Specialty event lighting off to a glowing start

Reception hall? Check. Caterer? Check. Flowers? Check. Ditto the cake, bridal dress, invitations, photographer, music and someone to officiate the ceremony. They're part of the typical wedding to-do list. But more and more brides and grooms are a...

Reception hall? Check.

Caterer? Check.

Flowers? Check.

Ditto the cake, bridal dress, invitations, photographer, music and someone to officiate the ceremony.

0000017d-9b18-debd-a17d-fb1c0bb20000   0000017d-9b18-debd-a17d-fb1c0bb30000   0000017d-9b18-debd-a17d-fb1c0bb40000   0000017d-9b18-debd-a17d-fb1c0bb50000   0000017d-9b18-debd-a17d-fb1c0bb60000   0000017d-9b18-debd-a17d-fb1c0bb70000   0000017d-9b18-debd-a17d-fb1c0bb80000   0000017d-9b18-debd-a17d-fb1c0bb90000   0000017d-9b18-debd-a17d-fb1c0bba0000 They’re part of the typical wedding to-do list.


But more and more brides and grooms are adding specialty lighting to their checklist, an added feature that has taken off in recent years, spurring business along with it.

“We’ve seen it specifically in the last three years, now that the technology in the lighting has made it possible,” said Mariah McKechnie, owner of Northland Special Events in Duluth. “And the bang you get for it is well worth it. You can transform a space.”

Such LED lighting can reflect the wedding’s colors and create the desired mood at the reception. It can be just a few lights directed upward around a room’s perimeter, producing columns of light, to numerous lights washing a reception hall in a magical glow.

It can highlight the head table. Pinspot lights can shoot mini spotlights down on the wedding cake, guest register and guest tables. Draped cocktail tables can be illuminated from below. Custom logos with the bride and groom’s names, or textures and moving images such as stars and the northern lights, can be projected onto walls or the ceiling.

Costs, which include setup and removal, typically start around $400 for a smaller venue and can reach $2,000 for elaborate treatments in large spaces.

“Lighting is the largest impact you can make on a room for the least amount of dollars,” said Ken Pogin, who owns Duluth Event Lighting, the Twin Ports’ largest provider of speciality lighting.

Specialty lighting is especially effective in a plain, unadorned hall. But it’s widely used at other venues, including the historic Greysolon Plaza with its grand ballroom in downtown Duluth.

“With a site like ours, because it’s so magnificent, it doesn’t require a lot,” said Jax Eisenmann, sales director at Greysolon Ballroom by Black Woods. “But lighting can enhance our architecture and unique design. It’s always welcome. It’s an easy way to take it to the next level.”


Probably 40 percent of the weddings at Greysolon use it, while five years ago it was only about 5 percent, she said, adding: “So it’s grown. And it continues to grow.”

“If we were not as grand, I suspect the percentage would be higher,” she said. “I suspect at other places without such architecture, the percentage is higher.”

Getting it right

While McKechnie’s event-planning service can set up some mood lighting, she usually subcontracts that out. Depending on the effect desired, she’ll recommend a specialty lighting company or DJ service that offers event lighting.

Among the DJ services doing event lighting in addition to the pulsing dance floor lighting that accompanies their music, is Pro Sound & Light Show in Duluth. It does extra specialty lighting for half of its DJ jobs and that number is growing, said owner Aaron Abramson. And about 25 percent of his clients already have hired a lighting company before they call him, he said.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, and there’s so much we can do to make that moment that much better and memorable,” he said.

Since a DJ technician is there anyway, for an added cost, they also can dim and brighten the special lighting to emphasize key moments during the reception.

His minimum package, uplighting parts of the room, starts at $200. But more elaborate lighting, including washing walls in color, spotlighting the head table and projecting the couple’s names on the wall or the dance floor, can be done for more.


“We bring the lights, set them up and program them to the colors they like,” he said.

Wedding prime time

Pogin can boast the biggest lighting event job of all - washing the the Aerial Lift Bridge in color.

His Duluth Event Lighting business does lighting for corporate events and is behind the occasional teal lighting of the Aerial Lift Bridge to increase awareness of ovarian cancer. But 90 percent of his jobs are weddings, he said, with most costing $400 to $800.

He averages three weddings a weekend but is able to do as many as six. Pogin, who is also the Minnesota Ballet’s production manager, can focus fully on his eight-year-old lighting business when the ballet’s season ends in March. That’s just in time for the busy wedding season that ramps up in May and continues through October. Like Pogin, his crew of 10 come from backgrounds in professional theater.

“I surpassed the ballet’s paycheck two to three years ago, so what was a side job is a full-time job,” Pogin said of his lighting business. “I’m keeping my ballet job because I like it, and it’s an awesome job. And as long as I can keep doing both, I’m going to.”

When it comes to weddings, he said he’s either the bride’s first call or her last call.

“Either the bride knows about mood lighting and it’s No. 1 before the venue is chosen, or we are an afterthought,” he said


For Chelsea Steffen of Mora, it was an afterthought, after she booked the church, the reception hall and the photographer for her April 2017 wedding.

She didn’t even know about specialty lighting until she saw pictures of events held at Clyde Iron Works.

“I saw all this lighting,” she said. “I didn’t know what uplighting meant. I haven’t been to a wedding with special lighting.”

Steffen soon was sold on the idea..

She chose a $500 lighting package from Pogin for her April 2017 reception for about 365 guests at Clyde Iron. Lights in hot pink and pale pink will complement her raspberry color scheme, along with a silver accent and a custom logo projected on a screen.

“I’m very excited,” she said. “ I just need this year to fly by.”

But there’s more that goes into choosing light colors than the bride’s color scheme.

The size of the venue, the height of the room’s ceilings, the paint color and the texture of the walls are factors. Whether the space has windows and the type of room lighting also are considerations.


Rise of LEDs

The development of LED lighting technology, coupled with decreasing costs, made specialty event lighting possible and affordable.

Before LEDs came along, hot cans - halogen can lights with gel color filters - were used. But they would get hot, were inefficient and were out of the price range of most people.

LED technology created safer, affordable options with more color options. Theatrical LED lighting boxes being used by professionals today contain six colored lights that can be mixed to create a wide range of colors, from deep tones to light pastels.

“Now you can create any colors imaginable, and it’s possible with the click of a button,” Abramson said. “We can make bright hot pinks, fuchsias, teals - any color a bride would want.”

By 2008, the price had come down, and specialty lighting had become affordable. And as the technology progressed, its equipment became smaller and brighter, Pogin noted.

It was LED technology that caught Carmen Wendland’s attention about eight years ago. With a background in residential and commercial lighting design, she saw an opportunity. So in 2010, she founded Event Lighting By Design, providing specialty event lighting.

“When I started I was the lighting lady in town,” she said. “Now DJs are offering lighting packages.”


So she has expanded into event decor design that can include lighting, working nonprofit and fundraising events as well as weddings.

“I know the philosophy behind an event,” she said. “I know certain ways to decorate for different events and what’s appropriate. Lighting enhances everything you have. It makes it pop.”

She’ll do ceiling draping with string lights, fabric backdrops with uplighting. She’ll hang a chandelier and paper lanterns, provide lighted table centerpieces and light the head table from underneath using small fairy lights. Bistro and cafe lights, which are strings of larger light bulbs, are popular. And she’s starting to incorporate a glittering new product - fiber optic fabric.

“You have to have a combination of things to make an event look fabulous,” she said. “When it’s done and I see the result, it’s kind of like creating art.”

SIDEBAR: Couples are spending more on weddings

Besides the arrival of LED lighting, the economy and a move to more personalized weddings have played roles in the increased use of specialty lighting at wedding receptions.

Not surprisingly, when the economy slipped into recession in 2008, brides and grooms tightened their wedding budgets, according to The Knot, which publishes a leading wedding website and magazine.

The Knot has been tracking the average costs of weddings since 2006. While spending on weddings dipped with the recession, by 2014 spending started to rise, according to its surveys.

Despite a trend to more casual weddings, the rising price tag includes money spent on catering, music, flowers, photography, entertainment and additional features that reflect the bride and groom’s personalities.

The Knot’s most recent Real Weddings Study, polling 18,000 couples in 2015, found wedding spending at an all-time high - an average of $32,641 nationally. Costs varied around the country, however, with the average lower in Minnesota and much of the Midwest.

Lauren Kay, senior style editor for The Knot, says a shift in how people are getting married has helped drive the popularity of special event lighting.

“People are spending more money on weddings than in the past,” she told the News Tribune. “They have a little more budget, so they’re putting lighting into it.”

Today, people also are personalizing details of their wedding day and finding nontraditional venues - such as a barn, historic home or ranch - where special lighting can not only play a big part but can be needed, she said.

“Lighting is one of the best ways to transform a space,” she said. “It’s often an afterthought. But they’re realizing it’s certainly worth the splurge. It’s the best way to make a space look better.”

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