lanterns also make great centerpieces!)

  • Disco Ball: What could be more fun than a disco ball? It makes a statement and encourages your guests to get their groove on.

Lighting Tip: Just because you’re having an outdoor wedding doesn’t mean you can’t add a little sparkle to the space. Hang light fixtures from trees for a boho chic look.

4. Spotlight Your Wedding Night

Strategic spotlights can add an air of old Hollywood glamour to your wedding. Shine spotlights on you and your partner’s table, the dance floor (especially for the first dance!), and the entertainment areas.

Lighting Tip: There’s no doubt that the wedding cake (and all wedding desserts, really) deserve a spotlight. But be careful of the light’s powerful glare. The heat emitted by some spotlights can melt icing and create a recipe for a cake disaster. Be sure to highlight your cake using low-heat LED lights.

5. Embrace Candlelight

Just like there are infinite ways your soon-to-be spouse lights up your life, there are endless possibilities when it comes to adding candles to your wedding lighting. Here are just a few:

  • Candelabras: Vintage candelabras can elevate your wedding table decorations and create a warm glow all night long.

  • Taper Candles: Long, elegant, and regal, taper wedding candle centerpieces scream sophistication.

  • Candles in Glass Jars: For the perfect accent for a rustic wedding, place candles in mason jars and scatter them in groups throughout the venue. You’ll create little pockets of light all over the event for your guests to enjoy.

Wedding Reception Lighting Photo Credit // Shutterstock

Zola Light the Way to Wedding Planning Bliss

When it comes to wedding planning, you may feel a little in the dark. Go toward the light (nope, not that kind of light!), right to Zola. Zola is your wedding expert and can illuminate the ins and outs of wedding planning.

Light the way to your special day with Zola.

Simplify Your Wedding Planning at Zola