Everything You Need to Know About Reception Lighting

We asked top wedding experts for their advice on using lighting to elevate your reception.

wedding reception lighting
Photo: Pharris Photos + Films

In the realm of crafting an unforgettable wedding reception, lighting design emerges as a pivotal player. Beyond the flowers and décor, the strategic use of light possesses the remarkable ability to set the mood, amplify emotions, and define the atmosphere. 

"Lighting can make a huge difference to the ambiance of your room. Many couples shy away from lighting thinking it's expensive, but in actuality, it's the opposite! Lighting is very affordable. So much so that if the budget needs to be cut, I recommend sticking with house linens and bringing in lighting. It instantly elevates your event and doesn't take a toll on your wallet." —Nora Sheils, Rock Paper Coin, Bridal Bliss

"Lighting in your reception space adds depth and helps fill the room visually. This creation of layers of light through uplighting, pin spots, color washes, etc., will show up not only in person but in your photographs and video. Have you ever seen a reception photo where it is dark behind the subject? They likely had no or minimal lighting." —Tracy Autem, Tracy Autem & Lightly Photography

"One of the most important things to take into consideration with lighting is the order of setup. Big installations typically require hours on-site, so make sure that your lighting team has the lead to get everything ready before the rest of the wedding pros arrive. They should have a direct line of communication with the venue in order to properly set up and break down the fixtures, as well as with other members of your wedding team so that there aren’t any logistic conflicts." —Kevin Dennis, Fantasy Sound Event Services

"When you hire a lighting company, the biggest portion of the quote is going to be labor. Lighting equipment, for the most part, isn't typically the expensive part — it's the team who needs to set it up and take it down, but also the team designing the lighting that you’re paying for. This can be hard for some couples to understand, but the reality is that your lighting company works really hard, and there are definitely skills involved, and that’s what you're paying for." —Jamie Chang, Mango Muse Events

"Little holiday twinkle lights are not reception lighting! As much fun as it is to have these cute little lights, there are many times couples don't think enough about lighting in general (speaking for photography here) to have enough lighting to showcase all the designs, faces, and themes. If your venue space is dark, exposed brick with dark wood paneling — there will be little to no reflections, and no matter what lighting you have, it will suck it all up and still feel dark. You might have to have more lighting than you realize. When thinking about your venue, think about choices of lighter and brighter spaces so that once the sun sets, you will have a nice glow still happening. Lighter-toned walls and ceilings help so much in taking darkness and bringing the light!" —Jen Sulak, Weirdo Weddings

"Power, power, power! Please be highly aware of the electrical capacities of your location and the energy needed to handle not only your lighting but all of the other elements that require electrical power during your event. Be prepared to rent generators to address the needs. The last thing you want is for the band or DJ’s equipment to blow out and shut down or for your caterer to advise you that their cooking equipment will blow out all of your gorgeous lights if they fire up to feed you. So long as you have enough power, the exciting scope of lighting creativity is before you. Have fun!" —Sarah Chianese, Mangia and Enjoy!

"Think about battery-powered uplights. Luckily, technology is our friend when it comes to modern-day lighting solutions. More and more items are becoming battery-powered, allowing you to place lighting exactly where it is needed and not where only the extension cord reaches. There are even options for battery-powered bistro lighting. Jackery Portable Power Station has affordable options that will literally keep the lights on for eight or more hours." —Keith Willard, Keith Willard Events

"While selecting the color of your lights, keep in mind the style of photography you have selected. If your photographer loves to utilize ambient light, the color you choose will affect your and your guests' skin tones. For example, if you choose to have blue lights, you can expect there to be some highlights of blue on people in the pictures. When reviewing lighting colors with my couples, I always recommend a warm amber or very light lilac, almost white color. These tend to photograph best, complement skin tones, as well as give an elevated look to the images. It is best to avoid strong neon colors such as green, blue, and pink, especially during formal dances and speeches. Some venues allow the lighting to change throughout the night as the dance floor energy increases. By having the colors constantly changing, while this can sometimes be fun while dancing, keep in mind that your wedding photography gallery will then have a rotation of different colors throughout the images." —Siobhan Healy, Siobhan Stanton Photography

"It is essential that your camera crew must have ample time before the space is open for guests so that they can not only capture room shots but also they can work with the lighting professionals to take test shots and discuss lighting issues with the lighting designer. Choosing an experienced lighting designer is key to a beautifully lit space. The best lighting designers are open to feedback and can adjust and change when the photo/video team gives feedback. Seeing the room through the lens of a camera can be an incredibly useful tool to evaluate the existing lighting of a wedding space and figure out how it can be adjusted for the best effect. We have seen many spaces that look beautifully lit by my eye, but once we've taken a few shots, it's obvious that the lighting needs to be adjusted. Using photos can help identify bright and dark spots, check for uniformity, and it's easier to see the light's impact on the decor." —Mary Angelini, Key Moment Films

"Keep it cohesive until the party starts. Purples are nice, but unless your flowers are also tied into that color theme, they will feel disconnected from the rest of the reception style. When the party starts, it's all fair game as the lights dim!" —Caroline Robert, Caroline's Collective

"If you are hosting a tented wedding after dark, don’t forget to strategically light the outside perimeter. The same is true for portable bathrooms. These lights give your guests important points of reference." —Aly Raddatz, Elevated Events

The impact of lighting design on wedding receptions is undeniable. Its ability to transform a space is unparalleled by any other element of décor. With proper planning and design — and the right team by your side — you can achieve reception lighting that serves both practical and aesthetic purposes to the maximum effect.