The art of event lighting shows purpose in, and give significance to, your design. Don Draper (fictional character from Mad Men) captured it well when he said, “Make it simple, but significant”. We are all familiar with situations where “less is more”, or “simple is best”. Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, spoke to the importance of marrying form and function when he said, “Design is not just what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works.”
Parts of the Whole
Lighting falls into four types; ambient, accent, decorative and task, which all work in conjunction with one another in order to deliver a successful event lighting design. The perfect coupling of form and function. Sometimes breaking the whole down into all of its smaller parts enlightens a purpose (pardon our pun).
Ambient, adjective: of the surrounding area or environment.
Accent, verb: to give emphasis or prominence to; accentuate.
Decorative, adjective: serving only to decorate, in contrast to providing a meaningful experience.
Task, adjective: of or relating to a task or tasks.
Now if you can use your imagination, let us describe some real-life situations involving each of these types of lighting, so that you can better picture in your mind exactly what is described. Ambient lighting is using that lighting which is available. Picture the bright, glaring almost green florescent lights at big box or department stores. It isn’t flattering to anyone, but it is the light that is available. Accent lighting can be perfectly imagined if you think of any of your favorite horror movies. As the main character is approaching a dark, possibly abandoned, or haunted house, they are of course driving or running through a lightning storm. With each flash of lightning, aspects of the scene are highlighted or accented to draw the eye. An excellent example of decorative lighting can be found by all Star Trek (2009) fans, with lens flares and bright flashes all over the bridge, that heighten the movie’s excitement. And, of course, it is not hard to imagine task lighting. Say you have an important project to finish for work. You are up late and don’t want to wake up the rest of your household. You sit at your desk with a work light or a banker’s light shining specifically on your tasks at hand. Are you able to picture each of these lighting types in your mind?
Adding Up to a Perfect Design
In addition to the four types, lighting also has four objectives: visibility, motivation, composition, and mood.
Visibility, noun: the relative ability to be seen under given conditions.
Motivation, noun: providing a reason to act a certain way.
Composition, noun: the act of combining parts or elements to form a whole.
Mood, noun: a distinctive emotional tone or general attitude.
In order to help you imagine the objective of visibility, think back to a fan favorite film, Notting Hill (1999). In the scene where Will is talking to his friends about Anna, the diner’s light focuses completely on Will, making him the most seen. Motivation through lighting is the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”. It leads you to a certain end point. To imagine composition lighting, think about holiday lights or the popular art immersion exhibits. In each, you can see the individual lights as they exist, but it is only when taken as a whole that you are able to get the entire intended effect. Lastly, perhaps the easiest example of mood lighting may be using only candlelight to set the stage for a romantic dinner for two.
When you understand the how and the why of including professional event lighting and design in your celebration or vocational event, you can begin to contemplate some practicalities. In considering the art of design, it would be irresponsible to neglect the function, as well. These will vary depending upon the type of event. Is it a corporate event or a private event? Are you lighting speakers and presenters or newlyweds? Are you working within a theme or color scheme? Will the event be recorded or broadcast? What will participants be wearing? Are any of them bald? What is the height of the room? Is the power supply sufficient? There is much to understand and include in your planning; and with a professional to guide you, many of these important considerations will not be overlooked.
Impressionist painter Edgar Degas said that “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” When you think about the art of event lighting design, we really could not say it any better!