Let there be lighting!

Lighting is a crucial element of wedding ceremonies that is overlooked. It was an October wedding in the bride’s parent’s backyard. She was late and the sun was setting. I had advised her that we would be cutting it close with the planned start time. Now, we were definitely in twilight when we started the ceremony. The tiny lights on the gazebo provided little effective light. I could hardly read my text. By the time I was declaring them married, we were in the dark. The couple had to pick their way carefully out the aisle. None of the pictures the guests took turned out because it was too dark.

In theatre, lighting is paramount in making the actors visible and setting the mood. There are two general rules of lighting in theatre. The first is that you want to have the actors in a visible section of the stage so that the audience can see them. You want to be able to see their eyes so that you can discern their expression. Secondly, the direction, pattern and colour set the mood for the scene. Basically, if they can’t see you properly they can’t perceive how happy you are either.

In my planning meetings with couples, I discuss the lighting issues. The time of day and direction of the sun will influence the wedding. Even if you are indoors near a window, the sun will affect your wedding. I once had a couple who wanted to perform their wedding near a window so that they could overlook the beautiful Rideau Canal. However, we were also looking west while the sun was setting. The guests were staring right into the sunlight. We were mere shadows against the window. So you need to consider the position of the sun at the time of the wedding. It is best to have the sun at about mid afternoon facing the officiant. I get a great tan by the end of the summer – but only from the neck up.

Most hotel and restaurant locales are set up for general lighting or mood lighting where shadows are prevalent. These do not highlight the couple and do make it difficult to see and photograph. Whenever I can, I re-direct the lighting to spotlight the stage area or I will dim the audience to accentuate the stage.

Gazebos, tents and other enclosures pose the challenge of backlighting. The light exterior to the enclosure is brighter than inside. Therefore you will be visible as a shadow or silhouette. Sure the photographer’s flash will take care of that. However, you will not be visible to your audience and they can’t see how happy you are.

For most people, some basic awareness of the lighting issue is sufficient. Changing some installed lighting or adding a spotlight usually works. Others want to use lighting to add dazzle. I had a bride who set up a drab hotel room with a whole bank of lighting effects. At the recessional, she had fog, coloured lights and lasers come on for a big finish. They walked out in quite a flourish.