The team at Morby Photography has been to a lot of weddings – more than twenty years’ worth! We’ve photographed thousands of weddings that have gone smoothly…and some that haven’t. The reception especially can feel a little frantic, with so much to do and so many guests to keep happy. We’d love to use our observations to make your special day a little less stressful. Below are some tips to help you create a great reception flow that keeps the party moving.
Tell Your Photographer Everything
The more details you share with your photographer ahead of time about your reception schedule, the better. That includes every formality, such as toasts and first dances, as well as anything unique or unconventional that you’re adding. You may want your guests to be surprised, but the same doesn’t apply to your photographer! When we know what comes next, we’ll know where to be and how to prepare to get the best shots of every activity. That way, we’ll never miss a moment.
Pick and Choose What’s Most Important
There are a lot of reception traditions that we see over and over again. Some couples find them important. Others would rather get to the eating and dancing. Remember that this is your day, and you can choose how you want to spend your precious reception time. If you think a tradition has gone a bit stale, feel free to omit it. (For example, the bouquet and garter tosses can sometimes get awkward if you don’t have a lot of single friends, who may not want to be singled out anyway.) If you want to do something entirely new, go for it. If you want to keep things simple so you can open up the dance floor, that’s fine too.
Front Load the Reception When You Can
Another way to move quickly through the formalities and leave more time for socializing is to do as much as you can back to back instead of staggering it through the meal and beyond. For example, after the wedding party enters, you can move right into your first couple’s dance and then immediately into the parent dances. Both you and your guests will appreciate not having to get up and down constantly throughout the night or continuously shift your attention.
Consider a Collective Thank You
Some couples spend much of their reception trying to individually visit with and thank each guest, and later regret that they didn’t have more time to enjoy themselves – or eat! Unless these personal interactions are a priority, consider thanking all your guests collectively before or after the meal so you’re able to join the dancing as soon as it starts. This also frees up your guests to have fun without feeling like they need to wait around at their table for a chance to talk to you.
Speed Up Group or Table Photos With a Little Coordination
Some couples want to take a photo with each table. While those shots are nice to have, they can easily eat up more than 30 minutes of your reception, and as the night goes on, more and more seats are empty as your guests drift off to the bar or the dance floor. If someone tries to track them down, that takes up even more time. To speed up this process and make it fun for everyone, consider the one song challenge. Before open dancing begins, announce (or have the DJ or band announce) that you’ll be taking a photo with each table – but you only have the length of one song to do so. Be sure to choose a song that is fun (or annoying) to get everyone moving quickly to help you succeed.
If you’d like to take any group photos such as extended family, friends, classmates, or coworkers, you should also do those before open dancing begins. You can even have the DJ make announcements to keep the process moving. Another one song challenge might be in order. Once the meal is finished and your guests start to move around, it becomes difficult to track specific people down. Some folks might also get more tipsy (or disheveled) as the night goes on.
Decide What Type of Cake Cutting You Want
Some couples love the “will they/won’t they” anticipation of the cake cutting and want it to be announced so everyone can watch. But if you don’t like being the center of attention, or have already decided the first bites are going to be civil, consider a private cake cutting where only the photographer is watching and the DJ or band keeps the rest of the reception distracted and entertained. Some couples even cut the cake during cocktail hour so they have one less thing to do during the reception. Don’t feel like you have to pull everyone’s attention back if having an audience for this moment isn’t important to you.
Design Your Flow Around Your Venue
First off, we love a great outdoor reception, and wish we saw more of them. Guests really appreciate the chance to spread out, you’re typically surrounded by the beauty of nature, and there are more options for activities to keep your guests entertained, especially those who don’t like to dance. We suggest you take advantage of whatever makes your venue unique when planning the location and flow of your reception. If your dance floor is in a separate room than the dining area, for example, consider having everyone gather there first to watch the entrance of the wedding party and all the formal dances before sitting down for the meal. We’ve seen this work well at Artesano Gallery and Phoenixville Foundry. Limit the number of times everyone needs to move by grouping activities accordingly.
Consider Sparkler Exits and Night Shots
We love the excitement of a sparkler exit – and the opportunity it provides for some awesome and unique photos of the couple. Check with your venue first though in case it has any restrictions, as sparklers are sometimes seen as a fire hazard. Some venues don’t allow sparkler exits with all your guests but will let the wedding party do a mock sparkler exit during the open dancing to allow you to capture these fun shots but limit the number of people who will be handling fireworks. You should also consider whether your venue has any other interesting night shot opportunities. Street lights, string lights, lighted fountains or even just moonlight can provide the ambiance for some stunning and unique shots after the sun goes down. Sunset shots can also be striking with the right backdrop, particularly in rural settings. If these types of shots are important to you, and depending on the time of year, you should schedule a time for them during the open dancing or cocktail hour and make sure you’re able to slip away when that time comes.
It’s All About Priorities
Remember, it’s your wedding. Although it’s likely to be a busy day that goes by in a flash, you deserve to take the time to savor everything that’s most important to you. The first step to that is to decide what matters most – from the formalities you’ll observe, the people you’ll spend your limited time with, and the perfect shots you don’t want to miss. We’ve seen some couples actually eat their dinner during cocktail hour knowing they wouldn’t get to enjoy their meal when everyone wants to chat. Others prioritize spending time with each other and hitting the dance floor. Preparation is key. The more planning you do to make sure all parts of the reception flow into each other smoothly, the more time is left for everyone to enjoy themselves – most importantly, you!