In my mind, I mentally split up the reception into two parts - the formal events that are planned and part of the timeline, and everything else in between (the mingling, the dancing, the eating...) Because of that, I am splitting up the reception into two parts for purposes of sharing how I shoot them! Today's post is all about the planned events - I will go through each part of the reception and talk about how I shoot them, what I'm looking for, etc. Obviously this week's post will have a bit more structure than next week's post about the "in between" parts of the reception, but there is still lots of valuable information to share as well!
What's in my bag:
24mm 1.4, 35mm 1.4, and 85mm 1.4
By the time I finish shooting the reception details and the event is about to begin, I am sure I have these lenses on hand, primarily the 35mm and the 85mm to start, and then I transition to the 24mm as the night goes on.
I also have the one-light setup (without the umbrella) set somewhere near the DJ table or the edge of the dance floor. You'll see it throughout the pictures, and sometimes I shoot with it on, and other times I'll turn it off it I don't like how it looks. Personally, I set my OCF to somewhere around 1/64th power and use my on-camera speedlight on TTL mode. This is easiest for me and I have found allows me the most flexibility, but it's just a personal preference! I know of photographers who shoot with manual power on-camera and use TTL off-camera. For me, it just took experimenting until I found settings I liked and became comfortable with.
I broke the reception events into 11 categories, and I'll go through them in somewhat chronological order!
As the bridal party is lining up for the reception, I check in with the DJ and the reception coordinator to insure I know which door the bridal party will be coming through. From there, I pick an optimal position for myself and a secondary position for Matt. I like to stand fairly close to the door because I have found that most people react to the crowd as SOON as they walk through the door and I want to capture that initial reaction.
Generally speaking, I am shooting the intros at 35mm.
Two tips! Be sure your shutter speed is fast enough to capture still movement! Using an on-camera flash helps with this a lot, but the last thing you want is blurry intro pictures! Also, be sure you pay attention to what the people are doing as they come in - sometimes they will do a funny dance move but it may happen after they already pass you, so be sure you and your second shooter are paying attention for things like this!
2. First Dance
Usually the bride and groom's first dance will follow immediately after the introductions. If possible, I try to postion myself to shoot into my OCF, but I also really like shooting with guests in the background, so that may mean moving my light, or not shooting into the OCF if it isn't in the right position (which is why I try to anticipate these things and plan ahead where I place my OCF!)
I shoot the first dance with the 35mm and the 85mm - I change lenses multiple times throughout the first dance to try to capture both full-length shots with a sense of place and setting, and also get up close for intimte shots, without having to step too far onto the dance floor.
I LOVE the intimacy of being close with the 85mm without intruding on the couple's personal space. These types of images are my favorite!
Sometimes I'll shoot low to give a sense of place, especially if the reception venue has interesting lighting or decor on the walls or ceiling.
I LOVE shooting into my OCF - it provides a beautiful backlight and a bit of depth, as well as illuminating the background so it isn't as obvious that I am shooting with on-camera flash.
3. Father/Daughter, Mother/Son Dances
Truth-be-told, I shoot these exactly in the same way I shoot the couple's first dance. The only thing I do slightly differently is spend more time with the 85mm on my camera to capture the sweet moments between the father and daughter, or mother and son.
I always strive to anticipate the end of the song and have my 85mm on my camera so I can get a closeup of the two of them hugging!
4. Sweetheart Table
Okay, call me cheesy, but I've developed a habit of grabbing a shot of the bride and groom as soon as they sit down at their sweetheart table. It's not a special shot, it's not going to end up in a magazine, but it's a fun little memory for the bride and groom to see themselves at their table. After a blessing or intro to dinner, I snap this right away before the couple gets swept up in conversation with guests and eating dinner.
The toasts are really special for the bride and groom, and the guests love hearing stories and memories about the couple. That being said, I have learned that there is only so much of a toast I can shoot. I used to be SO insecure if I wasn't constantly shooting, thinking to myself, "I have to keep clicking because otherwise someone is going to see me and think I'm not doing a good job!" The reality is that using a flash can become a big distraction if you are using it excessively. I position myself in a way that I can see both the people giving the toast, as well as the bride and groom. I'll capture what I need, but in the event of a long-winded guest, or multiple toasts, I will sometimes hold my camera in my lap and take a break from shooting.
Focus on the presenters!
And obviously the couple, too. Many times I will hold my camera up and wait on the couple until they begin to laugh (or cry) and then snap some pictures while they are reacting. This helps me anticipate the best moments without taking an excessive amount of pictures.
Like with the first dances, I'll shoot with both my 35mm and 85mm and try to get a few different types of shots, including some full-length vertical shots.
6. Cake Cutting
This is one area where I will tell my couple specifically where I want them to stand. More times than not, if at all possible, I will have them stand behind the table so everyone can see them. I'm usually directly in front of them, while Matt usually shoots from one side (as seen above). At this point of the evening, if the dancing has begun, I'll usually have my 24mm lens on my camera, but if not I'll use something wide like the 35mm.
The cake cutting itself isn't incredibly thrilling, but many times the couple will make funny faces or laugh because, let's face it, how many times have we cut a GINORMOUS cake in front of hundreds of people before? Being a former bride, I felt super awkward, but it made for some fun laughs.
Once the cake is cut, the fun begins:
It's hard to think of specific tips during this time, because you NEVER know what is going to happen! The best piece of advice I can give is to pace your shooting - the last thing you want is a dark shot from an underpowered speedlight and miss the peak of the cake-smashing! That being said, snap as much as you can because you never know which shot will be the BEST!
7. Bouquet Toss
My approach is always the same - I'll shoot the bride, and Matt will shoot the girls. I love standing in front of the bride and capturing her throwing the bouquet with the girls in the background. This is another area where I have to be careful not to overshoot. If I over-anticipate the throw and shoot too quickly, all of the best shots during the peak of the throw and catch will be dark due to an overheated speedlight. Sometimes I get it dead-on, other times I don't quite snag it, but that's what having a second shooter is great for as well!
The bride's face is usually really fun, which is why I like to stand in front of her.
In real time, the bouquet toss and catch happen really quickly, so timing is key. I usually try to challenge myself to shoot when I think the exact moment is happening, rather than anticipate it too early and end up with dark shots during the exact moment. It's a gamble, especially because each toss is different, but it just takes practice!
Helpful Tip! As a Nikon shooter, my SB-900 always overheated. Once it locked down, I was without a speedlight for 2-3 minutes... and moments like these can't be recreated. I eventually invested in SB-910s instead and I LOVE them because when the flash power has been used, instead of overheating, it will automatically drop the flash power down to a level that the speedlight can manage without overheating it. This has helped me miss much fewer moments, and I'm never left without flash power, even if it's very minimal (it's certainly better than nothing!) Get to know your equipment, what kinds of quirks and settings it may include, and learn to shoot thoughtfully so your equipment doesn't hold you back.
8. Garter Removal
I always shoot the garter removal at a 90-degree angle. Why? Because I love how it looks. Something about shooting this event straight-on is so much fun to me. I can see the bride's face and the groom's face and I like that. I also love shooting with guests in the background (and will sometimes walk onto the dance floor and rotate the chair to give me this vantage point) because I love capturing the reactions in the background!
Meanwhile, Matt will be using a longer lens and shoot to one side of me to capture a closer image of the bride's reaction during this event.
This is hands-down my favorite garter removal image. How cute are they?!
9. Garter Toss
I shoot the garter toss just like I shoot the bouquet toss - I'm on the groom while Matt is on the group of guys.
Matt's epic shot - I LOVE this!
10. Group Shots
Many times the bride and groom will request a group picture during the reception - a group from college, an extended family, something of that sort. I always suggest to the couple (and the DJ) to announce it immediately after an event where we already have the guest's attention. The last thing I want is for a group shot to interrupt the dancing or mingling, so planning it to happen directly after another event (usually cake cutting or bouquet toss) is a great fit!
I always have my 24mm with me, and I usually need it. The BEST and MOST IMPORTANT tip is your aperture. With large groups like this, it's important to be aware of your depth of field, so I usually shoot group shots like this at 3.5 or smaller (meaning higher number) to insure everyone is relatively in focus!
Also being up high really helps with visibility! If possible, I'll stand on a chair, a stage, stairs... something to give me height! I'm only 5'4'' so this is REALLY important for me! It means less rows of people having to squat down and more of a chance I can see everyone's face!
All of these were shot simply by bouncing the flash on the ceiling or a nearby wall. In the image above, you can most definitely see my bounced flash on the ceiling :)
11. Shoe Game!
It has brought me great delight that so many of my couples have decided to play the shoe game this season! I love shooting it straight-on, just like the garter removal, and, if possible, shooting into my OCF.
If your couples are anything like mine, the shoe game will provide a lot of laughs and memorable moments that you won't want to miss!
I also use this as an opportunity to shoot a little more creatively, since otherwise you are just taking shots of two people holding up shoes for 5 minutes.
Having people in the background is also great because, like the garter toss, the reactions from the guests can be amazing!
It's difficult to plan for everything that will happen during a reception, and no two events are alike. As always, communicating with your couple ahead of time will help you know what to expect and plan accordingly.
Helpful Tip! I have noticed that usually by the time the toasts and cake cutting are occuring, I've been shooting for 1-2 hours and my speedlight batteries might be getting low. True (and embarrassing) story, my speedlight died RIGHT as the cake cutting was starting at one of my weddings. Fortunately Matt was standing right there and I grabbed his speedlight from him! I was scrambling like CRAZY to get that flash on my camera, and I felt humiliated that people could see me like this. I've had my batteries die many times around this portion of the evening, so I always check in with the DJ or reception coordinator a few minutes before the toasts and cake cutting are about to begin and I'll change my batteries at that point in the evening, JUST to insure they won't die in the middle of something important! I'm not sure how Canon equipment is, but for some reason I can't see how much battery life I have left on my SB-910s so I have to guess and plan ahead :)
Next week on From Bridesmaids to Boutonnières: Shooting the rest of the Reception!