reception lighting

There are several lighting scenarios you can face during the wedding day. Some of those moments will provide you with challenging elements you need to overcome with specific lighting techniques. One of the most challenging parts of the wedding day to capture is the reception. This part of the wedding day is fast-paced and often features unfavorable reception lighting scenarios. When you are faced with difficult lighting scenarios, it can be valuable to learn how to overcome the issue and produce the best light possible for your images.

In her final post of the Wedding Lighting Master Class series, ShootDotEdit Wedding Pro, Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers, shares reception lighting tips for photographers. She will share 4 wedding reception lighting setup scenarios you can practice. Keep reading to learn more.

leeann marie 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!


Reception Lighting

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

A few notes about this course:


I truly believe that “Fast Is Best”, which is (obviously) why I love ShootDotEdit and their wedding photography editing services. 🙂 But really, one of the key valuable principles 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. Natural light is involved, but I’m not afraid of flash in the least. I 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.


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


I work in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It 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 the time.

For each piece of this master course, I have set out to identify my most common and most challenging situations 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 Photography Lighting

In my first part of the wedding lighting series, I covered bridal preparations and details, and how I light them in a variety of situations. For the second part, I discussed family portraits, and how I light them both indoors and outdoors. With the third part, I went through how I light for the wedding party portraits on a sunny day! Throughout the next part, I covered how I light the reception details. My most recent installation went through how I handle rainy, cold, snowy wedding days.

In my final section of this master series, I will cover with you how I approach wedding reception lighting. The important thing to know for this portion of the Master Class is there are tons of ways any given photographer can light a wedding reception. I find that this is often the most flash-necessary portion of the day since events are occurring indoors or into the evening hours.

Reception Lighting Scenarios

I will be sharing with you how I photograph the different pieces of the reception (although details were covered in an earlier post). There will also be some of the resulting images from that chosen lighting scenario. Each of these lighting setups waives true to my photography style. You may find they work for you or you like a completely different look. That’s okay. The most important thing here is to find reception lighting photography setups that produce beautiful images for your clients and are true to your style.


  • Introductions
  • Toasts
  • First Dance + Cake Cutting
  • Open dancing

Again, with my lighting choices, I try to keep it simple and quick.

Now, I’m going to show you a few scenarios that I was faced with, how I approached them, and the results.

Scenario #1


Introductions. Admittedly, this is my least favorite part of a wedding reception. I’m not sure why, or because I’m just not all that good at it, but I just don’t enjoy them that much. The important part to note here is during reception introductions, it’s hard to predict in any way what people will be doing! Some of the bridal party do “fun” things. Or, some just walk through; some go slow, some go fast. Who knows! I make sure my shutter speed is fast enough to capture the action, and I keep a flash on-camera.

Sometimes I will have an additional off-camera flash. But for me at this point, it’s really about keeping it super simple. Just typing this section makes me realize I should work on this portion of the day more this coming wedding season! 🙂


bride and groom walking in to the reception
Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers
wedding party entering reception
Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

Scenario #2


Toasts. This is where I can get more creative and interesting in my light in ways other photographers may not. I have found over the years that most of the head tables where my couples are seated are against a wall. Greeeeaaatttt. Talk about shadow-city from a direct flash! To combat this, I set up a speedlight on a light stand + MagMod Sphere. I have it at a 60-90 degree angle from where I am photographing the action. My favorite place to stand is off to the sides of the head table as if I am a guest watching the speeches. With this, I get some really beautiful, directional light. Often, I don’t need to move that flash on a speedlight either.

From time to time, the person giving the speech will not be standing directly next to the couple. So, I have to create a game plan to handle that situation.


What I will do is this:

  • Setup speedlight + MagMod Sphere to light the couple at the head table. Trigger with an on-camera PocketWizard set to Channel 1.
  • Have an on-camera flash on top of that PocketWizard. This is what I will turn on to light to speech-giver.

When I am photographing the couple at the head table, my flash is set to -/- power (no flash). And, my PocketWizard is set to Channel 1. This will trigger that light on the light stand and be just like the original lighting scenario. As I need to turn and photograph the person giving the speech, I will switch my PocketWizard to Channel 2. I will turn the on-camera flash power to a nice even setting to light them.

Other options could include a two off-camera flash setup. Or, you could place your single off-camera flash in a different location that will light both parties, etc. It’s all about finding what works for you! I think the biggest part here is to create interesting light and avoid harsh shadows on the walls.


father giving speech at wedding
Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers
wedding party during toasts
Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers
best man speech at a wedding
Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

Scenario #3


First dance and cake cutting. I typically work alone, so I do not have a lighting assistant with me to move around an off-camera flash during these key parts of a wedding reception. That’s okay, however, because I have a game plan! I photograph these sections of the day with (typically) an on-camera flash, and a single off-camera flash. My off-camera flash is a speedlight on a light stand with a MagMod Sphere (or bare). It is triggered by a PocketWizard Flex TT5. On-camera, I have a speedlight and a PocketWizard Mini.

I like to use the off-camera flash for pretty rim-lighting or directional light. So, I know I want to place this flash in a location that will be IN the scenery of my photos. What area will I be photographing these events from? Which scenery will look the nicest in the background? That is typically away from the DJ/Band, and into a nice part of the reception scenery. I may have to raise this light up a bit to go over guests. I’ll set it to a very low power since it’s only acting as an additional light, not my main light. My main light is on-camera and my on-camera light will be bounced off of a wall/ceiling or a bounce card if the room is not conducive to this.

Dancing involves movement, while photographing the cake doesn’t. So, take your time to play with the light while you get shots of the cake, but make sure you’re ready to go when it comes to dance time.

With these flashes in place, I can really feel free to move about the room and play with how the light hits the couple as they are dancing and cutting their cake. It’s fun!


first dance in reception hall
Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers
bride and groom first dance
Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers
side view of bride and groom's first dance
Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers
first dance wedding reception chandelier
Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

Scenario #4


Open dancing. Once this part of the day rolls around, I’m all about lightening up my gear-load I’m carrying. I’ve been carrying around heavy equipment for way too long! I’ll switch to shooting with a 28mm lens, and keep an on-camera flash. Often, I’ll also keep that off-camera flash in the room and triggered with the PocketWizard Flex Mini. That is because it’s so light. I light to get up-close with people on the dance floor and will bounce the flash off of the ceiling, wall, or use a bounce card. Though, I know some photographers who also like to use direct flash at this portion of the day. Again, it’s a style choice, but I think that can really work, too!

The big thing here is to pull in enough ambient light in the room, and also have a fast-enough shutter speed to stop the action on the dance floor. This will need to be the perfect combination of ISO, Flash power, and Shutter Speed selection, which also varies by reception space.


man dancing at wedding reception
Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

You can see how that off-camera flash is still triggering in the room…

bride and groom reception garter
Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers
couple attending wedding reception
Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers
wedding guests attending reception
Image by Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

I hope you found this lighting series helpful. And, I want you to especially feel prepared with how to approach each section of a wedding day with fast, easy lighting that is also beautiful and interesting.


Bring these reception lighting tips to your next shoot and use them to create unforgettable images for your wedding clients. And for additional lighting tips to use throughout the wedding day shoot, download our Lighting Guide for Wedding Photographers! Click on the banner below to get the guide, which is based on Roberto Valenzuela’s #1 bestseller, Picture Perfect Lighting.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published