Reception Lighting

During every Wedding Day, I know that I have to stay flexible and pull the right combination from my bag of tricks. When I first started shooting Weddings, I only had a flash on my camera and I would use bounce flash to get reception photos. Sometimes this is all you need, but most of the time you need something more. I keep 4 Pocket Wizards IVs and 3 Nikon SB700s in my big bag. I try to setup my light stands in the corners of the space, but I keep in mind that whatever or whoever is near it will be “flashed” all evening.

The Events that typically happen during a Reception and would require extra lighting are:

*First Dance


*Parent Dances

*Sunset Portraits/Night time Portraits

*Bouquet Toss

*Garter Toss

*other Shenanigans

Single Light Setups

For this Sunset Portrait, I placed 1 flash to the right or to the left of the camera and up at a 45 degree angle to my couple’s faces.  This ensures that the lighting will fall on them softly and still have a little shadow.  My couple really wanted to feature the Monuments in the background and who wouldn’t? The sunset wasn’t as epic as we were hoping for, so I worked a little in camera magic.  I placed a CTO gel on my flash and set my White Balance to a cooler temperature to bring out the color in the sky, but still giving their skin tones the right color.

Off Camera Flash with one speedlite in Washington DC, Rooftop Wedding Reception

Below is another shot that was done with a single flash.  When there isn’t time to have sunset portraits, I opt for nighttime portraits instead.  It’s behind the couple and pointed towards them and the ceiling of the gazebo.  This made the light bounce everywhere and wrapped my clients in great light.  And it took only a couple minutes to set up.  Once I had everything set, then I grabbed my couple off the dance floor.  I always want them to remember the time they had with friends and family more than the time they spend with me. Once they were in place I snapped about 4 shots in 15-20 seconds and they were right back to their celebration.

Gazebo Lighting - Birkby House - Virginia Couple

During this wedding the Groom decided to leave the Reception and have a moment with his Groomsmen to have a toast and cigars.  This wasn’t discussed beforehand, so even though I was surprised and didn’t have this prepped in my own mind, I was still able to pull off this shot with little notice.  I think the Best Man tapped me on the shoulder and gave me the heads up when they started walking outside.  Originally they were going to have a firepit lit, but the rain earlier in the day damaged the gas lighter so they started without it.  The ambient light was so dim they were just barely able to see each other.  I had my flash on my camera for this one, but I turned it behind me so that the light was bouncing off the brick wall of the building.  The light was just enough to illuminate their white shirts, clear glasses, and their cigar smoke.  I stayed out there for about 2 minutes and then I gave them some time to talk about Men stuff without my presence.  I did have to explain why I smelled like cigar smoke when I came home that night though.

Groom having whiskey and cigars with his Groomsmen

2 Light Setup

During the dance floor portion of the evening, I setup 2 flashes on stands at the corner of the dance floor.  Doing this allows me to have a 3rd flash on camera and I can make a “light sandwich”.  I choose which off camera flash to use and the second light is on my camera.  Then when the center of the party moves to the other side of the dance floor, I’m already prepared. I click a couple buttons to turn one flash on and one flash off and I’m ready.  I love to backlight people so it really creates that depth that you can see in real life.  The on camera flash just fills in a little bit of light so we can see everyones’ faces.  This is a great setup for capturing those reception antics quickly.

Rustic Barn Reception Bride and Groom Dancing

This is an example of have two lightstands set up on opposite corners on a dance floor and shooting on the opposite diagonal.  In the first shot it’s backlit to the action, but the second flash is coming from behind my camera.  In the second image I’m shooting on the opposite diagonal and allowing the lights to flash towards each other.  There’s no flare in the second shot as compared to the first and there’s still nice shadows showing to allow definition. This is called Cross Lighting.

Father/Daughter Dance on rooftop terrace in Washington DC

3 Light Setups

Sometimes the location calls for a 3 light setup.  The light stands are still set to the opposite corners of the dance floor and the third flash is on my camera.  By setting up the lights in this manner I can easily switch between 2 flashes and 3 flashes.  Sometimes you aren’t quite sure what you’ll like until you shoot it.  I like having options and I’ll make the decision in the moment.  This shot has all 3 flashes firing.  You can tell because there’s rim light coming from both directions and I’m using an on camera flash to fill it in from the front.  This is the best way to light a situation and make it look like it really was that brightly lit.  And the more light you have the better your details show up.  Taking this shot with just a bounce flash would lead to very different results. Shadows everywhere and a reddish color cast on their skin that you’d likely end up editing in black and white instead of color.

Rustic Barn Reception First Dance with Fog machine


By using speed lights and pocket wizards I can tailor my lighting system to the action.  They’re compact and travel so easy.  They setup really fast and they’re versatile.  I have been loving using them at my Weddings and I can foresee using them for many seasons to come.  I can’t recommend this setup enough. Give yourself some time to play and think through your given space prior to the event so you’re not taken off guard.