Light Fantastic

Light it and they will come! So says Ronnie Brown.

Lights work. They can create a statement, an atmosphere and even safety, whether you are lighting a small venue or an entire street. Done well, lighting can completely transform a venue or an event. I usually give three examples of when and where lighting really works: Walt Disney World, Blackpool and My House. OK, I use lighting for fun but the other two use it for the return they attract so abundantly. Now these examples may be a little extreme but they show what is possible. Blackpool spends in excess of £2.2m each year and attracts 3.7m visitors during the two months of the Illuminations. That’s a lot of ‘Kiss me Quick’ hats, not to mention revenue taken for taxis, hotels, pubs and clubs, etc. As for Disney? Well, the extra photographs taken of guests in front of the Castle paid for the lighting in the first year (in excess of $1m).

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Now, don’t rush out and buy the Rolls Royce just yet. These attractions have a head start on most of you guys, but the concept remains the same. It is a simple strategy to take the opportunity that Christmas presents, as well as dark afternoons and evenings, and use it as a marketing tool. Build on it year-by-year, event-by-event and you too can achieve the success of a Blackpool or a Disney (albeit on a smaller scale). I would suggest that your lighting display is part of a bigger marketing plan; lights may be a good starting point but should not be the end.

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And lights are not just for Christmas. Some products can be used for different events. Tree lights on a summer evening create a wonderful a wonderful ambience. There are also a number of lighting ‘motifs’ for summer displays.

You can also light during the day; you just have to be aware of the big yellow thing in the sky. If the sun is in full effect it can seriously affect your lighting display’s impact so be clever about the positioning of your installation and create some darker areas for contrast.

Back at my house, in the run up to Christmas one year, I planned some research into a couple of new products I had received. I wanted to see how they came out of the box, how they went up, how they lasted a Scottish winter, how they went back in the box (they never go back in the box). A day or two after installing them outside I noticed a car drive up to the house, then another and another, then up to 25. I live in a cul-de-sac so don’t have passing traffic. Wow! That’s the power of lighting.

What do you Need?
There are loads of lighting options from singles, strings, projections and uplights for trees/buildings to lasers, floods, festive motifs and even for underwater. Choosing the correct product for the effect you are trying to create is paramount. Some may want to call in a lighting professional to help (this can be free advice from a reputable lighting supplier).

Certain basics are required, for example mains power is most common although solar power, batteries or even a generator can be used. There can be much cabling involved so consideration of how this should be hidden will help create the magic.

You needn’t be an expert to specify lighting but knowledge on the length of lighting strings and what power is required to light them is useful. Lighting products can be mains voltage (230/240V), low voltage (110V) or extra low voltage (12 or 24V). Low and extra low voltage products will require a transformer to suit the input voltage.

Lighting Terms

  • LED – when compared to old style bulbs, ‘light emitting diodes’ are by far the most energy saving solution
  • Lumens – a measure of light output. The higher the lumen the brighter the light
  • Colour Temperature – a method of describing the colour characteristics of light, usually either warm (yellowish) or cool (bluish). It is measured in degrees of Kelvin (°K)
  • String Lights – highly versatile, strings of lights can be hung, strung, twirled or wrapped
  • Ropelight – a decorative lighting fixture featuring small light bulbs linked together and encased in a PVC jacket to create a string of lights
  • Curtain Lights – these feature a top cable from which a number of strings of lights can be hung vertically. Great for lighting buildings
  • Watts – in lighting, a watt is used to measure how much electrical power is used by a light fitting
  • Amps – the basic unit of electric current
  • Transformers – these can be used to alter the voltage going through a circuit to a suitable level or make lights dimmer or brighter
  • DMX – a system of controlling ‘intelligent’ lighting fixtures and dimmers
  • Projection Mapping – a projection technology used to turn objects, often irregularly shaped, into a display surface (such as a building) for video projection

Blachere Illumination UK

Lighting Design
There may be specific rules for your area so it is always best to check with your local planning department before undertaking a large installation. As a rule of thumb, if your lights are temporary then there is no need for planning permission.

What makes a beautiful installation? This is difficult to answer definitively since beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To start the design process you could involve a consultant to avoid costly mistakes and there are a number of reputable companies that would provide this service. For a smaller project or event you may want to experiment with a few strings of lights or colourwash lights.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to make an impact. Of course, the bigger the budget, the more you can achieve but creativity can produce fantastic results without breaking the bank. Neither need you buy; lighting products can be rented on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis.

RONNIEAbout Ronnie Brown
“I want to sell light bulbs like my Dad,” said Steven Brown aged five. That was my son’s response to the question, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ When I get asked the question, ‘What do you do?’ a smile will always appear on my face. It is interesting to see people’s reaction when I say, “Christmas Lights – not the ones you have in your house, but for towns and cities, events, the odd theme park and iconic buildings.”

I’ve been saying this since 1987. Of course the client list wasn’t as well known back then. But as time went on the towns and cities we worked with became some of the biggest in the UK.

I was first introduced to Blachere Illumination in 1996 and became a distributor for them that same year. It was a no brainer; the product range and the quality of design and manufacture were light years ahead of any of the suppliers in the sector. In 2001 Blachere bought a major share-holding in my company Wonderland Illuminations and we became Blachere Illumination UK Ltd. We supply anything from a single string of lights to a fully designed themed display and all points in between.

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