If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to read Part 1 in this series. 

If you’’re ready to move on, then let’s spend a LOT of time talking about the reception, because after doing this for 10 years, and seeing the right way to do it, and spending most of the time fighting against the wrong way to do it, I have my opinions on wedding receptions and how to maximize your wedding photography potential. …No! This post isn’t going to endear me to a lot of wedding venue managers, but there are definitely ones who know what they’re doing.

BTW! No. I’m not doing the job of the wedding planner, nor the venue manager – I’m just giving you ideas to think about when you’re doing a walk through at the place you’re having your wedding. …ok! So maybe I am going to help them out a LITTLE bit… LOL

First off, Wisconsin is kind of in a general void when it comes to what works and what doesn’t. Many wedding venues are stuck in the 70’s, and have their “Easy Way” of doing things. They like “cookie cutter” weddings, because it’s easy and efficient for their team – and they know exactly what they’re doing every weekend.

However, what if there’s a better cookie cutter? One that would make it much easier for everyone involved in the wedding, including the wedding couple, their guests and the wedding party? OH! And the photographer, the event staff and the DJ?

OK! Here we go!

1. Reception Efficiency:
If you want a fabulous wedding reception that keeps people entertained and from the moment they sit at their table, here it is:

A. Announce the bride and groom – don’t announce the entire wedding party. Keep it short, don’t draw it out.

B. After the bride and groom (YOU!) entire the room – cut the cake. Be done with it.

Bb. Have the cake sitting in the middle of room, perhaps even in the middle of the dance floor where everyone can see it. Don’t have it tucked against a wall, door, or a window overlooking a parking lot, or in some corner under the stairs where no one can see you. Talk to your wedding coordinator or reception coordinator and tell them what YOU want. It’s your wedding day.

Bc. If you have a small ceremonial cutting cake, then place it on the head table between the bride and groom’s place setting. That’s not a bad place to cut the cake.

C. Go into your first dance immediately after the cake cutting. There is always a lull after everyone sits and waits for their salads to be served. Don’’t waste that “dead time”. Use it to your advantage to keep your guests interested and involved.

D. Open the dance floor and encourage everyone to come out and dance while the servers are placing the salads on the tables – three songs max. You’’d be surprised how much energy this creates for the rest of the night. And no, your wedding party and your guests won’t turn you down if you encourage them to join you. Get the DJ to play some kickass music that makes you want to dance – the Chicken Dance is NOT appropriate.

DD. Don’t play the Chicken Dance. Ever. LOL 

E. After salads, do the Father-Daughter dance and the Mother-Son dance while salad plates are being cleared and dinner is being served. Open the dance floor once again (three songs max), and encourage your family and friends to get out and dance. Seriously, if the bride and groom wave everyone out the dance floor, people will come.

Ee. If you have special dinner entertainment planned, this is the perfect time to do it – so skip the open dance floor.

F. Have speeches after the last table is served dinner.

G. If you’’re going to do the bouquet and garter tosses, do it immediately after dinner, before they serve cake. Again, it’s another activity to keep guests involved throughout dinner.

H. Immediately after dessert, It’s OPEN DANCE FLOOR! How awesome is that?!? 🙂

I. I don’’t recommend the chicken dance, dollar dance, polkas, kids dances, or most of the stuff that was popular in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, and still linger on today. These are energy killers and always ALWAYS clear the dance floor. Worse yet, it gives people the perfect excuse to pack-up and leave the reception early.

2. Dining room set up (what NOT to do):
You know that giant window with the gorgeous view? Don’’t EVER put a long head table in front of it. In fact, don’’t put it up against a wall either. There are three major reasons why you shouldn’’t have a super long-single directional facing head table at a wedding reception.

A. The two people sitting at either end of the head table will have ONE person to talk to. Essentially, they’’re sitting alone. That’s not fun – and weddings are supposed to be fun.

B. They don’’t encourage wedding party interaction. For the people in the middle of the table, you have a person to your left, and a person to your right. That’’s it. Plus, you kinda feel like you’re on display where everyone is going to watch you eat. With a table where the wedding party can sit around, they face each other and it encourages interaction and participation. Every wedding I’ve ever photographed where there was a large square or round head table, the wedding party and bride and groom were having so much more fun because of the interaction.

C. They suck photographically. If the table is pushed up against are giant window, you have to expose for the shadow on people’s faces, so you blow out the background (aka, that beautiful view). If you do use flash, you become a flashing distraction. Yeah, I know. The worst of it is, “lack of interaction”. See B above – the wedding party is generally disengaged from each other.

The long table also means “crappy compositions”. There’s’s usually a big blank wall behind you, and in order to get any meaningful layers (depth) in the photo, you’’re limited to shooting from the sides. Speeches are typically done at one end of the table or the other, or the speaker is in the middle of the dance floor, so there’s a huge void between the speaker and the wedding couple.

D. Speaking of voids, there’s usually a giant void of space between the head table up against this wall right here, and that last table over in that corner………way………back……..there! Yeah! I know there is a sea of tables between that back table and the head table. But when you’’re sitting way back there, in the corner… kinda feel a insignificant.

3. Dining room set up (WHAT to do)?
So what to do? Use a big round or square table. Rectangles are OK, but they’re still limiting for the people on the ends. Place the table in the middle of the room; even if the table is right up against the dance floor. Then surround the rest of the dining room tables around you. This does multiple things to create a better reception experience and environment for your wedding guests.

A. It allows more guests tables to be closer to you, allowing everyone to feel like they’’re all a larger part of the celebration. Nothing is worse for guests than sitting at the absolute opposite side of the dining room than the head table. When that happens, the guests can be quite rude or distracting as they entertain themselves during speeches. It happens. All. The. Time.

B. It allows your wedding party to interact with everyone else at the table – they have people immediately to the left and right, as well as the people across the table. When the wedding party is more engagement, they have a better time.

C. When someone gets up to give a speech, they can stand closer to the wedding couple because they’re not pinched up against a wall or window. This allows the photographer to capture the connection and interaction between the speaker and the wedding couple. …see more in section D….

D. Photographically, it gives your photography a better sense of space. When there’s spacial depth behind the bride and groom, the photographer can shoot across the table, between other people to get more creative framing, and capture the reactions of the people sitting behind you, it creates more compelling photography.

E. I can’t led this go unstated – “no sweetheart tables”. Don’’t isolate yourself from your friends and guests. If you’’re not going to have a wedding party, and some people don’’t, then sit at a table with your parents and siblings or grand parents. People want to be with you, so be involved with everyone.

Remember, weddings about people and relationships. The more you open up and interact with them, the better your wedding photography. 🙂

4. Let there be Lighting:
I know I know, photographers can use flash. Flash on camera, and off camera flash. IMO, too much flash is a distraction for the guests – and that’s if they don’t even get it directly in the eyes. Shit, that’s annoying for me. LOL

What can you do?
A. Uplighting adds color and mood to what would otherwise be a blank ordinary space. Some DJ’s and live bands now include this with some of their packages. There are also lighting companies that specialize in event lighting. Seek them out and see what they offer. Any little bit helps.

B. Spotlights. Having a few (three, four or five) spot lights set up on tall stands in the corners aimed at a few key areas of the room (Head table, cake table, a few center pieces, and the dance floor) can make all the difference in creating a dramatic dining environment that leads the guest’s attention to specific areas.

Photographically, if the lights crisscross across the room, it creates layers and depth – aka, dramatically lit photography. You can even gel the spot lights so they’’re warmer or cooler, adding to the mood of the room.

C. Both uplights and spotlights would be even better. Colored uplighting on the wall with spotlights on the head table, cake table, and dance floor? Get outta here!

OK! So you don’’t want to go for neither uplighting nor spotlighting. Then what?

D. If you have big windows with a lot natural light, then set yourself up so the light is directional in relation to where you’’re sitting – aka, position your seats so the window is either to your left or your right. Shadows create mood and texture – use it naturally to your advantage for better photography.

At worst, position yourself so the light is shining on you, and not directly at the back of your head. <— that’’s the most important bit of advice when it comes to windows. Don’t sit in front them with the light shining in behind you. People can still get a wonderful view if they turn there heads a little bit. It’s not an inconvenience.

Just know, if you’’re simply relying on the big windows and natural light, as the sun sets, you’’re going to loose the benefit of the natural light, and you’’ll be stuck with nothing more than your venue’s built-in over head lighting or small wall sconces. You really need to know what those lights look like by their onsies at night to get an idea if that’’s how you want your reception to be exclusively lit.

E. Candles. LOTS of long burning candles. Candles are GORGEOUS! They create a beautiful warm glow, and if you have a LOT of them, the amazing depth you can create with the candle speculars (out of focus background candles) in the photography is simply breath taking.

Even if you have big windows and opt for uplighting and/or spot lights, you can’’t EVER have too many candles.

If you have the perfect storm where you have an environment with lots of gorgeous natural light, uplighting, spotlights, and hundreds and hundreds of candles, you’’re golden. 🙂

There’s definitely more to write, but Lordy Lord, this might be enough today. 🙂

When you’re planning your wedding, I hope you at the very least, think about some of these ideas. You’re wedding photographer will thank you to the HIGH Heavens.


Here are a few wedding examples from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area that illustrate various lighting and tables. The first table is from a dining room filled with directional natural light, uplighting and candle lights. The head table seated the the wedding party on both sides, and there room had a lot of visual depth, not only in terms of spacial, but with color as well.

This next photo shows candles coupled with spot lights to create a dramatic affect. Again, a lot of visual depth to the room, especially with the romantically dark background.

This last photo shows a two sided head table in a tent lit with a directional natural light. Really folks, two sided head tables should be mandatory all weddings. Just saying.

LOTSA candles and uplighting.

and even more candles… like I said, you can’t possibly have too many candles. You will also note the lack of flowers in these two photos. You don’t need tons of flowers to create a beautiful dining setting. Lots of candles to create lots of sparkle. Voila! A beautiful dining room. 🙂

Much love,