Ballroom and Wedding Lighting 101
Updated: Sep 28, 2019
Are you getting married or hosting an event soon and using a ballroom/venue for you special occasion? You’re probably confused since many people realize they also need to pick lighting and decorative packages.
Since for most of us renting a ballroom isn’t exactly a yearly activity, I put this guide together to explain all you need to know for lighting up your event.
Ballroom Lighting 101
What is Ballroom and Event lighting? Event lighting usually refers to:
Lighting up the walls, called Uplights
Lighting up the stage and dance floor with spotlights and movable intelligent lighting.
Decorative detailed lighting like stencils/designs/patterns you see on walls and dance floors called pattern projection.
Market lighting or fairy lights, which are very common for outdoor functions to really give the terrace or cliffside some mood and decor.
Pinspots, which light up the tables, flowers and centerpieces and basically try to act like stronger candles to light up tables, pillars, etc..
Wash lighting which is less common in weddings, but very common in raves and concerts and late night parties. It’s basically when you try to fill up the entire stage or venue as one color like green or red or yellow. You see this a lot at high school dances and concerts that might have one consistent theme (like green for St. Patty’s day)
Gobo lighting to stencil your name or hashtag.
Event lighting usually does not refer to:
Candles on walkways or trees
TV screens and Led Screens (but most companies offer these)
Light shows like a bellagio fountain or light-dance performers (although most companies can arrange those as well)
Chandeliers (although your DJ, event planning and/or hotel will have their own suggestions as well).
A common plain ballroom would look like this which is what the hotel provides:
The same ballroom after being decorated and lit up would look like this:
Event light is extremely important at:
Indoor weddings receptions and ceremonies
Industry dinners and galas
And many more special functions.
If the above images and explanations are adequate, I’m glad and hope it helped.
However, if you’d like to know specific details on each type of lights, what type you’ll need for your event, how much they generally cost and tips on how to save and hacks you can do, please read on!
This post is structured in the following way if you want to skip ahead:
Importance of Event Lighting
Types of Event Lighting
Common Lighting Mistakes
Costs of Event Lighting
What Factors Affect Lighting Costs?
Do I Really Need Lighting at my wedding?
What kind of lighting do I need for my wedding?
What kind of lighting do I need for my corporate event?
Tips to Save Money and Hacks You Can Use
Questions to Ask Your Lighting Vendor
How to Get a Lighting Quote
I initially wrote this post for our Indian wedding guests but it applies to pretty much ANY wedding, private event or luxurious special occasions and has helped many people quickly realize what they want.
We’re also based in Southern California in Brea and Orange County so if you live in this area and are looking for wedding lighting or corporate event lighting near you, please reach out to us!
Importance of Event Lighting
Lighting is what makes your event feel “complete.” and also affects how your photo and video turns out. It subconsciously alters the guest’s perception upon entering the ballroom and sets the tone with music and decor.
In the simplest analogy, lighting is the makeup for your ballroom. And just like makeup, there is the extreme makeover and also the minimal “no makeup, makeup look.” Event light is all about color, quantity and placement.
red lighting against the walls would be a James Bond/Casino Royale sort of theme,
pink/purple/blue often are elegant dining vibes you’d see at a classy reception
white could be for wedding dinners and receptions as well
yellow/green/orange could be multicultural affairs, also music concerts and festivals.
In fact, I feel bad for lighting guys (that's me) and sound guys (that is also me).
The joke in our industry is if you did a great job, nobody says anything. If you messed up...everybody will tell you.
I mean imagine going to a Coldplay concert and after all went fine, you wouldn't be like "Thank goodness the 600 sound guys did their job!" But if you couldn't hear properly or there was too much feedback...you would definitely say the sound guy sucked!
Types of Event Lighting
Lighting might seem daunting at first but trust me, it’s very simple and straightforward once you understand about 4-5 pieces of vocabulary. It’s not like flowers or wine where you might have 900 choices and jus nod along so everybody thinks you get it.
Most events use 95% of what you see below and if you have questions/clarifications please do comment below.
Used For: Indoor Weddings, corporate events, wedding receptions and pretty much any ballroom event. Maybe a few needed for outdoor events.
These do most of the heavy lifting in ballroom lighting. They’re the lights you see that would be against the walls, shooting pillars of light up the walls. Typically a massive ballroom will have 10-12 of these lights across each wall, sometimes more, sometimes less depending on how you want to decorate it.
Used for: Indoor Weddings, corporate events, concerts, speeches, product launches, big events with stages, performances, singers, etc..
Most weddings may not need a spotlight since the entire dance floor and front two seats for the couple will be well lit, and the rest of the room will be dimly lit and decorated to create that mood. However most big lighting contracts will anyways bring one or two in case you want to shoot a narrow focused beam during a speech or first dance, for example.
Used for: lighting up centerpieces, your cake, all your flowers, walkways, mandap (Indian weddings), decoration.
You know when you walk into luxury wedding and you get that initial wow factor by seeing 20 tables all beautifully decorated and can’t wait to walk to yours? The pinspots are doing a lot of the heavy lifting here. Pinspots are required at most events across the board these days, with the exception of standard corporate events or sales meetings where decor or mood isn’t really a priority.
Used for: terrace or beachside vibes, sundowner pool parties. Also called hanging fairy lights.
I personally love market lights. They’re inexpensive, their high enough to avoid insects and they’re just so pretty that I never get tired of them. From a backyard to a fancy hotel courtyard, they have their place. If you’re having an outdoor function, yes, please find a way to use these!
Texture or Pattern Lighting
Used for: weddings, birthday parties, product launches or company parties
Pattern lighting is a great way to give some character beyond the pillar beams you get with uplights. The negatives of this is the light is projected from a distance away so people can potentially walk in front of it, or the pattern may not be in everyone's taste (like the feathers of a peacock or spirals). I personally see we’re using them more and more but it also has to fit with your decoration and venue, otherwise they’ll just look odd. Pattern lighting is usually good to go behind the stage yet not lighting up the artist or couple.
Used for: weddings and corporate events
Want your company name or couple’s name stenciled on the wall or dance floor or ceiling? Gobos are your best bet. Plus you can keep the stencil afterwards a souvenir! Gobos take time to make however so you’ll have to decide a few weeks before your event to ensure it’s done on time! Also great for hashtags to light up the wall, so that everyone knows what the EXACT hashtag is and is subtly reminded to use it and post pics from this awesome occasion!
PRO TIP: Hashtag Gobos are awesome because it reminds everyone what the correctly spelled hashtag is and reminds them to use it! And it looks great as background for photos!
Used for: DJ & dance floor, live bands, stage decoration.
These are the lights that pop when the music kicks in and the party is in full swing. You’ll see these lights moving, flashing, strobing, emitting lasers and doing all sorts of cool things. Most weddings above 100 people or corporate/office functions that will have dancing should of course use intelligent lighting.
Your DJ will also have a lighting controller that can change colors and positions of these lights to really amp up the atmosphere. For example, on the (overplayed) song Gangnam Style...right before the big beat drops..all the lights could quickly go off or turn away during the 1 second of silence...and then change colors or strobe or flicker simultaneously right when the chorus kicks back in, etc...
Common Lighting Mistakes
Mistakes are common in any profession and since people don’t really “purchase” lighting often, they don’t understand where to focus their efforts.
1. Skimping on Lighting
A lot of weddings and private events will spend five or six figures and thousands of dollars on planning a massive party or conference in a hotel, thinking the big box of a room will handle it all. The reality is that ballrooms are meant to be bland by design, as each client will have their own requirements.
An Indian or Chinese wedding for 400 people in one ballroom might want lots of colors and drapes everywhere, where as a Western wedding might want to go all-white. So in order to effectively handle these requirements, lighting comes to the rescue to quickly liven up a space.
Do not spend $15,000 to 50,000 renting a hotel and then skipping the extra 10% of that cost which is usually lighting. You’re much better off getting a cheaper ballroom that you can decorate versus a great hotel/great location but with no decor.
Your event will feel stale and incomplete, which can also be fine for a business meeting or conference. But for parties and weddings and special happy occasions...lights camera action!
2. Forgetting about Wind, Insects, Rain
Sometimes we pick a venue that is gorgeous overlooking some cliff or on a terrace but forget that events outside attract insects and you might be swallowing some mosquitos while giving your best man speech. Also strong winds can really cause some lights to sway and rain should have obvious effects.
3. Picking a Venue that has Walls and Ceilings Too High
Some ballrooms are just so massive that it would take an insane amount of lighting to fill up. But hotels easily give these ballrooms for rent because they’re available, so why not. But if you rent a ballroom that is too big, you’re going to have to spend a lot on lighting to make it “feel full” or simply have your lights only go halfway up the walls.
This is all fine, and never a real deal breaker...but you should know so you’re disappointed that your $20,000 lighting investment isn’t as grand as your cousins wedding a year ago. They probably had lower ceilings so it felt a bit more “oomph.”
4. Forgetting that some Lights Need Power
Not all venues will have power for lights, so if you found that perfect courtyard or cliffside location or rooftop, you have to ask your venue before you book it how the lighting works. (Or if you’ve seen they do fancy events there all the time, you should be alright).
Lighting has lots of wiring, hotels don’t want to risk someone tripping or getting injured so just because there is space doesn’t mean you can use lights there.
5. Coordinating With Decor, Planning and DJ
If your DJ company is setting up some or all of your lighting, your wedding planner (or you) need to ensure the DJ and decorator know who is providing what.
If the decorator builds a big fancy stage and now your DJ can’t even see the dance floor, that’s a problem.
6. Truss Covers aka Draping your Beams
Ballroom decor for big fat weddings and events can run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and many times we’re used to seeing the metal/truss/concert bars hanging above a stage.
However in all white or all black setups, a new trend is to drape those bars itself which is added cost and labor to do by hand.
Ensure you’re aware of this so they’re no surprises on your big day, and ask your lighting team about it.
The good news is that most trusses blend in with the concert/stage setup, however if draping or covering those bars is important to your decorator team your lighting/sound/AV folks need to know about it.
7. More Lighting Does Not Mean Better
Ask any photographer and filmmaker and they’ll say that light matters as much as shadows. Or in other words, a good scene also used darkness to contrast the light.
You don’t need to blind your ballroom with insane lighting and special effects and crazy lasers...if you really want to and are playing EDM or techno or it’s your preference...feel free! But for classy/elegant vibes trust your lighting professional to set it up they way they know will work on experience, because you’re paying for that too!
How Much is Wedding Lighting?
So how much does wedding ballroom light cost? Lighting for a 200 person, one day wedding reception would cost between $6,000 and $13,000. This would include uplights, intelligent lighting, one gobo, 1-2 spotlights and optional fill lighting.
The range would depend on how many of each lights your specific venue needs.
For Indian weddings and ethnic weddings that span 2-3 grand events, most contracts for 300 pax across all events would be between $20,000 and $30,000 using the same styles above.
We also increasingly do pattern lighting as many Indian weddings will use the same ballroom twice so we need to redo the light design to keep the space looking fresh.
How Much is Corporate Lighting?
How much does office party or corporate lighting cost? Corporate lighting is usually a one day, 12 hour shift and can be done around $8500 to $25,000 depending on the size of the ballroom and number of people/tables.
Factors that Affect Lighting Costs
1. Labor Rates for the City You’re In (e.g. Kansas versus San Francisco): A 4 person, insured team in California will need to setup your lights either at 6AM on the day of the event or often times the night before during loading hours at the hotel. This will also require accommodation and meals for staff, also called vendor rates with your hotel. Many hotels also require special permits and insurance to be purchased on the day of the event, which can range from $200 to $500 or more.
2. Square Footage of the Ballroom: Not all 300 person ballrooms are created equally. If you do your event at a place that already has rigging for lights, (often called a truss rod) then your lighting staff won’t need extra gear and staff to install those lights. If they don’t, and many don’t, all these charges are itemized.
3. Number of Events and Locations: For an Indian wedding that is using the same ballroom or location twice, a $15,000 lighting package on one day doesn’t mean $30,000 for two. You’ll likely save 15 percent by doing it in the same location since the setup/teardown time is reduced.
Do I need lighting at my wedding?
Unless you're having your venue in a place that's already decorated, yes, you will need lighting.Otherwise your special event will simply feel a bit bland and empty.
You can of course these days find non-hotel venues which have built in lighting, and if you do, you can definitely save money.
What Type of Lighting do I need at my Wedding?
Most people let their DJ or decorator company figure out the lighting and just add suggestions as they go. That’s usually fine does the job in the majority of cases. However we love it when clients give us guidance on what they want or send us Pinterest reference of what they want.
Indoor Ballroom Wedding or Wedding Function (aka an Indian Sangeet)
Uplights to decorate walls,
intelligent lights for the stage and dancing,
Pinspots for the flower and cake and decorations and tables
Outdoor Wedding or Receptions
Pinspots for flowers and decorations and cake
What are some Hacks to Save money on Wedding Lighting?
1. Find a venue or new hotel with built in lighting, as many newer venues could have it already built into the structure the same way many resorts already have wedding altars.
2. Use the in-house lighting team and staff if your event isn’t so large and your hotel offers it.
3. If your venue has built in screens or LED walls, ask them if they can add animations and moving backgrounds which could potentially replace the need for pattern lighting. Think of it as a big screensaver on a big screen.
4. Use the same venue or location to minimize labor setups: If your lighting company keeps following up saying the date is moving fast...it probably isn’t. You likely have leverage and can negotiate. They’re probably looking for business that day so if they say “we’re almost booked! Yes or no?” then in many cases they’re probably free...so negotiate!
How to Get a Lighting Quote (Sample Email)
Don’t be intimidated by asking for a lighting quote. These companies should be able to give you a ballpark figure if you give them the right info such as a sample email like this:
“Hi, I have a wedding reception coming up on Jan 4th, 2020. We’ll have 200 guests at the Hyatt Anaheim next to Disneyland, you can check their ballroom specs on their website. The event is from 6PM to midnight. We will have a DJ and dance floor already booked, and need quotes for a standard lighting configuration of uplights, dance floor lighting, etc.. Can you give me a quote for the same??"
If the company wants you to come into their office or get on a call and you’re not comfortable, go onto the next one!
They should at the very least say something like “our packages start at $7500 but for what I know currently from your mail I would guess between $12,500 and $16,000” or something along those lines.
Questions to ask your Lighting Vendor or DJ/Lighting vendor
How much do you charge per uplight rental? (So they stick to this rate)
Can I see a lighting price sheet? (even if you don’t know what it means, at least you’ll have it as a reference and they’ll know this)
Have you worked in this Hyatt/Hilton/Marriott/whatever hotel before?
Have you worked with my decorator before?
What would you suggest I add? What would you suggest I remove? (A good, honest lighting designer will challenge you so that you know they have your best interests at heart, just not say yes to everything).
How long do you take for a Gobo? (name on wall or dance floor)
Questions or comments? Need lighting for your event in Southern California? Ping us today and write "I read your lighting article" and we'll give you a 15% discount!
Ajay Manaktala is a wedding lighting expert with over 1000 weddings, corporate events, product launches and more under his belt.
He runs Special Occasions DJ & Lighting, which is one of the top sound and lighting companies in Los Angeles and Orange County, California. His company offers the latest event lighting serving Irvine, Newport Beach, Los Angeles, Torrance, Cerritos, Malibu, Santa Monica and pretty much any part of Southern California.
He is also recognized by Quora as a most viewed writer on the topic of Indian weddings with over 100K views. In this post, he breaks down all you need to know about lighting up your special event.