Tent rental companies take on the latest lighting technology, techniques and trends to create events that shine.
By Holly O’Dell
A well-designed tented lighting scheme can add elegance to a wedding, bring a party’s theme to life or enliven a corporate function. Tent rental companies are embracing technological advancements in lighting design by creating and installing lighting plans themselves or partnering with lighting design firms. Here we review the latest trends and technologies in lighting schemes for tents, as well as tips for partnering with lighting design firms to create distincitve events.
Many shops report that clients are looking for moving lights and images—from “clouds” moving across a ceiling lit up in a blue sky to flowing waterfalls. “Computer-controlled moving lights are very popular right now,” says Len Woelfel, owner of Chicago Lighting Design. “Although they’re more expensive, they do offer a lot of flexibility in terms of colors and patterns.” Also known as automated or intelligent lighting, this system can move in all sorts of directions, changing colors without the need to change gels. Intelligent lighting is also efficient, as it can perform tasks that would normally require multiple conventional lights.
Even if customers forgo the intelligent lighting route, they often request some sort of pattern to dress up their event. Butch Ruggiero and his team at Special Events Tent & Party Rental, Bangor, Pa., will project stationary patterns via ellipsoidal projectors (also known as “lekos”), which are 750-watt fixtures that rely on interchangeable barrel lenses to project light in various widths depending on the distance the fixture is from the lighted surface. The company most often uses this method for brides and grooms who want their names in lights. “We choose the right lens to achieve pattern size appropriate for the job,” Ruggiero says. In addition, gobos—metal or glass discs inserted behind the lens of a projecting lamp that projects images—are available in hundreds of stock styles and can be custom created.
Some tent rental companies choose to project lighting images on walls, but others believe that those patterns are best suited for tent ceilings. “The walls are a little difficult [to project patterns onto] because they’re lower, and it becomes more of an issue of having lights in the guests’ eyes,” says Robert Hughes, CERP, director of special events for All Occasions Event Rental, Cincinnati, Ohio. “If you are looking across a crowded tent, most guests might not see something on a sidewall. They are going to see it at the top of the tent.”
A lighting scheme also provides an opportunity to add whimsy to an event. One product that fits the bill: AirDD® Hi-Lights™, which are illuminated, inflatable decor elements designed for the event industry. “These are large 3-D objects that absorb and reflect light,” explains Doron Gazit, president and founder of Air Dimensional Design (AirDD), North Hollywood, Calif. “You could call them ‘tent jewelry.’ With their own internal light, in plain white or gelled with any color, the Hi-Lights can create a beautiful look.” Branding a corporate or personal message on the objects is also possible.
Pin spotting is another technique that adds a distinctive element to an event. “Pin spotting is basically a beam of light that’s a very narrow spot, which highlights just the centerpiece and maybe a bit of the surrounding area,” says Daniel Butcher, president of Luminous Designs Inc., Farmingdale, N.Y. The lights are mounted to the tent’s center pole or other parts of the tent’s structure, depending on the type of tent. “If you dim the other lights down in the tent and leave the pin spots up a bit, that really makes a bold statement.”
Rental companies are also expanding their chandelier inventories. “The modern bride goes online or sees magazines with chandeliers hanging in tents, and they want them for their own wedding,” Hughes says. “The difficult thing is finding inventory that you can rent numerous times yet still be trendy and meet a variety of brides’ needs.”
To that end, All Occasions has used chandeliers from a department store that was going out of business. “They were large scale enough that they could be used in tenting,” Hughes says, adding that the fixtures had the look of crystals but were actually made of plastic. “But high in a tent they look great.”
Perhaps one of the biggest technological advancements in lighting design is the LED. Though the technology has existed for a while, improvements have opened the door to new uses. LED lighting offers two major benefits, according to Woelfel. “You can create a lot more colors and change them much faster than you can with a conventional PAR can, where you have to change gels out,” he says. “With conventional lights, each fixture might draw 300 watts, whereas an LED might draw only 30 to 50. So LEDs are much more flexible and energy efficient.” LED fixtures can be expensive, but the price will fall as technology improves and demand increases, Ruggiero notes.
Often, a tent rental company will partner with a professional lighting technician or designer to create an outstanding event. Special Events Tent & Party Rental has taken that approach to intelligent lighting. “We would have to do a lot more computerized lighting to make it worth owning large amounts of LED lighting for that kind of work,” Ruggiero says, “but there are wonderful lighting companies that use this stuff every day. Instead of having it in your inventory and letting it get old, it comes out of their inventory, where they are using it enough to keep it new all the time.”
Communication is, of course, vital. “We need to do a lot of communicating about what type of tent it is, its layout, how many center poles there are going to be and so on,” Butcher says. “If I’ve never worked in a specific tent before, I might have to get a cross section of the actual beam structure so I can design my brackets for them.”
At the end of the day, a tent rental company’s lighting capabilities—whether its own or with the help of a lighting professional—can keep it competitive. “You’ve got to let the customer understand that what you can give them is different, and why it is better,” Ruggiero says. “But that’s just plain old good sense.”