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Event lighting: under the spotlight

While event professionals will invest time and research into venues, catering and event technology, an often overlooked element for success is getting the lighting right. CN approached lighting specialist Pete Mardell of Arup, Cardiff, for his insight.

By Pete Mardell, senior designer, lighting, Arup Cardiff

When I first entered the lighting design industry, my then boss said to me “in lighting design, if you get it right, no-one will notice. If you get it wrong, everyone will tell you.” Of course, they were completely right. Light, like many other aspects in our lives, is subjective. What one person may perceive to be too bright, someone else will think is just right.

Light is an aesthetic component. It helps us perceive width, depth, height and volume. Plenty of light onto vertical surfaces makes a space seem wider. Lack of light to ceiling surfaces can make a space seem lower. A space with plenty of daylight tends to seem spacious; a connection with the outside world, despite the architectural constraints.

Light is also a functional tool. Enabling us to carry out our day-to-day tasks, whilst ensuring our safety. How effectively and safely we carry out these tasks can be influenced by good or poor lighting.

Perception, how we perceive things, boils down to psychology. Light affects us both physiologically, which many researchers will attest to, and psychologically. Different types of light produce different responses and emotions. The brightness, the colour, the contrast and the distribution of light can all be manipulated to create an ambience, to set a tone, to make us feel a certain way.

While this may seem obvious, the brightness of a space can make it seem appealing or off-putting. No-one wants to be eating their meal at an awards ceremony in the level of brightness associated with a supermarket. Utilising dimmable light sources, with smooth, flicker free dimming via a lighting control system provides flexibility. If the space needs to be brighter for an exhibition, you can do that. If a low light level is needed for a film screening, that can be done too.

The colour of the light, or colour temperature to be technical, is a simple way to change ambience or tone. Warmer coloured light tends to evoke feelings of relaxation, cosiness and domesticity. This lends itself better to events where socialising is the key aspect. A cooler coloured light leans toward functionality and task based activities. Often being associated with offices, hospitals and schools. If the event is more business orientated, a cooler colour light may be more appropriate. RGB (Red, green, blue) lighting, capable of generating multiple colours, creates a sense of fun and excitement. This may be better suited to parties or more light-hearted events.

The contrast and distribution of lighting within a space can make it seem exciting or flat. Let’s revisit the conference and awards ceremony example. Within a conference, typically the lighting is usually bright and quite flat, or uniform in appearance. Maybe some interesting hidden lighting details, such as coving light have been thrown in for good measure. Whereas, an awards ceremony will have minimal lighting. Thin streaks of light or pools of light onto concentrated areas, the focus being the stage, creating high contrast between light and dark. Both are perfectly good approaches for the activity, to set the tone, and are aesthetically suitable. However, if you were to swap these approaches around, it wouldn’t work. I don’t think many would thank you because they can’t see who they are networking with at a conference.

The key is to blend aesthetics, function and psychological aspects seamlessly using light.

Image: iStock