Wedding reception photography tips and checklist

Wedding receptions have a different vibe and energy altogether. With guests joining the newlyweds to celebrate their new journey, the fun part of the day takes over. From cocktails and cake cutting to dancing and toasts, a lot happens during the wedding reception, and it happens fast. And your job is to document the action in stunning photographs that narrate the story of each scene. So if you are wondering how to get it right and keep up with everything that goes on at a reception, this blog offers a checklist and useful tips to ace wedding reception photography.

Wedding Reception Photography Checklist

1. The Entrance

Some things only happen once – like the grand entrance at the wedding reception. But to capture that moment in a photograph is not an easy task, and therefore, it is essential to plan ahead. Keep your eyes on the bride and groom but don’t forget to include the guests who are there to celebrate their new beginning with them. These guests can also act as a great natural frame for your photograph sometimes.

2. The First Dance

Aerial shot of a couple's first dance as the guests surround them in a circle
Image Credit @iqphoto

The first dances are always special – be it between the bride and groom or the bride and her father. And thankfully, this is a moment that gives you enough space and time to photograph your subjects. To take the first dance photos to the next level, be prepared to get creative with the angles. Different angles can make a photo look different – while some can highlight certain details and emotions, some make the composition look surreal. Try taking both wide-angle shots to show the entire set-up and tight close-up shots capturing the emotions. Additionally, ensure that your lighting is on point for the photographs.

Related Read: The 6 Most Important Angles To Capture During The First Dance

3. The Cake Cutting

The cake cutting is one of the most important parts of wedding reception and also something that might go by in the blink of an eye – if you don’t pay attention. It’s certainly another photograph that might be a little difficult to take due to time constraints, but it’s a must-have too. While photographing the cake cutting, position the bride and groom together and make sure that they are not blocking each other. Also, don’t forget to take detailed photos of the cake!

4. Open Dance Floor

Bird's-eye view of an open dance floor at a wedding reception
Image Credit @loversoflove

Photos of people dancing are always a fun addition to the shot list. One way to get the best photos of people having fun on the dance floor is by getting up close and personal. Get close to the dance floor and get your cameras ready. These tight shots will help you capture some great facial expressions, and perhaps some great dance moves too!

5. Toasts & Speeches

Keep your camera rolling as the best man, the maid of honor, and the family members clink their glasses to make a toast. Toasts and speeches can often evoke heartfelt emotions like nostalgia, laughter, and some tears too. So don’t miss out on photographing those moments! In some cases, the couple might also address the guests sharing their gratitude – this moment too makes for great photographs.

6. Night Portraits

Silhouette of a couple looking at each other as they stand under a circle shaped doorway
Image Credit @robbmccormickphotography

In between all the celebrations, take time to sneak your couple out for a couple’s session. Scout the location in advance and use this short time to get some stunning photographs of your couples. If there’s a photo booth or a wall that you could use as a backdrop, then pose your couple in front of it. To make sure everything goes according to plan, discuss this part of the wedding reception photography with your couple beforehand.

7. Bouquet Toss/Garter Toss

Bouquet or garter toss scene is a sweet opportunity to get some really lively and fun-filled photographs – provided you are ready. These photographs are incomplete without having the group or the person (who is catching) in them, so make sure you include them in your image. The reaction and postures of the group who is anticipating or catching the bouquet or garter can be priceless. These photos are all about storytelling, so take as many images of the activity as you can.

8. The Exit

A bride and groom kissing during the exit at the wedding reception as the guest surround them with sparklers
Image Credit @erinm_photography

The couple’s exit is another important part of the wedding reception. It is usually grand and exciting, and it is your job to make it look the same. Directing the exit is one of the ways to make sure things turn out great for the photographs. The exit could include sparklers, sky lanterns, streamers, and even confetti poppers, depending on the couple’s choice. These props, when photographed well, can add a beautiful, Instagram-worthy touch to the exit. However, they can also go wrong. So plan and coordinate with the wedding planner to get everything organized on time.

Tips To Nail Wedding Reception Photography

Infographic stating use these tips to nail your wedding reception photos

Many dynamics come into play when you want to take that perfect reception photograph. Listed below are some of the wedding reception photography tips that will help you master the art.

  • Experiment With Different Angles & Point-of-Views: Even though you have a set of angles planned for the reception, you don’t have to stick with the plan the whole time. Experiment with new camera angles and get creative. Sometimes it pays to step out of your comfort zone.
  • Capture Reactions: Raw, emotional moments can be priceless, and when captured, make for great photographs and can mean a lot to your couple too. The only problem – you never know when they might happen. Or do you? You can’t anticipate every emotional reaction, but some heartfelt activities such as toasts, speeches, and first dances usually bring out these emotions.
  • Be Aware of Cultural Nuances: Different parts of the world celebrate weddings differently. Even though you are not expected to know about every cultural tradition, it is important that you are aware of the one that your couple will include in the wedding reception. For it to not pop up as a surprise on the day of the wedding, try to discuss it with your couples while planning. These are moments that matter to your couple, so ensure that you keep an eye out for their unique wedding reception traditions.
  • Plan Out the Frame for Cake Cutting: Connect with the wedding planner and take time before the reception to know where the cake cutting will occur. This will give you an idea of how to position the couples and yourself to get the best photos. If possible, try to get a couple of photographs with the guests in the background.
A banquet table decorated for an outdoor wedding reception
Image Credit @trevorhooperphoto
  • Get to the Venue Before Everyone Else: Wedding reception photos are incomplete without detailed photos of the decor in the reception area. However, taking out the time to get these photographs can get tricky. Keep some buffer time in your timeline and stay in touch with the venue coordinator to know when everything is ready. Entrance details, seating cards, dinnerware, dessert table, cake, and centerpieces, are some of the must-have details you shouldn’t miss. In addition to all the detailed photos, also take a wide-angle photo to capture the grandeur of it altogether.
  • Compress the Details: Not all wedding receptions have a lot of venue decor details. Or even if they do, they might not always look great on camera. To fix that, you can try staging all the subjects on one table to get those aesthetically pleasing photographs. Remember to fill the space by placing objects that naturally blend together. Don’t force it.
  • Add Movement Into Dance Floor Images: Set your camera on a slow shutter speed setting, point your flash on the subject, and try twisting and panning. This will help you create a nice blurry background while freezing the action of your subject.

When things are going fast, planning gives you the chance to stay on track. The wedding reception is no exception. Having a curated checklist and a defined timeline can help you keep up with the activities and also focus on quality. There is no do-over, so pay attention to the key moments of the reception. Always remember, as a wedding photographer, you are there to document the day as it unfolds – with all its moments, madness, and magic.

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