Wedding Photography Tips – Shots at The Reception

Okay now you are really into straight reportage and flash country if it is being held indoors.

You can sneak about and shoot candid moments while your shrimp cocktail becomes one with the universe, but here are the main shots:

At the Head Table

  • Bride and groom looking lovingly/lustfully into each other’s eyes.
  • Bride and groom toasting each other.
  • Bride and groom looking intelligent while they listen to someone beside them drone on and on…
  • Bride and groom eating…. Do not shoot these pix unless they are really on your shot list. When people eat it is not pretty, unless you want to get into the eroticity of it all. (See Tom Jones, the movie, for tips on how to shoot eating.)
  • Bride and groom dancing together. Try to get shots where the groom actually looks like he is enjoying himself…may take many shots.


Cutting the cake. This should be posed. It’s usually a once-only shot. Get the best angle, have a clear shot, ask the bride and groom to hold the knife to the cake (don’t cut), and look at the cake, look into each other’s eyes.

Shoot until you’re sure you’ve got it.


The Wedding Speeches

Before you expend lots of megapixels on these you should realize that almost NO ONE is going to want them.

It will be a fluke (sudden death), or guilt, to prompt anyone to want these pix. However, the speaker may – I stress may – want a copy.Usually people lose their uneasy grip on reality at wedding receptions – or they just sit there and yearn to go home.

The speeches are either funny, drunken, emotive or embarrassing. None of these is very photogenic in terms of the product you should be creating. Shoot enough shots so that each speaker doesn’t look like a congenital idiot and go back to your chicken salad.

This includes the bride’s speech and the groom’s speech. Don’t pop an artery covering these because chances are no one will want the photos. It’s ‘let your hair down’ time.

Not photogenic, unless you’re into documenting the decline and fall of Western civilization. Just do a workmanlike job and try not to get too drunk, because…

And the Band Played on… Group Shots

Here can be your most challenging period if specific group shots are on your list.

Why? Because semi-inebriated guests will want to be photographed with the bride, with the groom, with the bride and groom, with each other, and with defenseless wait staff and pot plants.

The demands on your attention and time can get a bit hectic. If you have a back-up guy or gal you can split forces – you stay with the bridal party and your back-up can handle the other shots.

Once upon a time these were very formal, stiff shots, with the bride’s dress carefully arranged and the other personnel standing at attention. These days they are usually much more relaxed but it’s still best to pose these shots – not very imaginative but these are really record shots.

You really have to shoot these. Orders may be few even though there is a feeding frenzy to get into these shots, however, these are seriously recordable moments for the following sound reasons:

  • This may be the only time when the bride’s father appears in the same pix with the jerk who is now legally authorized to impregnate his daughter.
  • This may be the only occasion that the bride’s mother and the groom’s mother manage to smile at the same moment in time.
  • This may be the only time when the bride can pretend that everyone (her family) agrees with her choice of husband.
  • This may be the only time when the groom can pretend that everyone (his family) agrees with his choice of wife.
  • This may be the only time the two families are united in a common purpose – getting a photo taken.
  • This may be when you make some bucks for all your effort. (People often feel obliged to order these pictures…)


If specific group shots are on your list do as follows.

If no formal groups are requested, just wander about with your camera (follow the bride and groom) and record groups as they appear.

Posed Group Shots

Choose a background. If the reception is indoors at a commercial reception venue there is probably an area where these kinds of shots can be taken: against a curtain, on wide steps, ask the manager for a suggestion.

Other photographers have had to figure this out before you and the manager will know. You want somewhere at least 10 people wide, ideally out of the traffic flow of guests or staff. This is your ‘set’.

But here’s a caution: you should have worked out in advance how wide a circle of light your flash will ‘throw’.

In other words, if you’re shooting from a distance of twelve feet so you can get a large group in your frame, verify that the flash will illuminate the whole group, otherwise the people on either end will be underexposed and look like brooding presences in the final image.

If the reception is outdoors, these group shots can be much more casual but the same applies: choose a background that is not too distracting – and think with the sunlight.

The time of day may mean that the sun is going to be low and harsh, work this out.

If you have your subjects looking into a low sun they will squint. If you pose them against a setting sun, you could get lens flare. Open shade is best.You can use your flash setup to good effect outdoors because the flash can fill any shadows on faces, the ambient light softens the flash itself, and it all makes for a cleaner image.


Here are some do’s and don’ts for these formal group shots:

  • DON’T: Trust available light for these shots, especially if you’ve been enthusiastically toasting the happy couple yourself!
  • DO: Set up your flash. Ensure how much area the flash will evenly cover. That defines the outer edges of your groups. You should mark this area with chairs or pot plants, etc. so when you get a large group you can be aware of any overflow. Remember that moving the flash away from the subject will make the ‘throw’ bigger but the light will be weaker. Test this out.
  • DO: Use Your Tripod. The idea is that you now have a ‘set’ and the subjects get walked in, arranged, shot, and walked out again. Next! So figure out the best distance (see flash set-up above) that allows you to use the flash effectively, and select a zoom lens that will suit. You can zoom in for a smaller group and zoom out for a large group without moving the tripod. Try not to go too wide with the lens. 35mm is usually safe, lower than that and distortion makes the people on the ends start leaning as if they’ve had a few toasts too many. If you can, stay around 40-50mm. (The human eye is 40mm).
  • DO: Frame the shot with some breathing space on each side, to allow for expansion of the group and a feeling of space in the image, and…
  • DO: Make sure that the bottom or top of the frame is parallel with the horizontal lines in the scene, otherwise you be correcting every shot later for tilt. If you’re confident you can do this without a tripod then skip the tripod. These can be medium shots (down to the waistlines) or full length. If they’re full length make sure you’re not cutting off feet. It’s good form to allow space above the heads – about 25% of the total frame is fine.
  • DO: Take a test shot. Just get a bunch of guests onto your set and shoot a few frames and review them. If it all looks OK, ask for the first victims to be brought forth.
  • DO: TAKE CONTROL! These shots will only work if someone takes firm control. You’ll also be competing now with anyone who has a camera or a cell phone. The smart way to go here is to ask the bride or the forceful matron of honor/bridesmaid to nominate the shots for you and corral the personnel.
  • DO: Arrange the group. Generally, for any group shot, you should arrange by height but in this case it will probably be by relationship to the bride or groom. The bride may insist that Uncle Frank who is vertically challenged just has to stand beside her and ruin your composition. Do what you can. You usually have to ask the subjects to move closer together. If you want an orderly looking shot, get the people to the right and left of center to turn their shoulders slightly so their bodies are aimed towards the bride and groom. This makes for a tighter shot and is good composition.
  • DON’T Undershoot: The more people in a shot the higher the chance that someone will blink, gawp, look away, or frown at the moment of exposure. When you think it’s right, shoot it three or four times. You work out what to say to encourage them all to smile at the same time. Usually waving your arm and saying “Hello!” will do it. Saying “Cheese!” works because it makes them bare their fangs and most people think it’s stupid and jolly. Getting them to shout the bride’s name usually works too – make sure you take the shot just after the shout, otherwise you could get lots of open mouths and dental work. Say, “One more!” and shoot three more…
  • DO: Review the shot before the group disperses. Just take a good look at what you have. If you’re not sure, shoot it again.

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