Ever Struggled with Photographing Wedding Reception Details?

Having trouble figuring out what needs to be photographed as far as wedding reception details?  Are you wondering which lens to use?  Also, you know that weddings are fast paced so how are you possibly going to photograph all those ‘must have’ wedding reception detail shots before they get displaced?  Read on and we will tell how!

Weddings are a stressful day, not only for the bride and groom, but admittedly for the photographer as well. Like any event, most of the images captured by the photographer are shots of the bride, groom, and their guests. Weddings and other events, like bridal showers, are packed full of details (especially in this day and age of Pinterest boards).  So much time and energy is spent in preparation to make a wedding look beautiful with all the very thought about details. More than some of us realize, it is so important to capture and preserve these details.

It doesn’t matter if the wedding you are shooting is at a beach or a ballroom, in a backyard or a bar, EVERY. SINGLE. DETAIL has been carefully thought or even dreamt about. From the color of the flowers to the paper the receptions cards are printed on…. time, energy, and heart goes into the wedding and reception details.

Before the flowers begin to wilt away and the reception cards are discarded, it is OUR job as the photographer to make sure no detail has been forgotten. All of these special little touches tell such a beautiful story about the couple. The wedding and reception details are a little piece of how their story begins.

Wedding Reception Details

Brides spend months planning and preparing for one of the most special days of her life and this very special day comes and goes ever so quickly. So, how can we make sure nothing important is missed while only having a few minutes to capture the very thought about wedding reception details? How can we as photographers capture all of these special details in the most beautiful way for your couples and their vendors? If you follow these steps, you won’t miss out and you will give your bride the gift of remembering every special, beautiful detail.

What Lens and Aperture are Great to Use While Photographing Wedding Reception Details?

  • 35mm f/1.4 – This lens is one of my favorites and is great for a reception overview photo. I’m talking about getting the entire reception room and getting a big picture of. It is also really great for shooting close up details using a wide open aperture. Creating a buttery, blurry background using a shallow depth of field focuses the on the detail you are trying to capture. Oh, and one last caveat with this lens…it is also good for using it for the grand entrance of the bride and groom!
  • 50mm f/1.2 – This is also a great lens for photographing details for some of the same reasons above. Its a wide lens and has an amazing ability to capture details with an extreme shallow depth of field. Click here for a review on the 50mm f/1.2 lens.
  • 24mm f/1.4 – The 24mm is so wide that it can capture the entire room! You really can showcase exactly what the reception room looks like. When you are photographing the whole room, close down (larger number) your aperture so you can have most of the room in focus. If you have this lens in your arsenal, use it!
  • 70-200mm f/2.8 – This lens is a go-to lens for many shots during the wedding ceremony but it is absolutely amazing for compressing elements while you shoot your reception details!! (Read below to see what compressing details means)

Here is another great read on what lens to use for weddings for all you Nikon users.

Photographing Wedding Reception Details:  Time Is Of The Essence!

Imagine this scenario. You’ve finished the ‘getting ready’ shots. You’ve done the ‘pre-ceremony’ photos of the bride with her family and then the groom with his.  You completed the first look. Now the ceremony begins and you’re diligently getting every memorable and emotional shot of your couple’s special event. After the couple is officially married, it’s time to get the formal portraits of the newly married couple’s family and bridal party. While those photo’s are happening, the guests are headed over to the reception. Shoot, how are you going to get photos of the beautiful tables and details before the guests start arriving and disturbing the reception room before you get there? The staff is diligently setting tables and the wedding coordinator is finalizing last minute touches.  This is where you have about 5-15 minutes to capture all the wedding and reception details before the guests start flooding in from the cocktail bar.

TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE! Communicate with the wedding coordinator to not allow anyone in until you have gotten what you need. Make those 5-15 minutes count. You will need to work VERY efficiently in order to capture everything that is important as well as keep the day running on time. Plan ahead what you need to capture. Having a systematic game plan will ensure you getting the very important and very special reception details. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What critical details need to be photographed FIRST before the guest arrive?
  2. What reception details can be photographed at the end?
  3. What details can be photographed while guests are there?

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Photographing Reception Details:  Having a Game Plan

With the answers to those questions in mind, start photographing the reception details in this order. Having a game will keep you organized and you are less likely to miss a detail.

Seating Cards or Displays

If the wedding you are photographing has these beautiful, often hand crafted seating cards, you really need to photograph those first. As the guests start trickling in the reception room, the guests will get them as soon as they walk in. So, get great photos of the seating displays right away while they are sill sitting beautifully in perfect rows along a display table.

Wide Room Shots

After you get those beautiful seating cards, start scanning the room. Look at different angles from different locations, taking test shots along the way. You want to take test shots because what you might think is a great angle might not be exactly as good as you envisioned it. Once you’ve got the angles you’re looking for, graciously and politely ask the catering staff and coordinator to clear the area. Once cleared, take your wide room shots…. FAST!

Full Table Detail Shots

While the room is still cleared from guests, quickly get photos of a full table completely set and the head table. Definitely don’t forget the bride and groom’s table!! Here you can get some beautifully layered shots of tables and centerpieces (where the foreground is blurred out) while the room is empty. Remember, this is all in a matter of a few minutes…so work fast! Oh, and don’t forget to tell the wait staff and coordinator that you are done getting the wider shots. And the faster you get these, the happier the coordinator will be. 🙂

Medium to Small Details

Once you’ve gotten images of the full table, work your way from shooting bigger details like centerpieces, chairs and florals to photographing smaller details like place settings, menus, place cards, and candles. Once the guests start entering the room, it’s hard to get those wide shots without guests being in them. For reception details, you really don’t want any guests in your pictures, and I’m sure the guests would not want to be in them either! If you leave the smallest details for last you can still capture them while people are getting seated.

Cake and Desserts

More and more people are having dessert bars at the reception. Some of these dessert bars are absolutely stunning (and expensive) so it is really important to photograph these! It’s a good idea to leave photographing the cake and dessert bar until the end (of capturing the reception details) because they usually wont get disturbed by the guests right away.  Well, we hope not anyway!

Wedding Reception Details

Other Tips in Shooting Reception Details:


We talked a little bit about layering in the ‘full table detail’ section. When you layer elements in front of your reception details or behind (or both), and you use a wide open aperture, then your details totally look creamy, dreamy, and drool-worthy. Trust me, your bride (and coordinator) will absolutely love these!! If you shoot across a few tables with your long lens, you will ‘compress’ the tables. This makes them look closer than they really are and makes the room feel intimate and cozy!!

Compressing Your Images

What if the reception doesn’t have big or grand details? How can you make table setup feel full and beautiful? The answer? Compressing your details by shooting with your 70-200mm 2.8. The longer the lens, the more it will compress the image together. This just simply means that the background in the image looks like it is close up against the subject or element you are shooting.  Read here for more about compression you images.

Wedding Reception Details

Reception Detail Lighting

Wedding receptions are notorious for having intimate lighting, which isn’t the best for photographing reception details. It’s beautiful and cozy, but sometimes is a photographer’s challenge.

You want to show layers, creases, and all the ‘details’ of the reception details so avoid flat light at all cost! Flat lighting will fall flat on the detail making it look two dimensional.  This does,t make the details look their best.

Avoid shooting your details with a flash pointing directly this beautiful elements. If you are using a flash, try creating angles using an off camera flash or bouncing the flash off a wall or ceiling.

Can’t get away without using a flash (which, in my opinion photographing details without a flash makes the details look amazing)?  Shoot these images where your reception details are about 90 degrees from the light source. If there is window light, put yourself at a 90 degree angle away from the window and let the light from the window fall across those details. This will create a beautiful three dimensional effect.

If there is no window available, talk to the wedding coordinator and ask if the lights can be turned up. Don’t be afraid to ask! This will ensure great lighting for these detail shots if no natural light is available.

Shooting the receptions details with a game plan in mind helps so much, especially since you are USUALLY really crunched for time! Photographing the details systematically will help you have the confidence that you will get everything that is essential and in the most beautiful way.

So, remember…. have a game plan, create the best lighting, try to compress the image, and layer your details! I hope these tips help and next time you’re capturing someones wedding use these tips. Happy shooting!!

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