Lighting Tips for Your Reception

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how to light a reception, or asking my opinion on colors and recently we’ve had some looooooowwwwww lighting situations at reception sites and I thought a good post for today would be lighting tips from a photographer.

A great way to enhance the mood at any reception is to incorporate uplighting. This lighting is usually placed up against walls and pillars to throw light upward on the walls and bring color to your venue. I love uplighting! It’s colorful, it’s mood enhancing and it helps make our photos all the more decadent. But here are a few tips to keep in mind with lighting your venue:


This was a crazy dark reception but as you can see the uplighting gave a nice glow. I took this without our strobes to show the colors. And you can see how dark this venue is. And I really increased exposure in Lightroom just to get it to this level. Here I was shooting at 5000 ISO. That’s really high.

1. Keep the color to that which will enhance your space, not take away from it. Yellow can be a very difficult color to photograph. You think it will show up as warmth, but actually it shows up as bad white balance in the camera. It can make your photos look like the balance of true life color is off (skin tones are a warm color…..adding more warmth throws off your color perspective) so try and keep it to a color that will show up as an actual different color than what you see everyday and don’t notice, like purple, green, blue. Even red can be a difficult color because it messes with skin tones. You think you will see red glow but you will actually see odd skin tones on people and you won’t be able to tell if it’s the lighting or a crappy photographer.

2. Keep it to uplighting rather than direct dancefloor lighting. Most DJs show up with a multi-colored lighting system to throw color and movement on the dancefloor. These are great and this isn’t the kind of “direct lighting” I’m talking about. We had a couple once that paid for extra lighting by having colored spotlights connected to the balcony to rain down pink and purple on the dancefloor. It looked awesome while you were there but when you looked at her photos everyone had hot pink and purple skin. It probably would have been a better decision to uplight all the columns in the space with pink and purple so you could see the glow in the background of the photos.

Now onto my opinion as a photographer in low-lighting situations. The trend lately has been to turn receptions into nightclubs after dinner. A lot of places are now even turning lights waaaaayyyyyy low during dinner to set the mood. However, what you should know is that lenses cannot focus if they can’t see anything. The lens has to have a focal point or something to be able to focus on in order to…you know…focus. This is incredibly difficult during blacked out receptions. Have you been to a really dark reception lately and you asked the photographer to take a photo of you and your best friend and you stood there waiting, and waiting and waiting for the photographer to take the shot while pointing the camera directly at you?? That’s because she/he had to wait until her lens found something on one of you to focus on. I can’t tell you how many AWESOME shots I’ve had to toss out because my lens couldn’t focus fast enough in really dark conditions. And we bring extra, off-camera lighting. We have 2 strobes we set up on opposite sides of the dancefloor to help us but here’s the thing: those lights don’t flash until I press the shutter on my camera. This means my lens has to focus on something first. Cameras are awesome these days. Super high ISO capability allows us to shoot in much lower lighting then we ever could, however, the ISO isn’t the issue…it’s the lens. Yes, high ISO allows the photo to appear more lit and it prevents too much grain but none of that matters if my lens can’t focus on anything to get the photo in the first place.

You can see how nicely our strobes light everything here.

And here is a good example of truly low lighting. You can see the groom here because we had a strobe set up close by and you can even see the strobe went off behind him as well. Can you also see how dark the guys are behind him? The groom came out much lighter because I was standing right in front of him but it was so dark in that room that even my strobe that flashed on the crowd behind him wasn’t enough….and I even tweeked the exposure in Lightroom here so I could actually see the crowd behind him.

So my tip for lighting your reception is to keep the photographer in mind while setting a level that is both mood-enhancing as well as optimal for us. I get it that you don’t want to do the Cupid Shuffle in a room as lit as daylight but help a sister out here….give me something to work with! 🙂 Besides…you paid all that money for all those centerpieces and flowers…don’t you want to see them and enjoy them?

One thought on “Lighting Tips for Your Reception

  1. Excellent post! I also hate when the dance floor is pitch dark, and all you have for lighting is crazy colored lights from the DJ. Great shots are ruined because 90 year old grandma on the dance floor for the first time in 50 years has a big blue spot on her face. Geez! Great post, El;izabeth. Thanks for getting the word out.

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