What Are The Wedding Reception Lighting Basics?

You are stuck in a low light scene, forced to work with the DJ's light setup, and you have no choice but to adapt. In this article, we will review Wedding Reception Lighting Tips to help you overcome any possible lighting hurdles that get in the way of delivering exceptional images to your clients.

FAQs About Wedding Venue

These include chandeliers, candles, mason jar lamps, and lanterns. Underlighting and Uplighting: While underlighting will illuminate tables or other items from below, uplighting shines light upwards-usually onto a wall.

Your basic bistro lights generally allow you to connect up to 5 strings, giving you about 60 feet of lights to work with. First, identify the most accessible locations to hang your lights.

Off-camera lighting is the most preferred lighting setup in wedding photography today. Why? Because it allows us to give directional light and controls the light's intensity, harshness, and softness by being a movable source of light.Off-camera lighting is the most preferred lighting setup in wedding photography today. Why? Because it allows us to give directional light and controls the light's intensity, harshness, and softness by being a movable source of light.

You probably don't need uplighting. But if you're having a party, you may want to look into how lighting can drastically affect your event space. Uplighting is one of the more popular wedding lighting options, and for a good reason. The proper placement of uplighting can do wonders for your space.

Market Lights, also known as Bistro Lights or Ping Pong Lights, are string lights that provide lighting for outdoor or indoor events, such as Weddings, Corporate Events, or Parties. Our Market Lights create a warm romantic ambience and give any event or occasion an intimate feel.

Assess The Situation & Place Your Lights

Walk into the scene and address where the problem areas are; you are setting yourself up for success simply by preparing for what's to come. Most lighting situations cause photographers stress due to a lack of preparation for their shooting scene.

Empty Room Detail Photos of the Wedding Reception

Place flashes in the far corners of the room, where you know you will need a bump of light or in areas that require a backlight to pull objects out from dark backgrounds. Raise them to about 6 feet to avoid having shadows cast from any seated guests, and zoom them in to prevent any light spill.

Match The Colour Of Light

There is no point in adding in light if it isn't the right kind. Match your on-camera flash and off-camera flash to the existing light in the room. Depending on the temperature of the ambient light (Tungsten, Daylight, etc.), dial in a Custom Colour Temperature setting in-camera to balance out the light in your scene.

Light Modifiers For Wedding Reception Lighting

Since your additional primary light will most likely be your on-camera flash, you might want to consider using a diffusion method so you won't have strong highlights on your subjects. On the other hand, you've placed your off-camera flashes in the far corners of the room on low power to avoid any light spill and give you light direction. You have the option of placing a grid on your off-camera flashes to create a more guided and directional light source.

Dial-In Your Camera Settings

This step is left to preference since it will vary depending on your available ambient light and the power of your camera. In low light situations, we like to shoot at around 1/200th of a second, from ISO 800-3200. Your aperture is dependent on which lens you are using but keeps you want a wider aperture to let in more light.

Bounce Your On-Camera-Flash Off Of Ceilings And Walls

Most photographers assume that they are getting the most out of their on-camera flash by bouncing it off the ceiling. In most venues with low white ceilings, this proves true. However, you may find yourself at a venue with dark wood or painted ceilings, in which case you need to make use of your surroundings and find walls or objects to bounce your light off of. Learn more about the basics of bouncing and modifying your on-camera flash in our Lighting 101 workshop.

Overpowering Dj Lights

Wedding Reception First Dance Photo by Lin and Jirsa

After putting in your song request for the night, talk to the DJ about which lights will stay constant and which will be added later on throughout the night. The point here is to avoid surprises during grand entrances, first dances, parent dances, etc. Cover all your bases to focus on creativity and not worry about anything unexpected.

Where Are You About Your Subject?

Toasts and Speeches for Wedding Reception Lighting

Assessing the room and placing your lights is just the first step in creating your image. Figuring out where to stand to either utilise or avoid problematic lighting is a part of the trial and error process that comes with creating multi-point light setups.

Flash Control

Adding in on & off-camera flashes puts the control in your hands. While the DJ and the venue control their lighting setup, you hold the power to implement additional light sources to benefit your overall product. Having a full-featured flash or flash trigger that operates as a master and controls your off-camera flashes gives you the ability to decide when it is necessary to add light to your scene.

Foreground Lights For Creative Effects

It gets mundane capturing the same moments repeatedly at weddings, maybe sometimes even at the same venue. But, like these inexpensive string lights, creative effects make for perfect foreground bokeh to add just a bit of flair to your image. If that's not your thing, find objects to shoot through to provide interest in your images and create more diverse compositions.

Choosing Your Glow

You love candlelight, but the country club has a strict no open-flame policy. Or you want to string hundreds of twinkle lights over your outdoor tables, but a lack of outlets makes that a very expensive idea. Your lighting must match both your budget and your wedding venue. Talk to a lighting designer before you have your heart set on a specific illumination style. You'll probably have to bring in a specialist for lighting since most venues don't offer this service. But engaging a pro has its perks. See if your space can recommend someone who has partnered with them in the past—that person will be familiar with the location's sore spots, built-in lighting and power capabilities. Most experts can suggest and show you before-and-after pictures of various lighting arrangements.

Find Your Pro

There are a couple of ways to find your wedding lighting specialist. First, ask your event designer or wedding florist because many do their lighting. If not, they may have a lighting pro they regularly work with. Or, the coordinator at your reception venue could probably recommend a lighting company that's worked with the site before—and ask to see pictures of the space transformed by various lighting arrangements. Don't be surprised if your lighting designer has a background in theatre—many experts are using the same technology and techniques in weddings that they honed in creating dramatic sets for the stage.

Canopy Of String Lights

Where you celebrate will greatly impact the kind of lighting you'll need. Before settling on a concept, try to plan a site visit for the same time of day as your wedding—you'll get a better idea of how bright the afternoon sun on the lawn really is and how much built-in lighting already exists in the ballroom. If you're hosting indoors, you'll want to walk the space with your lighting vision in mind—and, better yet, with a pro by your side. Even if the space has sufficient built-in lighting, additional options (like hanging chandeliers) may help convey the vibe you're after. Finally, look around the room and see where the fixed lighting is focused.

Hosting outdoors? Visit after dark. It will help you identify what needs to be illuminated to keep your reception safe, plus what might set a mood for your guests. Take note of outdoor outlets and ask your venue if permits are needed. Do your best to stay away from floodlights or anything fluorescent. In both cases, take note of limitations and try to develop alternative options. If you're hosting a wedding at home, discuss how much electricity your lighting designer will need. Your band or DJ will probably have to tap into your home's power for their speakers, and you don't want to risk blowing a fuse. If your lighting expert is concerned that there won't be enough power to go around, they may consider bringing a generator, which you should keep well out of earshot.

Direct Flash For The Dance Floor

Don't all cringe at once! Direct flash has a place in this list of tips because it can be your saviour in times of need. For example, when the dance floor is slowly dwindling, you find yourself left with three people to photograph. Slow down your shutter and use a direct flash to freeze them in motion while sending the background into a blurred frenzy.

Wedding receptions can be filled with challenges, but it is up to you to plan to arrive at the shot you want. Understanding what lights you need and where they need to be placed will lay the foundation for the rest of your night, so make good use of these ten tips before your next shoot!

Bonus 1 – Lighting Techniques For Miscellaneous Reception Portraits

It would help if you spent even the downtime capturing candids and grip-and-grin portraits when photographing wedding receptions. Instead, the focus should be on VIPs, such as the bride and groom's parents, other family members, or close friends. One of the best ways to do this is by following either the bride or groom (or the parents) around the room and capturing images as they interact with reception guests.

The lighting for these images should be clean and simple because you'll be on the move for the most part. In this scenario, we recommend bounce lighting (a neutral-colour ceiling is needed or something else to bounce light off).

You can also use diffused OCF by shooting through an umbrella or softbox. However, it usually requires more planning and a stationary post (instead of walking around). Place the light source on one side of the group (see diagram) and direct it toward the person farthest from the light source to feather the light more evenly.

TIP: If you're capturing groups sitting around a table, ask half of the table's occupants (ideally the younger, more mobile guests) to stand and walk around the backside of the other seated guests, essentially creating a second row in the group photo. If there's a large centrepiece in the way, you can find an angle to shoot around it.

Bonus 2 – Constant Light: Flower Petal Toss

There are several ways for a bride and groom to exit their wedding reception, and many of them are creative and grand. One such exit involves a flower petal toss, and we will demonstrate how to cover this type of exit using constant light. Please understand that you may use other light sources (flashes, strobes, etc.).

When lighting the couple, light into the bride's side so that the bride and groom's face is better lit for a more flattering look; the light should be zoomed or gridded to spotlight the couple instead of filling the scene with light.

TIP: If the dance floor lights are overpowering the scene with gnarly colours, ask the DJ to adjust them, even if only for the exit.

Be sure to shoot continuously through the entire petal toss, capturing multiple images with minimal movement. You may need to create a composite during post-production to get the best expressions unobstructed by flower petals. On the other hand, if you only capture one or two images, you may have to reshoot or deliver a less-than-stellar image. If using a flash to capture this, adjust your settings to keep the flash power and the recycle time low so that you don't miss a shot.

Bonus 3 – Open Dancing Goals And Must-Haves

It's time for the real partying to begin! Your best bet is to get close and in action during open dancing. A 24-70mm zoom lens should serve you well in these situations to capture images at various focal lengths from a fairly close-up position; otherwise, a prime wide-angle lens should also work well. Regardless, we want to emphasise again to shed the shyness and get on the dance floor. Doing so will help you meet one of the biggest goals of photographing open dancing, making the party look fun and full of people.

Adding motion and highlights will add even more "party" to each picture, but don't overdo any particular effect, whether it be a dance floor twist effect, bounce flash, or other. You generally want just enough of each type to create a couple of spreads in an album.

Lastly, be sure you don't waste time taking 50 photos of a person the bride and groom may or may not know, even if the "stranger" is attractive and fun to photograph. Capturing a few photos like this of different guests is fine, but you don't want to invest too much time and effort here. Instead, know who the VIPs are and capture plenty of images of them having fun out on the dance floor.

Your Wedding Style: Classic

Many classic reception spaces are outfitted with gorgeous fixtures, like crystal chandeliers and wall sconces that add elegant ambience to a space at no extra cost. If you're looking to up the glitz, add silver candelabras to dining tables—they'll give off a soft glow and serve as decoration. Keeping things more modern? Fill glass hurricanes with pillar candles for the same romantic effect. Consider adding a monogram to your dance floor with a gobo, or use a spotlight to show off a raw bar, an ice sculpture or a gorgeous cake. Twinkle lights are pure magic if you're dining and dancing under the stars. And don't forget to end the evening on a high note with a classic sparkler send-off, venue permitting.

Your Wedding Style: Rustic

Saying "I do" in a barn? Start with market lights. These globe style strands add a bit of whimsy to outdoor spaces. They're larger than twinkle or Christmas lights, so each bulb provides a generous amount of illumination while creating a charming atmosphere. Next, line ceremony aisles or outdoor pathways with luminaries—the simple paper bags will make a big statement. If you're going for a more eclectic look, opt for a unique chandelier treatment (think mason jars or Edison bulbs) or mix a few lighting styles. Finally, make an open space feel more intimate by designating spaces within the venue, like hanging a chandelier over the lounge area or creating a ceremony backdrop with suspended paper star lanterns.

Your Wedding Style: Romantic

Enhance your picturesque estate home or castle with twinkle lights. Hang them vertically to create a ceremony backdrop, or drape them from a tent for a canopy or starry-sky effect. If you're celebrating outdoors, consider suspending lanterns from trees or using them to light pathways. (Mini lanterns could also make cute escort cards.) Chandeliers make any setting feel more intimate, while pink colour-wash lighting will give your whole space a romantic, rose-coloured glow. At the end of the evening, ask guests to send lanterns into the night sky with a wish for your future.

Your Wedding Style: Modern

Add a party vibe to an unfinished modern space (a gallery, a city loft) with colour-wash lighting. Opt for hues that flatter skin tones, such as pinks and purples, and let them build in intensity throughout the evening. Sleek, pre-lit tables, which glow from within, offer a warm but contemporary feel. Consider adding LED lights to floral arrangements for luminous stems that double as décor and mood lighting. Illuminate venue walls with a cool gobo pattern effect, or project tiny stars on the ceiling above the dance floor. Another cool, techy option is a moving design or video projection of blooming florals or a bustling cityscape.

Your Wedding Style: Edgy

Planning to exchange vows in a converted warehouse or historic building? Play up your unique style with lighting that matches. Use wedding uplighting to draw attention to architectural details or add a wash of colour to the space. Look to clusters of iron lanterns for table lighting, which can double as illumination and centrepieces. Or incorporate an Edison bulb chandelier for a more retro look. Personalise your ceremony space with a custom marquee sign or strands of vertical market lights. Hosting an after-party? Have some fun with '90s-style glow sticks, or ask your bartender to add LED cocktail stirrers into your signature sip for a festive nightcap.


When it comes to wedding receptions, lighting is one of the most important elements. It sets the mood for the evening, but it also helps to create a beautiful and memorable atmosphere. In this post, we've outlined the basics of wedding reception lighting so that you can start planning your big day in style. We hope you find this information helpful as you plan your dream wedding!

Scroll to Top