Come Shoot With Me: How To Photograph A Wedding Reception

Have you ever found yourself feeling really anxious to photograph a wedding reception? Maybe you don’t know what to take photos of first or when to use flash and when to not. I’ve got you covered, friend!

In case you missed the first few “Come Shoot With Me Series”, you can catch up on the latest posts about how to photograph bride & groom portraits and a wedding ceremony without flash

In this video though, I’m including all the behind the scene details for when I photograph a wedding reception. Everything from reception tables, decor, the first dance, cake cutting, and so much more! I’m also sharing my flash settings and where I position my OCF in a reception space.

Detail #1: Empty Reception Room

The reception room is where I began to shoot. There were about 120 guests at this wedding and I wanted to first shoot the space BEFORE the guests arrived. This included being able to get all the details inside the room. From the table decor to the floral arrangements to the name cards, I focused on both horizontal and vertical images. I always try my best to do this before anyone is allowed in the room. But I don’t always have control over that. So, I do my best, but sometimes I have to photoshop people out.

I was using off camera flash while shooting. My assistant who filmed this video from the perspective you saw in the video was holding my flash for me because there was no room for the stand. If I didn’t have my assistant, I would have just put the flash on one of the tables and let it do its thing. I continued to work my way throughout the rest of the room and captured every gorgeous detail.

Across the room where I was standing, you could see where the reception was going to be held. That was the “sweet spot” for where I wanted to setup my off camera flash. Unfortunately though, I wasn’t able to bring that flash all the way in there because it was too awkward and tight from the tables. 

Finally, I walked over to where the dancing was taking place and decided to stop and talk to the videographer just to touch base and confirm we were on the same page for shooting. When you find these pockets of time, take advantage of them! 

During that time, we discussed setting up our lights, where the bride and groom were entering in, and where we were going to be standing. Ultimately, we also decided we were going to try and stick to the same side. That way we wouldn’t get in each other’s shots. Creating a game plan will make such a HUGE difference going into the reception. 

Detail #2: Couple Arrives

Once the couple arrived, I had my off camera and on camera flash set up. In one of the shots, you could actually see that my flash was just off to the upper right hand corner. It was at 1/16 power. It stayed right around there for pretty much the rest of the night. It just added a little bit of a fill. Additionally, it brightened up important details like the bride’s dress. 

Due to the ceiling being vaulted and having a darker wood tone, I ended up using more flash power and a higher ISO than I normally would. It was absorbing that light and bouncing back as a color cast with some yellow tones. The off camera flash brought that beautiful, clean light directly to my couple and filled their faces. I did not want my only flash to be on camera. It would be pretty yellow and hard to balance for their skin tones.

Detail #3: Dancing 

As they moved to open dancing, we had already photographed their first dance. I moved around the dance floor and kept the flash settings pretty much the same. I found different moments with my focus on the bride and groom. During times that the couple was off the dance floor, I took lots of photos with family members and friends having a good time. 

I also took the time to take additional portraits for any family members who wanted them at the reception. We call those “grab and grins,” where they get together for a quick picture. I love to do those. I think they are so fun for the couple to get inside of their gallery that they didn’t expect to receive or know that we took. Just some bonus portraits for them!

Detail #4: Cake Cutting

About halfway through the reception, the cake was brought out. It’s always fun  when the cake is put in the middle of the dance floor. We were able to get some nice separation with the off camera flash. We could also get some cool angles by moving around them versus them being in a corner or against a wall. It would’ve made it a little harder for my second shooter and I to get really different angles. So, that was a nice treat. 

Bonus Tip: Stick around after the cake cutting until they walk away. I never want to miss the kisses, them feeding each other the cake, or any other special moments like a quick dip, impromptu toast, or dance. These make for  perfect photo opportunities. So, don’t stop shooting after they cut the cake because these images are GOLDEN!

The remainder of the night was open dancing. It became a great time to get out on the dance floor, use a nice wide angle lens, and get the big shots of everyone having a good time on the dance floor. Additionally, it was awesome to then play around with flash and get more of a dramatic look and feel to the images.

As you continue to shoot wedding receptions, you’ll become more and more confident in what to shoot and when to shoot it. Having a timeline in place helps a lot too but always be open to being flexible with the day as it goes and finding those special opportunities for shots or connecting with other vendors. 

Let me know in the comments what the most helpful part of this post was and what questions you might still have. Stay tuned for the next post in the series! 

 If you haven’t already, check out the first two videos of the “Come Shoot With Me” series, where I talk about photographing: Bride & Groom Portraits as well as A Wedding Ceremony Without Flash

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