How To Get Great Wedding Photos – Part Five – The Reception

how to get great photos at your wedding reception

In Part 5 of this series we deep dive into how to get great photos at your wedding reception. Reception photos often begin with detailed shots of the reception venue before your guests arrive, the arrival of the bridal party, cocktail hour, the speeches, cake cutting, additional portraits, group shots, first dance, father daughter dance, dance party time, garter toss, bouquet toss, and finally your grand exit.

If you missed last week’s post on How to Get Great Wedding Photos at the Photoshoot, go back and read it first.

1. Reception Lighting

The more lighting you can bring in, the better! We love uplighting (orange, red, purple and pink look the best; stay away from green); candles, chandeliers and twinkle lights.

We love tent receptions, because the white canvas works really well with the way we use our flashes. To make it even prettier, add some sparkly chandeliers or lanterns, and lots of candles on the tables.

If you’re having a completely open-air reception, under the stars, we recommend adding as much extra lighting as possible, such as strands of twinkle lights and candles in mason jars. The extra lighting will help warm up your photos and add a prettier, more dynamic dimension. Otherwise, you will have a completely black background unless the reception takes place during the day.

2. DJ laser lights 

OK, we all love DJ laser lights when the music starts cranking and you are ready to dance the night away. What we don’t like is overexposed green spots on your face during the first dance and any other formal dances where you might want as to capture the emotion on your face. The problem with these green (or any colour lights, including white) that fly around the room is that these lights are so powerful that even our flashes cannot compete with their strength. This results in a spots that are completely overexposed that no amount of Photoshop can rescue. I was unable to deliver the photo below to a client because the amazing kiss was obstructed by the DJ light.

Ask to your DJ to kill any lights that fly around the room during the formal dances and once they are over they can then cut loose and fill the dance floor as they crank the tunes.

3. The Speeches

If you are the one giving the speech – Don’t use a phone or tablet to read your speech. If you can’t remember your speech, write it down on some notecards or a nice piece of paper. Electronic devices and scraps of note paper look terrible on the camera. Additionally, practise your speech a few time a few days before your wedding. That will help calm the nerves and make you look more composed your your speech. This blog post has some great in depth tips for those giving a wedding day speech.

If you are the one/couple receiving the speech – Prior to the speeches commencing, ask a reception staff member to clear all rubbish, plates, bottles, etc from your table. Try to keep only the drink that you are toasting with in front of you. Lastly, keep your attention on your partner or the person giving the speech. Try to avoid the photographer, as the speeches are the best place to get some candid expressions.

4. Sunset portraits

Sunset portraits are an amazing addition to your wedding photoshoot. The best time for sunset portraits is 30 mins before till 30 mins after sunset. Due to daylight saving here in Australia during the summer this means that the sunset falls during the middle of dinner. I schedule with my clients to quickly duck outside during the main course and take some sunset portraits for 5-10 mins. Not all locations work well for sunset portraits and other locations require an adjust of timings due to the sun falling behind the horizon or other structures much earlier than timing for the local sunset. Talk to your photographer in advance if this is a priority for you and your partner.

5. Night portraits

Night portraits can be so romantic or fun, and there is so many options of things to do for some night portraits. These can even be done inside, particularly with very creative photographers who love off camera flash. Ask your photographer if they specialise in any of the below techniques and if they would be willing to create a special image for you and your partner. Do this well in advance from the wedding as many of the below techniques require specialised equipment or advanced planning.  Here are a few of my favourite ideas:

Light Painting: If you are looking for some fun, ask your photographer if they do any light painting. Check out this crazy light painting inspiration from the world leader in this technique, Eric Pare.

Sparklers: These are great for creating some unique portraits with you and your bridal party. The image below had a bridesmaid writing with a sparkler while walking in front of the bride and groom.


Coloured gels with off-camera flash: If you have a photographer with this as one of their speciality images, ask them to create something special for you and your husband to be shot during the reception time. If you need some inspiration, check out this amazing MagMod website

Fireworks: Some couples organise to have fireworks set off at their wedding, other like our couple below choose a wedding venue next to a location that had fireworks set off every Saturday night.

Night landscape portrait: Most popular in city landscapes, where the backdrop is all lit up. Sydney Harbour is my favourite location for this type of night portraiture, whether it be engagement sessions or weddings.

Night couples glamour portraiture: Award winning photographer Jerry Ghionis provides an amazing example with this image.

Night romantic portraiture: Industry leader Jerry Ghionis provides a prime example of what is possible with this amazing image

Astrophotography with couples: This is a great option if you are having a country wedding. You need a night that doesn’t have the moon rising till late and a photographer that is skilled in this unusual technique.

6. Group Table Shots

Avoid getting your photographer to take table shots ie. photos of each group of people at each table. I find you and your guests will be happier if you offer the opportunity for any groupings of people to have their photo with the photographer during meal times. This way you can get photos of friends and family in the groupings that make sense to them, rather than the mixed table settings.

7. Take it steady on the bubbles

The bubbles in Champagne can go to your head pretty quickly, and it’s not ideal to have glassey eyes in all your wedding photographs. I’m not saying don’t have a glass in celebration, just take it steady. After all, you probably won’t feel like eating a huge breakfast, especially if your dress is tight. You still want to look glamorous, poised and sophisticated all day long, not like some hot mess who couldn’t handle her alcohol.

8. Dance Time

Many couples underestimate how long the formalities of a reception take to complete. The speeches, serving and clearing of meals, cake cutting, bouquet toss, garter toss, and the farewell of the couple take a large amount of time. If you really want to spend time partying on the dance floor you need to ensure you have adequate hours of reception time. I have seen many couples with the five hour reception package, spend less than 30 mins on the dance floor.

If you have any special dances planned, particularly if they are a surprise, make sure you let your wedding photographer know before the day. This way they can be prepared for the dance, especially as they may want to bring additional equipment to cover any unique dances.

9. A Grand Exit

A sparkler exit takes time to execute. It also requires at least 50-100 special long burn sparklers, often sold as Wedding Sparklers. Ensure you discuss with your photographer who will be responsible for getting the guests into the right area, handing out the sparklers, lighting them (this takes much longer than you think), and organising a bucket of water or sand to discard the used sparklers. Also check that your photographer understands how to photograph a sparkler exit, as this takes an intermediate level of skill to capture well. 

10. Getaway Vehicle

If you are going to do a grand exit, make sure you have your transportation ready for you to be whisked away. Discuss with your photographer what transportation you have to make your exit and if it is important for them to get some addition photos of your getaway vehicle.

Our next blog post in this series is the final one in the How to Get Great Wedding Photos series. Our final post is How to get Great Wedding Photos – Part 6 – After the Wedding Day