Ah, the Dallas wedding reception. For you, it’s going to be a blast — this is the part of the day when you can (finally) take a deep breath, content in the knowledge that the hard part is over. You’re married, everything went off without a hitch, and now, it’s time to let loose!
And for me, it’s a hoot. From a Dallas-Fort Worth wedding photography standpoint, this is when I’m running it fast and loose. Aside from some occasional light staging, the images I collect at the reception will be candid and casual, with all the natural exuberance of the event preserved on film.
Every reception is different. Some are formal fetes, filled with tradition; some are more laid back, modern affairs. You probably have a rough schedule in your mind already — a layout of the high points you want to see occur. Typically, these elements are going to take place over the first two hours of the reception, with the remainder of the time set aside for dancing, conversation, and revelry.
I’d like to fill you in on the order of things from my point of view. The point of hiring a professional photographer is so you don’t have to wonder whether I’m getting the pictures you want captured. We’ve talked about all of this already, prior to the wedding, and rest assured, I’ll be clicking away the whole time, making sure to not miss the “big ticket” shots in the process.
So, let’s go over what those shots are.
THE GRAND ENTRANCE
The grand entrance is the official kick-off to the reception, when the new couple is formally introduced to the assembled guests: “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my pleasure to introduce Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So.” At some receptions, this portion consists only of the bride and groom, but it’s not uncommon for the couple-of-honor to be preceded by members of the wedding party, or even family members, each with their own accolades.
It’s not a terribly long portion of the overall festivities. Even longer entrances only take about 5 minutes or so. But it’s probably going to require some advance preparation; getting the bride and groom organized? That shouldn’t be a big deal; you guys are there in the first place. But if there are members of the wedding party or family members, you never know — they could have hopped off to the bathroom, or are out having a smoke.
The cure is to inform everyone in advance, before the wedding day. If they’re a part of the grand entrance, let them know the time it’s planning to take place (and sure, there might be a delay, but if they know to be in place, and that it’s important, they will be), and for them to be in position 15 minutes before. This is the start to the reception, after all — if there’s someone missing, that’ll just mean more time being spent tracking them down, which means more time until the reception can begin. It’s not the end of the world, because this party doesn’t start until you walk through the doors. But having all your ducks in a row will ensure that that happens sooner!
THE FIRST DANCE
This is a great piece of advice: the first dance should take place as soon after the grand entrance as humanly possible.
There’s one big reason for this: It’s a pretty safe bet that your guests have started making merry. If they’re a couple of drinks in, keeping their attention might be a little tricky. The first dance pictures are going to be ones that you’ll cherish forever, way more than a lot of other images from the day; having a backdrop of emotionally involved, interested guests really makes that image hit home. Waiting until after the dinner is going to mean that everyone’s scattered around, lost in conversation, eating, and giving a cursory glance at best. Having the first dance right away comes with an increased likelihood of rapt attention.
And for purely selfish purposes — no worries, because this involves you too — taking the first dance shots in a venue that’s being lit by natural light just makes the result “pop” that much more. The sun is coming in through the windows; there are some fun dynamics that come together to make the image sing; and the emotion of this five-minute period is captured at its best.
The same rule of thumb applies to any variety of first dances. A lot of couples like to have a father-daughter dance or a mother-son dance; it allows time for a special moment to be shared between two individuals who may not otherwise have the time to say what they want to in the hustle and bustle of the day. Some families like to combine these dances, but if you’re searching for a personal opinion, I would recommend splitting them up: there’s more emphasis on that pairing, more time to say what’s on your heart, and for everyone watching, it’s impactful and special. We forget about dancing sometimes. But it’s intimate, and personal, and important. Dancing your heart out with the people who mean the most, and taking the time to observe this unique wedding tradition, never leaves anyone feeling that it was a waste of time. Plus, the pictures are always stunning.
For Jewish weddings, the hora is a jubilant, special part of the evening. This is the dance where everyone is gathered in circles, holding hands. At one point, the bride and groom are raised up on chairs as the crowd cheers them on. It’s such a lovely tradition, because it brings everyone together in the spirit of the day. If your wedding is following in the Jewish tradition, we’ll have already talked about how to get these images, but keep in mind: the hora is a pretty enthusiastic display, and the bride and groom are likely to become a little disheveled in the process. That’s why I always recommend that it take place immediately following the first dances — everyone’s attention is still coming full force, but the hair and makeup is still in place for the more intimate, personal, first dance pictures.
Toasts can take place whenever — and at some receptions, they can occur somewhat spontaneously! But for the main toasts, the ones given by the closest family members, the best men, and the maids of honor, the salad course of the dinner is a sweet spot. At this point, everyone’s practically guaranteed to be sitting down, and even if dinner service is somewhat spread out, nobody is going to be leaving their tables with the main course still on the way. With a built-in audience, all the speech givers will need to draw attention is to tap a knife against the side of a water glass.
Technically, there are a few staging tips that can ensure some really nice shots. First, speak with the audio technician, and make sure they’ll have some wireless microphones (and some backups) for this portion of the evening. Your toasters can trip over wires, or the wires can be too short; wireless is the way to go.
Also, arrange with the people giving the speech that they should stand close to the bride and groom, and not in place at their table across the room. For the guests, this will put the speech and the reactions in the same place. And for the photographer, this grants the opportunity to get all the emotion in a single shot — it’s just a better picture.
One final tip. Some people are shy in front of a microphone, while some have silver tongues and will want to speak for a while. That’s fine, but when you’re setting up this portion, tell the speakers that they’ve got only three minutes to talk — but don’t tell them that you’re budgeting for five. This provides ample time for spillover, while still keeping everything concise and on-the-clock.
The meal is the chance where we’re all going to get a break — and believe me, you’re going to appreciate having a chance to take a load off your feet and get some food in your system.
For logistics, plan for about 60 minutes for the dinner portion to take place. If there are multiple courses being served, and if you have a pretty large head count, it’s best to extend this time-frame to about 90 minutes.
Now, here’s a big tip. When it comes to eating, make sure that the bride and groom are served first. I’ve seen countless weddings for which a designated period of time isn’t planned, where the bride and groom end up chatting with an endless stream of well-wishers. That’s great, but again — you’re going to need all the energy you can get. There will be time for chatting later, so this is when you two get to take some time to yourselves. And besides, you’ve spent a long time planning this dinner... don’t you want to actually taste the food?
During the bulk of the dinner portion, photography will be suspended somewhat. I’ll be on hand to take some pictures of course, but there are only so many images I’ll be able to gather: one of the first rules of photography is that nobody likes to have their picture taken with a mouth full of food!
With that, I have a request, especially if the total amount of time spent covering your wedding exceeds 6 hours: it would be great if we (the photographer and assistants) could eat as well, and that we be served at the same time as the bride and groom... first. The timing here is important: we want to eat at the same time you do, so that when you’re done with your meal, we can stand up and get back to work. This isn’t us taking time off — we’ll be ready to shoot at a moment’s notice if anything unexpected comes up, which is why I also request that we be served in a space that’s out of sight, but also within earshot. (Plus, if your caterer excels at presentation, this is a great chance for us to pull double duty: we can get some pictures of your food before digging in!)
Some venues don’t take this into account. So if it’s okay with you, the easiest way to broach the subject with the caterer or venue is to let them know in advance. Something along the lines of, “My wedding photography is important to me, so I would like to request that the photographers’ meal be served at the same time as my fiancé and I receive our salads. This will give them the time necessary to nourish themselves within a convenient time frame, to capture images of your hard work on the plate, and will help us ensure that they can get back to the essential work of documenting this special day in a suitable period. Thank you very much for accommodating this request!” A small note like this, even if it’s outside the normal operating procedure of your caterer or venue, will explain the situation well, and the chances are very likely that they’ll be more than happy to accommodate this type of request without question.
After you’re finished eating, you may want to go around from table to table so you can greet your guests personally. This is a great idea. Not only does it make for some special images, but lending a little personal attention to your guests while they’re also indisposed with dinner can relieve the obligation of having extended conversations later. It just consolidates things without sacrificing that personal flair. A few minutes per table of exchanging salutations can save countless 2-minute chats, which can easily eat up the rest of the evening. Saying hi is fun — but you want to have time to actually enjoy your reception, right?
And we can add another benefit: this is a great time to gather images you might feel “obligated” to have. There are a couple of ways to approach the table shots. If there’s a large centerpiece, we can pose everyone on one side of the table, which is a quick and solid way to ensure that everyone gets a moment in front of the camera and is documented. If you’ve got a little more time, this is a fine opportunity to ask everyone to stand so you can get individual pictures with each and every one of them (if this is important to you). That way, you end up with at least one photo of you with very single guest in attendance, so there are no loose ends. Thinking smarter, and not working harder — and again, more time to devote to having fun with your friends, instead of worrying about taking small chunks of time throughout the night to break away for a quick snapshot.
Most weddings have a cake cutting tradition. It’s a lively, sweet moment a lot of couples really look forward to.
I generally say that the cake should be cut as soon as possible after dinner service. Not only will everyone be ready for dessert, but in some cultures and traditions, it’s considered impolite for guests to leave prior to the cutting of the cake. For what it’s worth, some of your guests will need to leave a little early — holding this observation as early as possible, then, lets everyone experience the width and breadth of the day before having to depart.
And heck, there are technical reasons. People eat, they get full, they have a couple more drinks, they scatter to every corner of the wedding venue… having your cake (and eating it, too!) as soon as possible will help ensure that everybody gets to enjoy this beautiful, sentimental investment that you’ve made into the overall thrill of the day.
As far as placement is concerned, instinct usually says to put the cake on a table in the corner — someplace out of the way where it’s not going to run afoul of a random elbow. That being said, it’s best to opt for more scenic placement. Most couples I’ve worked with end up falling in love with the cake shots, so having a pretty background just ups the “oomph” factor.
THE BOUQUET AND GARTER TOSS
This feels like a marathon, doesn’t it? But don’t worry — you’re doing great! Allow me to insert one more “do this immediately after” caveat. In this case, it’s for the bouquet and garter toss, and in my opinion, this tradition should be observed right after the cake cutting.
It’s pretty simple: the attention from the cake cutting is still focused on the bride and groom, so having this part of the evening take place when it does raises the amount of participation. No bride wants to throw her bouquet to an empty crowd! This only takes about 10 minutes, but usually less.
The bouquet and garter toss is also a great transition point. The wedding has taken place; the meal has been thoroughly enjoyed; the guests have been properly greeted, and the cake has been cut. After the bouquet/garter toss, all that’s left is the dancing! No more traditions to break up the party — just a few more hours of free-form fun for you and your guests. Believe me: after a day as active as this one, this is the first chance a lot of couples have to really let it go and cut a rug!
Speaking of the dancing portion of the wedding (the one at the tail end, not the first dances, which we discussed earlier), this is the time where I’ll be running around, grabbing some candid shots of people having a great time. It’s also during this time where I might decide that I have what I need, that my checklist has been thoroughly “ticked,” and will pack up to go home. We will absolutely have discussed this in advance, and I’ll always check in with you before I head out — you’re paying me good money to cover this monumental day, and I’m not happy until you’re happy. If you need anything else, please let me know. If you don’t, we will part ways, and I’ll be in touch with you in a couple of days to follow up and see how your first hours of wedded bliss are treating you (we’ll also recap when you can see your pictures!)
ONE LAST THING...
First, thank you for reading this series of articles. I hope I’ve done a good job addressing any of your questions in advance, and maybe, have helped you think of some points of consideration you may not have otherwise had! If so, I’m glad I could help, and will certainly welcome any additional questions you may have.