Prospective and current clients often ask us if we include lighting packages with our DJ services and we tell each and every one the same thing: no, we do not, and you don't want us to. It isn't that we wouldn't like to offer as much as possible to our clients but trust us: you wouldn't want us to bake your cake or arrange your centerpieces either! I could explain how lighting is a complex service, deserving of its own specialist provider, but don't just take my word for it -- I also consulted some experts in the field. Renowned D.C. lighting expert Eric Hertsch of John Farr Lighting Design was kind enough to chat with me and share his thoughts on how professionally designed lighting can enhance a wedding.
"Most venues are already adequately lit, in that you don't have to strain to see things, but a professional lighting designer uses lighting tools to take it to the next level," Eric says. "We can enhance the architectural beauty of a room, accent key decor pieces such as floral arrangements, or even change the mood of the room through judicious use of color."
The key to an outstanding result, he says, is translating his clients' vision into a reality. "The biggest part of my work is listening to what my clients want. I don't have any kind of expectation that a couple know any technical terms; instead, I listen to what they think is important. Do they love the architecture? Do they have a specific style, mood, or image that appeals to them? This type of information guides the choices I make as a designer."
So what makes professionally-designed lighting better than the lights thrown into package deals from other types of vendors? "If my car mechanic also offered to fix my dishwasher, I'd probably be a little bit skeptical," Eric says. "There are a lot of people out there who look at what I do, figure it's not too hard for them to put up a few lights themselves, and make a little extra money. On the flip side, there are some companies out there who decided to branch into lighting, and made serious investments in both the equipment and staff to do it right. Sometimes telling which is which is difficult."
He continues, "In my experience, serious lighting designers will come up with a design, as opposed to set up gear. So if someone tells you that they will do 12 uplights for a set price, what does that really tell you? Will these twelve uplights be sufficient to light a room? Will they be in a color to complement the decor? Does the venue have the electrical power to support this? A professional lighting designer will find the answers to these questions. An amateur will take your money and try to figure it out once he's on the site the day of your wedding."
Now, reading that you might think "OK, maybe lighting professionals are biased. Of course they are going to recommend couples use a lighting professional!" Makes sense, right? Sure, until you consider that professional photographers seem to share the same opinion. I also reached out to the talented and much-lauded Amie Otto of Amie Otto Photography to get her thoughts as a professional photographer who has been the victim of bad DJ lighting more than once in her career.
Check out this example she gave us of what happens when bad DJ lighting takes over the dance floor, marring every photograph with thousands of annoying little dots:
Amie says, "The main problem with bad DJ lighting is that it is directed onto the subjects, which creates distracting blotches of color, random dots, and awful skin tones. My least favorite are the red and green dot lights. They are projected everywhere and there are a million of them. To take them out digitally in every single reception photo would literally take hours of retouching."
Phantom dots aren't the only problems in photos, however. "Colored lights that are projected onto the dance floor create the issue of unnatural skin and hair tones," Amie points out.
Take a look at this example of unnatural hair tones caused by bad DJ-provided lighting:
Bad lighting is, of course, bad for photos -- but ambiance created by professional lighting can change the entire feeling of a room without distracting from the subjects of photos, says Amie. "Rooms that are lit professionally by a lighting or event company focus on creating an ambiance and light the walls or other key elements of the reception rather than the subjects of the photos. This allows the photographer to light the subjects as she or he chooses, giving a much more natural and dynamic look. And the best part is, there is no need to fix anything later!"
Case in point, this setup:
Lighting is a decorative element, like flowers and linens, and if you like the effect, then by all means go for it! Just make sure you're using a professional, and are choosing lighting that will enhance, not detract from, the beautiful event space you've chosen and your lasting memories of the wedding you've worked so hard to plan.