Heavy Duty Light

Best practices for dramatic event lighting.
Photos by Steve Ziegelmeyer

The “wow” factor. Every client wants it and every signshop strives to create it. Clients aren’t able to pin the wow factor down, but they sure know it when they see it. According to Director of Sales Chris Lecky and Director of Operations Greg Leming, the creative minds behind Cincinnati-based event planner Accent on Cincinnati Inc. (AoC), the secret to the wow factor is one word: light. “Light brings drama, light brings emotion and light brings everything together,” Leming said. “Light is our secret weapon.” 

COLOR GUARD

“The main goal with lighting is to create an experience, a vibe and a tone,” Leming said. “Colorful lighting sets the mood for an event from the first minute people arrive.” If a client has a logo and a corporate color scheme, that’s a pretty good place to begin the design process. “You’d think this would be pretty obvious,” Lecky said. “But it isn’t. We have to nudge customers into using their own colors.” 

The dramatic effect created by colored lighting is difficult for people unfamiliar with using light to visualize. In order to overcome this hurdle, Lecky uses an iPad to show clients photos of previous projects. “Once they see what we can do, they have a better idea of what they want,” Lecky said. “And they usually want bold colors.” Leming noted that AoC prefers to project as much color onto the walls and ceiling as possible, with blue a popular choice. “Blue can create a club atmosphere for a raucous party, or it can create an intimate mood for a more formal event,” Leming said.

Fortunately, thanks to advancements in LED technology, creating bold colors has never been easier. Modern battery-powered LED uplights can flood the walls with color. “You can illuminate giant spaces,” Leming said. “All you need is a solid surface to bounce the light off of.” And the wonders of modern tech don’t stop there. Using simple remote controls, it’s possible to program LEDs to create specific colors and effects, everything from gentle undulations to kinetic strobes and more. For big events, AoC will use 50-100 uplight units. “We put one on every table and every table glows,” Lecky said. “The LEDs create almost no heat, so the uplights are safe to put virtually anywhere.”

FOCAL POINTS

Despite AoC’s seemingly unlimited supply of lighting, proper placement can make or break the vibe. Though each venue is different, the bar is a good place to start. For a recent rock and roll event, the bars were set up around large backlit images of iconic musicians wailing on their instruments. “We have designers that can brand centerpieces, lightboxes, backlit table tops, anything,” Lecky said. AoC’s printer outputs large decals on ORAFOL ORAJET film to be applied to Plexiglas and set in place. These visual focal points act as subliminal wayfinding markers, letting people know where to congregate.

TIP THE SCALE

Whether you’re dealing with a temporary tent in a parking lot, or an ornate hotel ballroom (see image gallery), custom lighting can create an ambiance that elevates any event.
Whether you’re dealing with a temporary tent in a parking lot, or an ornate hotel ballroom (see image gallery), custom lighting can create an ambiance that elevates any event.

When working with light, scale might be the most important design element of all. “If people are, say, 6-ft. tall, and all of the centerpieces are also 6-ft.-tall, then the minute everyone walks into the room, all of those features instantly disappear,” Lecky explained. “Every focal point should be taller than the people in the room.”

Variation is also key to lighting success. In a hotel ballroom with a 40-ft ceiling, for example, some elements should flood the area with huge expanses of shape, color and movement, and some should be smaller and more intimate. “Variation in size, color and motion creates interest and can distort people’s perspective,” Leming said, “creating an enhanced spatial sense that transforms a room.”

LEAVE THEM WANTING MORE

Successful lighting design creates a positive impact on an event, generating buzz. Once clients realize how effective dramatic lighting can be, they often want to replicate that success in other aspects of their business, such as tradeshows, parties and internal meetings. “Customers come to rely on our product, they know what we do, and they come back to us,” Lecky explained. Because of the nature of lighting arrangements, AoC hires professional photographers to document their events. “This costs a bit more,” Chris said, “but it pays dividends in additional sales.”

A picture is worth a thousand words, but the light is what creates the picture. Mingle at these events for very long and you might hear what people are saying, “Wow. Wow. Wow.”
 

Signs of the Times May 2019

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