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What to Consider for Great Outdoor Venue Lighting

How do you light up a venue or event space? Seems like a simple question, but there’s a lot to the answer. Outdoor venue lighting includes any type of permanent fixture on the exterior of the venue structures, as well as temporary or permanent lighting used in outdoor venue spaces. Typically, the focus for outdoor venue lighting is on decor, ambiance, and using the lights to create the right mood and energy for the event. That’s certainly important (and we’ll talk about it), but that’s not the only purpose for exterior event space lighting. Outdoor lighting also includes exterior light fixtures needed for visibility in key areas and used to enhance safety and security for staff and guests. 

Outdoor events have always been popular in good weather, so it’s a smart investment for venue owners to do all they can to expand and enhance their outdoor event spaces. With the social distancing needs brought on by the pandemic, this demand has increased dramatically and will probably continue to do so. 

People want to go out, have fun, and enjoy life. But they want to do so in an atmosphere that feels safe and fun. Outdoor event space lighting helps achieve both goals, by providing visibility, creating the right ambiance, and helping to keep everyone safe.

Outdoor venue lighting: permanent and temporary

Venue owners tend to focus on permanent lighting designs, while event planners tend to investigate temporary lighting ideas. Both are great, and have different uses and limitations. 

Permanent lighting includes the following: 

  • ceiling or wall-mounted fixtures, which you’ll typically install around all doors and entryways.
  • walkway lights, installed near sidewalks and pathways and often used to create perimeter.
  • landscape lighting, which are perfectly angled and spaced spotlights to highlight landscape features.
  • uplighting, to create a uniform and polished look across the front of a building.
  • security lights, such as motion-sensor spotlights on building corners and near entrances.
  • bistro lights, a special type of string light hung from nearby structures or on custom-cut mounting poles.
  • specialty lights, such as color-changing lights for water features, outdoor chandeliers, or lights installed on hardscaping elements.

Temporary outdoor venue lighting has a very wide range. Temporary lighting options can be as simple as string lights wrapped around a pole and as complex (and costly) as a stage lighting rig. In this article, we’ll focus on permanent outdoor venue lighting and a few of the simpler temporary event space lighting options. 

Outdoor event lighting for visibility

The first primary function for outdoor lighting is to provide visibility, both for customers and staff. Staff need to see well enough to oversee activities, serve food and drinks, manage different outdoor surfaces, and navigate entryways. They also need to move between indoor and outdoor spaces without a major adjustment in the level of light. You don’t want staff members to be temporarily blinded when they move from the patio to the kitchen, or vice versa. Outdoor event areas often involve different surfaces–gravel, stepping stone, sidewalk, stairs, wooden decking, etc.–with different levels. It’s important that both staff and guests can see where their feet are landing. 

Plus, guests want to see what they’re doing well enough to enjoy it. People don’t want to guess what’s on their plate–they want to see it. We’re not talking close inspection of the vegetables or the ability to sort grains of rice by size. We are talking enough visibility to easily distinguish what’s in front of them. No mistaking ketchup for barbecue sauce, or having to turn on the phone’s flashlight to figure out if those are radishes or carrots in the salad. 

You’ll typically achieve the visibility level you want with permanent outdoor lighting that’s part of the venue. (This is a good time for venue owners to ask themselves: do we have enough outdoor lighting?) This could include outdoor chandeliers, wall sconces, bistro lighting, walkway lighting, and strategically placed spotlights. 

If you need to up the visibility with temporary lighting additions, here are a few ideas:

  • add string lights on beams, poles, and over doorways. 
  • hang spotlights pointed downward so the beam adds light without blinding guests
  • use LED rope lights along the edges of tents, awnings, and on fences.

Outdoor lighting to direct traffic

As mentioned above, lighting for visibility is especially important in outdoor areas. There are more surfaces and levels to contend with, so people need to easily see what they’re walking on. They also need to know where they’re going. For staff, this will be second nature; for guests, not so much. 

Lighting can help you direct the flow of guest traffic.

Remember that people–like insects–are attracted to light. It’s instinctive, especially when people are in motion; they’ll go toward what they can see. Help them by making sure you have fixtures installed at key points for the literal customer journey: the path itself, the entryway, the hall that leads to the restrooms. The dance floor. And, of course, the bar. 

Outdoor lighting for ambiance

Outdoor event spaces have the potential to provide what guests want. But you can’t just throw up some tables and call it a dining area. You can’t just turn on some music and call it a dance floor. Guests want and expect the environment to have the right feel for the experience, and lighting is how you achieve that. With the right lighting, at the right level, guests can step onto the patio and feel like it’s a natural extension of the indoor space: recognizable, familiar, and enjoyable. Or–if depending on what you want–they can step outside and feel as if they’ve entered an entirely new, magical world.

Lighting is one of the most powerful creators of ambiance. 

When lighting an outdoor venue for ambiance, look for permanent fixtures that are adjustable. Low-voltage LED lighting is the industry standard. It’s worth investing in higher quality fixtures, too. They’ll look better and last longer. (Plus, most commercial-grade fixtures, like the ones we use, come with a significant warranty.) You may need more fixtures than you think, too, but remember that with adjustable fixtures you can lower the intensity of the light to achieve the mood you want. However, if you don’t have enough outdoor light fixtures, you won’t be able to do anything about shadowy corners and dark spots. There’s nothing like a creepy vibe to really kill the mood, so don’t skimp on exterior lighting. Your venue–and each event–is worth it.

If you’re looking for outdoor venue lighting help in the St. Louis area, we’re the ones to call! We love helping our clients cook up the very best outdoor lighting design. From uplighting to show off that great venue to bistro lights on the patio and security lights in the parking lot, we can handle it. Get in touch today for a free consultation. 

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