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Photography Lighting for Awesome Wedding Reception Details

photography lighting wedding reception details

As one of the last parts of the wedding day, the reception is one of the more challenging to shoot. With conflicting light and constant movement, it can often be difficult to quickly set up light and capture the best shots. How can you create light and document some of the most important details from the wedding reception? In her fourth post of her series, Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers shares her photography lighting setups and tips to help you work quickly through this part of the day. Keep reading to discover Leeann’s suggestions for lighting wedding reception details.

Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers Headshot

One of the leading wedding photographers in Pittsburgh, Leeann Marie has created an exclusive brand that is family focused for the cosmopolitan bride. She’s a national speaker for WPPI, has been in business for 9 years, and has a background in Industrial Engineering giving her a unique perspective on photography and business. She relies heavily on systems in her business to accomplish all of her goals, and has been a ShootDotEdit happy photographer for 7 years. She lives in the city of Pittsburgh with her husband and daughter. She loves looking out her back window into the firefly-lit woods, and enjoying a night out for sushi, and drinks with friends. Learn more about Leeann on her website and Instagram account!

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Photography Lighting Setups

Welcome to the Wedding Lighting Master Class! This is the third article in the series, which I hope will help you to learn some valuable techniques for perfectly managing and lighting the different scenarios you will be faced with on a wedding day.

A few notes about this course:

FAST IS BEST: I truly believe that “Fast Is Best”, which is (obviously) why I love ShootDotEdit. 🙂 But really, one of the key valuable principles that I bring to my brides and grooms each wedding day is an experience that is organized, hassle-free, and yet still beautifully lit and happy.

Keeping my lighting scenarios as fast as possible allows me to move between scenarios quickly, while still creating beautiful photography for my couples. I do use natural light, but I’m not afraid of flash in the least, and work with tools and an arsenal of mental notes (lots of them that are described in this course!) to help me move between situations quickly and flawlessly.

THERE ARE OPTIONS: In the photography world, there are a million ways to light one simple scene. The methods outlined in this course are my personal preferences, and I encourage you to try them and then modify if necessary to fit your photography style and client needs.

WHERE YOU LIVE MATTERS: I work in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is an area subject to rain on summer days, snow in April, and 80 degree sunny days in November. I’m faced with varying conditions every single wedding (what photographer isn’t!?), and have to adjust all of the time.

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For each piece of this master course, I have set out to identify my most common and most challenging situations that I have faced throughout my career. Again, if you are looking to create a wedding photography experience that is efficient, but also way above and beyond what your couple’s ‘photographer friends’ can do – I think you are in the right place.

Try some of these tips. Study them. Modify them. Copy them. It’s all up to you – I hope you find all of these examples and ideas helpful on your wedding photography journey.

Now… on to the good stuff!

WEDDING RECEPTION DETAILS:

In my first part of the wedding lighting series, I covered bridal details and preparations, and how I light them in a variety of situations. In the second part, I discussed family portraits, and how I light them both indoors and outdoors. And finally, in my most recent installation, I went through how I light portraits (on a sunny day) of the bride, groom, and bridal party.

Today, I will be talking about another huge piece of the wedding day photos – the details. These are the photos that serve as popular pieces of Instagram feeds and reminders for your couple of all the hard work they put into designing their wedding day. Once they’re touched and the day is over, the only memory they’ll have of the small pieces of their wedding planning will come from you. On top of that, having great wedding detail images are important to inspiring your future brides and grooms – always a hot ticket in today’s marketing techniques!

Related: Are you capturing every essential image from the wedding day?

My approach to using wedding reception lighting techniques to highlight the details is to get them quickly, and beautifully lit. I also want my reception detail photos to have the same “feel” that the client was going for in their overall design of the wedding. These images are also key for some of the big vendors I work with (florists, linens, lighting, stationery designers, wedding planners), and so in order to maintain wonderful relationships with them….well, these photos are also kind of for them, too!

My reception venues are often two types, which I’ll cover in this article:

  1. Bright, Sunny, Lots of Windows or Outdoors
  2. Grand Ballrooms, Not a Lot of Natural Light

If you’re not familiar with the venue, I’d suggest swinging by before the event just to get a look at the “style” the venue brings and see how it aligns with your client’s wedding day aesthetic. This will give you a game plan of how to light details when the actual event arrives. Also, ask your client to tell you about their vision, so you can nicely match it. Are they looking for airy and romantic? Contrasty and vibrant? The more you know, the easier it will be to light the details and make quick decisions on the wedding day.

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Lastly – practicing some of the techniques in this article for wedding reception photography lighting for details will help you to move fast on the wedding day. I sometimes only have up to 5 minutes to photograph an entire room, and so I need to have a mental game plan of how to make the most of that time!

For equipment, I have my speedlights with me, but in bright, sunny rooms I am more often than not shooting with natural light. I have some go-to scenarios, and some ways that I mix things up a bit without having to move around. Let’s get into it.

A PLAN TO PHOTOGRAPHING DETAILS:

As I mentioned before, I have a mental game plan to how I photograph details, and I detail it out for you here:

  1. Escort Cards (if not touched yet!)
  2. Full room
  3. Centerpieces
    • Full Table
    • Centerpiece vertically
    • Up-close centerpiece
    • Small details in centerpiece
  4. Stationery
  5. Cake
    • Within Room (showing placement)
    • Full Cake
    • Up-close details
  6. Cake knives (especially if engraved)
  7. Linens
    • Full Table
    • Up close w/ small details
  8. Head Table/Sweetheart table
    • Full Table
    • Champagne flutes
    • Bride + Groom Place Cards
  9. Others: Dance Floor, Gifts, Dessert Table, Gift Table, Etc.
table decor wedding reception

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

reception bouquet table shots

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

I always move from “largest” to “smallest” in terms of details: I photograph any given detail within the room to give it a sense of placement, then the full detail, and then small pieces of the detail.

wedding reception details

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

BRIGHT, SUNNY, LOTS OF WINDOWS, OR OUTDOORS:

Scenario #1

Scenario: For reception venues with tons of natural light, I typically photograph the details natural-light-only as well. Often, the client picks this type of venue for the airy quality, and so bringing in flash at this point doesn’t make sense to me, especially if I can move quickly without it.

Equipment + Technique: The first thing I do when photographing each of the details I noted above is to identify the main source of light hitting it. I like to photograph my wedding details with the light coming at about a 90-degree angle to where I am standing. I find that this allows the detail to have lots of highlight and shadows, and really makes it “come to life” in a photo.

Lighting Diagram:

Results:

wedding reception table shots

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

lighting wedding reception details

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

photography lighting wedding reception

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

GRAND BALLROOMS, DARKER RECEPTION SPACES:

Scenario

Scenario: For reception venues with not a lot of natural light, I typically photograph the details with one flash. In this way, I somewhat “replicate” the idea of having “one window” by using my flash for that purpose instead!

Equipment + Technique: The first thing I do when photographing each of the details is to get a reading for the ambient light in the room. Without turning on any flash, I set my camera to manual and adjust for settings that allow me to pull in some of the ambient light in the room. I also make sure that my shutter speed is lower than my flash sync speed (important when you add the flash in!)

Next, I set up my flash, which typically consists of a single speedlight on a Cheetah Stand and a MagMod Sphere. The Cheetah Stand allows me to move the flash around the room quickly, and the MagSphere softly diffuses the light to resemble that soft window light from the previous example. I keep the flash power bright enough to light the detail, but low enough to not seem overly “flashy.”

Related: How can using off-camera flash help transform a location?

It’s all about selecting that nice balance, which is why I like to also have my flash in manual mode as well. Again, as I mentioned previously in this article, how you set your camera and flash settings is a personal choice, but I find that shooting in all manual helps me to control every aspect of what I am photographing and move quickly.

I then place my flash setup at ~90 degrees between me and the detail, and start shooting away! I find that I can leave the flash in a single place around a table, and then move to capture all the important details quickly. Also (side note) be sure to move salt + pepper shakers, butters, and sugars from the table when photographing. It just makes it look nicer. Sometimes I, too, forget this in the essence of time, but it’s just a nice add in when photographing the details! 🙂

Lighting Diagram:

photography lighting diagram photographers

Results:

table details photography

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

wedding photography lighting details

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

wedding cake detail shot

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

wedding photography lighting reception

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

In this photo, you can see my light and how it adds to the detail of the room!

wedding photography lighting setups

Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

ADDITIONAL NOTES:

Pin Lighting: What happens when you walk into a room and the centerpieces are pin-lit and the rest of the room is dark? In this scenario, I will sometimes try and light the rest of the table with a MagGrid+Sphere combination, but otherwise, I will quickly shoot the centerpieces and room by exposing for the light on the centerpieces.

Additional Lights: If you have more time, I encourage you to play with additional lights in the room! One of the ways I like to do this (in a darker room) is to put another light behind the detail for some additional drama!

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With Leeann’s wedding reception lighting setup techniques for details, you can quickly capture the images your clients will love. The more photography lighting knowledge you have, the easier it will be to shoot in any location, in any condition. Discover how to always identify light and use it to your advantage with our Lighting Guide for Wedding Photographers. Download your copy today!

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