Turn it on With Lighting

Lighting illuminates our surroundings and enables us to perceive color and texture. But tent lighting has not always had the decorative value that it has today. In the past, the choices were few and the styles limited. Today, tent professionals can easily offer unique lighting options for any event.

According to Doc Waldrup with Full Circle Lighting and Productions in Atlanta, Ga., most lighting equipment used in hotel ballrooms, convention centers, and special event facilities can be used in tents with minimal adaptation. The only real considerations are the weight limitations that tents carry on their support legs and beams.

“LED lighting is still the most popular form of lighting tents,” Waldrup says. “As the cost continues to go down and the ease of operation gets simpler, more and more tent rental companies are realizing the advantages of carrying this inventory in-house.”

Carol Lee Cundey, CERP, marketing communications manager at Eureka!, Binghamton, N.Y., agrees. “A particularly noteworthy feature of the LED lighting is its greatly reduced power consumption,” Cundey says. “Most LED light fixtures require 50 to 80 percent less power than standard fixtures. In both large and small events, that could eliminate the need for additional generators to help power the lights—a savings not only in the generator rental but also in labor time for installation, noise pollution during the event and additional footprint area needed for generator placement. In addition to power, another benefit of the LEDs is that they generate little heat. Conventional lighting and PAR lights get extremely hot. At the end of an event, the crew does not have to wait for the lights to cool down to dismantle.”

One popular and affordable customization lighting option, especially for weddings, is custom GOBO lighting. “The name of the bride and groom can be made into a custom GOBO template and can project onto the tent top or the dance floor,” Cundey says.

Sheree Bochenek of Après Party and Tent Rental, Edina, Minn., and Tim Geisler ofEMI Audio, Robbinsdale, Minn., note two extremes in lighting trends. On one end,“it’s the total emersion of color that changes throughout an event, plus additional moving light patterns,” Bochenek says. “On the other extreme is the farm-chic trend, which consists of simple cafe lights strung through space.”

Bochenek also receives many requests for chandeliers. “Après carries a variety of styles, including larger beaded pieces and smaller acrylic chandeliers in a classic shape,” Bochenek says. “But our most popular style is the Murano Venetian chandelier, which is 30 inches tall and 100-percent real crystal.”

Also, don’t forget that the outside of a tent is as important as the inside. “Shepherd hooks with lighting on a pathway, trees strung with twinkle lights and the tent perimeter accented with outside lighting all carry a great impact come nightfall,” Bochenek says.
weddings tents

Design details
During a tight economy, making the lighting serve multiple tasks can keep a budget-conscious customer happy. “Perhaps it is as simple as changing the color periodically or altering a projected pattern to another style,” Waldrup says.

For social events and weddings, Eureka! has added its Basic LED PAR product as an option, making the cost-conscious client happy while increasing the bottom line for the rental company. “To begin, show the client photos of an event with just task lighting. Then show the same event and include the Basic LED PAR inside the tent and how, for a small rental price, the client can get personalized color options,” Cundey says. “For the rental company, it’s so very easy.”

Waldrup finds that the Full Circle Lighting team is mostly adjusting lighting levels to compensate for daytime events, particularly in the summer when the sun does not set until later in the evening. “Generally the guests are entering the reception (for weddings) at 7 p.m. or so and it is still quite bright outside, so we keep the lights as bright as we can get them,” Waldrup says.

“As the outdoor ambient lighting gets dimmer we will start lowering the lighting as well so it is not as bright inside the tent.”

Waldrup works from what he calls the “cockroach and moth theory.” If you vary the lighting levels into sections of the structure, the guests will find their comfort level. Some people are repulsed by bright lighting (cockroaches) and some people are drawn to it (moths).

“We also tend to light the interiors brighter than normal when they are held on grass to minimize the reflection of the outdoor ambient lighting onto the grass and the subsequent bouncing of that green hue onto the top of the interior skin of the tent,” Waldrup says.

If nothing else, tables should always have some sort of lighting on them, either as a reflection of light or as a direct light. “We generally light tables with simple white track lighting, as centerpieces these days tend to be too large for conventional pin spots,” Waldrup says. “We use a piece of gray gel with the center cut out to give a little bit more pop on the centerpiece versus the entire table service. To keep skin tones as natural as possible we add a bit of pink or straw depending on the centerpiece or linen color.”

Partners in progress
Full Circle Lighting works with other lighting companies constantly, particularly as transportation prices escalate. “Frankly, we are pretty proud of the gear we have developed for working in tents so we tend to ship our highly specialized inventory, but leave the bulk of the standard equipment to them,” Waldrup says.

Après works with various preferred partners, Bochenek says, but sometimes the client has a favorite lighting person or the venue has a preferred vendor. “We are capable of installing up-lights in a space, but when the event calls for more complex intelligent (moving) lights, pin spotting or truss, we always call in a lighting expert,” she says. “Lighting is a very important part of our services, and Après event specialists always suggest lighting when appropriate.”

Waldrup says the nice thing about working with other lighting companies is they generally already know what they want. “A ‘disadvantage’ is sometimes you have different equipment than they are used to working with so you have to discuss what would be appropriate substitutions,” Waldrup says. “Appearance and reliability [are] what we look for when we hire another company’s equipment and personnel. Price is the last thing I consider because the stakes are too high for failure to be an option.”

One of the biggest mistakes people make when lighting a tented event is choosing to not include lighting or to use too little, Cundey says. “‘I wish we had more light’ is not something your clients are going to want to hear when the sun sets and the party is just beginning to rock,” Cundey says. “Too little light is a surefire way to send guests home early.”

Waldrup also puzzles at the considerable expense some clients dedicate to flowers, decor, and food and beverage only not to light it. “I also think helping the band out is important, as they set the mood for the entire event,” Waldrup says. “Some small moving lights on the dance floor and LED lights on the band make all the difference in setting a celebratory tone for the event.”

One thing Waldrup requests is that the band not bring their own lighting. “Its appearance is generally in poor condition and it is what the guests get closest to, so they do notice it,” he says. “Besides, you hired a band to play music and us to do lighting.”

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