How do you photograph a dark wedding reception?

When we were new photographers, one of the terrifying feelings was being in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime moment at a wedding ceremony or reception, but our cameras couldn’t focus because it was dark. The lens would keep jutting in and out, but it wouldn’t lock. Our palms would start to sweat because our photos were blurry, the moment was slipping away, and we were about to miss it. If you’ve ever felt this way, you’re not alone! Focusing on dark light is hard, but as professionals, it’s our job to get the shot — whether the house lights are up or down, whether someone is standing where we want them to… or not. That’s why we’re sharing our top tips for getting sharp focus in dark places. So you can get crisp images no matter how dark the situation (pun intended), never miss a critical moment and keep your palms as dry as this joke. If you need advice on your wedding photography, check out our photography packages and services at Wild Romantic Photography.

Night photos at a wedding. 

They are quick, simple, impressive. Always impressive. And they can be the last thing that you do on the wedding day. It’s an excellent way to wrap up the day, get the couple away from the crowd, leave them with a great lasting impression of you. You get a little bit of quiet time, and you can excuse yourself.

You’ll need a little bit of gear. Namely an off-camera flash and a radio trigger, but today those are pretty easy to come by. 

Every wedding photographer should be doing some night photography for their couples. It is quick, easy, impressive and does not take a lot of know-how to pull off well.

First off, what is a night shot?

A night shot is a photo or series of photos you take of the bride and groom, usually just them unless friends tag along. That usually involves setting up off-camera flash. Typically it’s backlit, but it can be all kinds of different lighting scenarios.

Why should you include a night shot in your wedding photography?

How do you photograph a dark wedding reception?

There are several reasons to do this and why this has been done for some years. First off, it’s precious to your clients. I cannot remember a single couple who was not appreciative of including that last little night shot. For the time and energy that it takes, you are going to knock their socks off. Choosing the right wedding photographer in Melbourne to capture every moment on your wedding day.

Before we get into the tools, are there any more reasons why we want to do this?

It is a time to get the couple alone, let them take a quick break from the dance floor, decompress, and you can make your exit after this. It ends the evening on a high note, photographically speaking. At some point during the evening, or even earlier in the day, you could seek their permission and give them a bit of a heads up to see if it is okay to step outside for five minutes after the next couple of songs. They are almost always ready to take a bit of a break and catch some of the cool night air. 

As a quick bonus tip, Google the wedding venue and see if any other photographers have found exciting locations to shoot during the evening. These photos jump off the page because they are taken at night. Even the wedding venue and night photography or night will yield some impressive results. We’re not talking about ripping off another photographer’s shot verbatim, but they can help you find spots that perhaps you didn’t know existed. If it looks quite hidden, you can even stop asking a staff member if they know where the shot might have been taken. It’s up to you then to creatively choose a lens, lighting, pose and any other things to make your picture better!

So what do I use to light it?

Hopefully, you know a little bit about off-camera flash so that this step won’t be too difficult. You’re going to want some moment.

Back to the lighting set up. 

Almost always, you are going to want to backlight your frame and your couple. You can use a lighting stand, rest the flash on the ground, a stump, your camera bag, or many other things you can find lying around. For the most part, anything behind the flash is likely to be in complete darkness, so that anything will do. If it’s an enclosed space and the light will bounce around, this area won’t be dark, so keep that in mind. That said, it is still likely to be concealed by the couple in front of it. Set the beam wide, tilt it up slightly, and you’re in business.

Set up the light, and choose a medium to low power. 

This takes some trial and error, but you’re all alone out there in the dark, and you have some time to practice. Set up the light and imagine where the couple will be standing. Backup from them to frame your shot. It’s often a good idea to bring some light or flashlight. 

Frame the shot. 

Your camera isn’t going to be able to autofocus, most likely, so switch it over to manual focus. Manually focus on the distance the couple’s going to be at approximately from you. And take a test shot. This is likely going to be blown out. But that’s okay; you want to make sure that the flash is triggering and have a look around the edges of your frame. Are things lighting up nicely? Do you need to change settings? Up the flash power? Up the ISO? Or change the width of the beam coming from your flash? I usually start shooting these wide-open, about a 10th power on the moment, and pretty low ISO. From there, I can bump up the flash power if it’s wireless. Or if it’s not, crank my ISO and see how things behave. Suppose I left the flash at a 10th power and had to crank my ISO up to 1600. Once I have everything set up, I set the camera on the ground, walk over to the flash and boost the flash power accordingly. I regularly use anything from just a kiss of light, 1/128th power, all the way to full blast.

One big struggle that you will have, depending on the circumstances, is focusing on the couple. You will likely want to use manual focus and sort of a trial and error approach, but there are some shortcuts that you can take. 

Wedding Reception Photography Tips

There is nothing nicer than using a high-quality prime lens and shooting wide open; it can be quite liberating, especially when coupled with a full-frame camera. It gives you the ability to almost see in the dark. Small changes in light can create dramatic images, and the shallow depth of focus lets you draw the eye and hide unflattering distractions. It is an excellent tool at a wedding, but if all of your pictures are shot like this, it can be boring too. So what is the answer? 

Planning your dream wedding and don’t want to miss out on the special moments on your big day? Worry no more, Wild Romantic Photography has you covered.

You may reluctantly have to take that flash out of your bag and use it. Think of it not as a bright light source to be used in a lighting emergency but as a creative lighting tool that can be used to supplement the light in most situations. On or off camera, you have at your mercy a fantastic device that is just waiting to help you. The only problem is you are going to need to learn how to use it.

Simply connecting it to the hot shoe and relying on its auto capabilities will not cut it. Now you have decided to use it, the options are limitless, and that little flash opens up a whole new world. Even with it on the camera, possibly the most uncreative place for it, you will be amazed at what it can do once you consider it to be your friend. Even when using your trendy f1.2 wide open, a little pop of carefully directed flash can transform your image, even if it is used just to provide a little catchlight.

The next stage is to take the flash off-camera and use remote triggering to fire it. Many choices range in price, but whatever you select, the trick is understanding your equipment’s limitations. There are simple wireless triggers that liberally fire the flash, or some higher-end beats have remote triggering built-in.

Incorporate the Guests’ Reactions and the Décor into the Grand Entrance Photos

While you’re taking pictures of the grand entrance, it’s vital to remember that this process isn’t all about the newlyweds walking inside. The images should also include the family and friends who are cheering on the happy couple. After all, the goal is to demonstrate the importance of the occasion. The best way to do that when it comes to wedding party photography is to show relatives and friends’ emotions.

Search for Unique Angles during the First and Family Dances

How do you photograph a dark wedding reception?

As the newlywed couple swirls around in a loving embrace, take distant and close-up wedding reception photographs to showcase both the environment and the emotions of the bride and the groom. You can also search for objects you can shoot through to make the images more unique. Such things are also helpful to exclude unwanted details from the frame. We have the best wedding photographer in Yarra Valley to capture your beautiful moments on your wedding day.

Photograph the Reaction of the Newlyweds during Toasts

Even though speeches and wedding toasts aren’t always funny (due to cliché anecdotes’ overabundance), they are almost guaranteed to be emotional. Therefore, it’s vital to take photos of both the couple’s reaction and the guests’ facial expressions as they give their speeches and find a spot where the wedding reception lights give you the best results. This is where a 70-200 mm lens comes in handy as it supports the needed focus range.

Choose Your Position for The Cake Cutting Beforehand

Like wedding receptions photos of the first dance and the speeches, the cake-cutting ceremony’s perfect background is the guest party. If you can talk with the coordinator, tell him\her about your shooting preferences.

In case you’re in charge of this process yourself, strive to place the newlyweds between you and the people in the background.

If the groom is taller than the bride, ask him to stand behind her as they approach the cake. Remember to stay alert all time as the cake-cutting can fly by in a few minutes without you even noticing.

Keep the Bride in Focus During the Bouquet Throwing

When you capture the bouquet- and garter-tossing, you have to start by giving your attention to the bride and groom to immediately shoot the people’s emotions wanting to catch the objects. Everything happens very fast, and you only have one chance to get it right, so you have to anticipate this moment to position yourself properly near the group.

Get Involved – Get on the Dance Floor

When the guests flock onto the dance floor, make sure to follow them, or better, join them. A zoom lens such as 24-70mm is a better pickup for these circumstances. As it is effective at various focal lengths, you can catch the crowd in both close-up positions and more people in the frame, adding more space between them and the viewfinder. A prime wide-angle lens would also ensure some creativity. Remember to stick around the dance floor’s epicentre and shoot a lot; this is important if you want to get heartwarming wedding reception photographs. This series illuminates the fun vibes of the party that newlyweds and guests will enjoy recalling later.

Think and Plan the Time for a Sneak Away Night Portrait

Take some time before the reception to study the location. There are specific reasons why this couple prefers this particular place. Whether it’s the architecture, the landscape, or the art, this location is unique for this wedding reception, so take advantage of it to exceed the client’s expectations and make the couple’s “sneak away” session memorable. As this shooting usually happens closer to the wedding’s final part, make sure to choose the right time beforehand and adjust your wedding photography lighting to create a melodic composition.

Do Sufficient Research for the Cultural Nuances

In the ex-pats era, you should understand that although most wedding traditions resemble each other, it is quite common to face customs that vary across cultures and are expected to be captured. In most practices, events like the grand entrance or first dance, speeches and toasts or even cake-cutting are essential. Simultaneously, some others are considered unique; for example, Jewish reception photographs should include the blessing of the challah bread and the hora dance. Chinese weddings never go without a Chinese Lion Dance, and capturing the professional dancers’ performance at Hindu wedding receptions is also a must.

Cooperate with the Wedding Planner to Capture the Grand Exit

The simplicity of the “grand exit” series is deceptive. There are numerous scenarios for this action; we’d recommend agreeing on the optimal version with the coordinator beforehand. Whether a couple prefers creative options like petal tosses, sparklers, or something more discreet as the type of exit, you must discuss the optimal positions and timing for the newlyweds and guests with the planner long before the wedding reception day.

Be ready for the challenge if you happen to take wedding receptions photos with hundreds of guests involved. In this case, profound planning and support from the wedding coordinator will help you succeed. At Wild Romantic, we have the best wedding photographer in Mornington Peninsula to capture every single moment on your wedding day.

Take All Décor Photos before the Guests’ Arriving

Even though the reception vendors try their best, you usually have a petite time frame to take wedding reception photographs of the décor before the guests are let into the room and chaos takes over. Thankfully, there’s a way out that allows you to capture the entire venue efficiently.

If at least a single table is prepared in the reception room, focus on capturing the smaller objects first: seating cards, silverware, bonbonnieres, etc. As the vendors finish up preparing the venue, you can include more expansive scenes and take reception photographs of the room’s entire sections. If the platform is ready by the time you arrive, begin with broad pictures and finish up with the table’s details. This protects you from being bothered by guests once they enter the room.

Enable AF Assist Beam 

Finally, if you have a flash on your camera, enable the AF Assist Beam. The AF Assist Beam is a red flash of light emitted from the front of your moment when you press the focus button. The moment of light provides just enough light, for just enough time, for your camera to lock focus. It’s a beneficial feature when you’re photographing subjects at relatively close distances. It won’t work, for example, if you’re photographing someone across the room. It’s a flash of light, not a supersonic laser beam!

Of course, using flash brings its problems. All of this extra equipment can detract from your creativity; it is something else to worry about and something else to go wrong. Another issue is a delicate balance – the colour of your flash is unlikely to match any existing light, so be careful. You obviously can use gels to balance the colours, but this is not always possible in a fast-moving wedding situation. If you’d like to work with professional photographers for your wedding, book with us at Wild Romantic Photography.

Once you are comfortable with the mechanics and basic principles, there is nothing to stop you from experimenting with light modifiers. Umbrellas, reflectors and snoots all enable you to direct the light and further unleash your creativity.