infographic blog banner

As a wedding photographer, you might already be aware of the several lighting scenarios you could face on the wedding day. Some of those moments will provide you with challenging elements you need to overcome with specific lighting techniques. One such challenging part of the wedding day to photograph 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 could 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 Photographer, shares reception lighting tips for photographers. The 4 wedding reception lighting setup scenarios she shares could help you master this lighting technique. Read through to learn more.

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 and has a background in industrial engineering, giving her a unique perspective on photography and business. 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

This last blog in the Wedding Lighting Master Class series delves into some valuable techniques for perfectly managing and lighting the different scenarios that you might be faced with on a wedding day. And here are a few notes about this course:

Fast Is Best

Keeping your lighting setups as fast as possible could allow you to move between scenarios quickly.

Leeann swears by the mantra “fast is best”. And one of the key valuable principles she brings to her brides and grooms is an experience that is organized, hassle-free, and yet beautifully lit and happy.

Similarly, keeping your lighting setups as fast as possible could allow you to move between scenarios quickly, while still creating beautiful photographs for your couples. After all, you don’t want to keep your couple and their guests waiting unendingly as you fix your lighting! Natural light is beautiful, but Leeann says she’s not afraid of flash in the least. She works with tools and an arsenal of mental notes (lots of them that are described in this course!) to help her move between situations quickly and flawlessly.

A Million Ways To Light A Scene

In the photography world, there are a million ways to light one simple scene. The methods and reception lighting techniques outlined in this course are Leeann’s personal preferences. And we encourage you to try them and then modify the techniques if necessary to fit your photography style and client needs.

Where You Live Matters

Leeann works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - an area subject to rain on summer days, snow in April, and 80-degree sunny days in November. And she’s faced with varying conditions at every single wedding (which photographer isn’t!) and has to adjust to the situations all the time.

For each piece of this master course, she has set out to identify the most common and most challenging situations she has faced throughout her 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 - we think you are in the right place. Try some of these tips. Study them. Modify them. Copy them. It’s all up to you. In the end what matters is creating some stellar images on your wedding photography journey. Now… onto the good stuff!

Wedding Reception Photography Lighting

The reception is often the most flash-necessary part of the wedding day since events occur indoors or into the evening hours.

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

In the final section of this master series, she covers how to 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. And this part of the wedding photography is often the most flash-necessary portion of the day since events are occurring indoors or into the evening hours. 

Reception Lighting Scenarios

While Leeann shares with you how she photographs the different pieces of the reception (although details were covered in an earlier post), we’ve featured some of the resulting images from that chosen lighting scenario to highlight the situations better for you. Each of these lighting setups holds true to Leeann’s 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.

Event Coverage

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

Again, with her lighting choices, Leeann tries to keep it simple and quick. And here, she highlights a few scenarios that she was faced with, explains how she approached them, and showcases the results for you to observe and learn from.

Scenario #1: Introductions


Introductions. Admittedly, this is Leeann’s least favorite part of a wedding reception. If, like her, you too don’t really enjoy this segment of your wedding photography shoot or maybe find it hard to manage the reception lighting, Leeann’s tips could help you. 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 parties do “fun” things. Or, some just walk through; some go slow, some go fast. Who knows! A way to manage this scene is making sure your shutter speed is fast enough to capture the action, and keeping a flash on-camera.

Sometimes you could even have an additional off-camera flash. But like Leeann suggests, at this point, it’s really about keeping it super simple!

The wedding party entering reception
Image Courtesy: Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

Scenario #2: Toasts


Toasts. This is where you could get more creative and interesting with your reception lighting in ways other photographers may not. Over the years, Leeann says she has observed that most of the head tables where her couples are seated are against a wall. Greeeeaaatttt. Talk about shadow-city from a direct flash! To combat this, you could set up a speedlight on a light stand + MagMod Sphere. And have it at a 60-90-degree angle from where you are photographing the action. Pick up a favorite spot to stand. For Leeann, it is off to the sides of the head table as if she is a guest watching the speeches! This way, you could get some really beautiful, directional light. And most of the time, you might not 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, you have to create a game plan to handle that situation.


Setting the PocketWizard to Channel 1 with no flash while shooting the couple at the head table could give you an original lighting scenario.

What you could do is this:

  • Set up 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 you could turn on to light the speech-giver.

When you are photographing the couple at the head table, your flash could be set to -/- power (no flash). And, set your PocketWizard to Channel 1. This will trigger that light on the light stand and look just like the original lighting scenario. As you need to turn and photograph the person giving the speech, you could switch your PocketWizard to Channel 2. At this point, you could 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! The biggest part here is to probably create interesting light and avoid harsh shadows on the walls.


Wedding party during toasts

Image Courtesy: Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

Scenario #3: First Dance & Cake Cutting


If, like Leeann, you typically work alone, it is unlikely that you’ll have a lighting assistant with you to move around an off-camera flash during these key parts of a wedding reception. That’s okay - if, however, you have a game plan to work with your reception lighting! You could photograph these sections of the day with (typically) an on-camera flash, and a single off-camera flash. Your off-camera flash could be a speedlight on a light stand with a MagMod Sphere (or bare). It is triggered by a PocketWizard Flex TT5. On-camera, you could have a speedlight and a PocketWizard Mini.

If you, for example, like to use the off-camera flash for pretty rim-lighting or directional light, you might want to place this flash in a location that will be IN the scenery of your photos. What area will you 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. You may have to raise this light up a bit to go over guests. You could set it to a very low power since it’s only acting as an additional light, not the main light. Your main light is on-camera, and your 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 be fluid with your lighting when your couple takes the center stage for the first dance.

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


First dance in reception hall
Image Courtesy: Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

A bride and groom on the dance floor during their first dance
Image Courtesy: Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

A bride and groom dancing under the chandelier
Image Courtesy: Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

Scenario #4: Open Dancing


Once this part of the day rolls around, you could consider lightening up your gear-load you’re carrying. If you are shooting alone, you have probably been carrying around heavy equipment for way too long! Now, you could switch to shooting with a 28mm lens, and keep an on-camera flash. Often, you could also keep that off-camera flash in the room and trigger it with the PocketWizard Flex Mini. That is because it’s so light. This could help you 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, some photographers might also like to use direct flash at this point of the day. Again, it’s a style choice, and as with other aspects of your photography techniques, you are free to experiment and find your own sweet spot when it comes to reception lighting!

Shooting with a 28mm lens during open dancing could help you get up close with people on the dance floor.

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 depending on the reception space.


A man dancing at wedding reception
Image Courtesy: Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

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

Portrait of a couple attending wedding reception
Image Courtesy: Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

A portrait of a guest on the dance floor
Image Courtesy: Leeann Marie, Wedding Photographers

We hope you found this lighting series helpful. The next time you are photographing a wedding reception, we recommend you
try out these reception lighting tips to create unforgettable images for your wedding clients. The idea is to feel prepared with how to approach each section of a wedding day with fast, easy lighting that is also beautiful and interesting.

At ShootDotEdit, we are passionate about helping you hone your craft and take your wedding photography business to the next level! And our professional photo editing services could help with that by taking editing off your plate. To learn more about how we can help your wedding photography business grow as you focus on your art, check out our pricing plans.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published