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5 Techniques To Make Your Budget Bride’s Venue Look Baller

February 18, 2015

We all hope and dream to photograph in gorgeous reception venues. Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen. Here’s how you can add a bit more bling to your brides budget venue. There are two types of brides we book. The bride that has a budget so big that very few corners get cut. The reception hall is […]

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We all hope and dream to photograph in gorgeous reception venues. Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen.

Here’s how you can add a bit more bling to your brides budget venue.

There are two types of brides we book.

  1. The bride that has a budget so big that very few corners get cut. The reception hall is perfgect, and if it isn’t, they install drapes and chandeliers. Lets face it, before anyone walks in you have your iPhone out instagramming it because of how stunning it is.
  2. The bride that has a small budget but values photography above everything else. I once photographed a wedding where they spend more on our photography than every part of the wedding day, dress and ring included. These tend to be the receptions that are held at the local VFW, county fairground, or community hall.

Whatever bride you book, it’s your job to make the reception venue look stunning. They hired you for a reason and it’s your job to make the space appear better than they remember it.


Typical Problems with budget venues:

  1. Ugly Ceilings & Walls (wood panels, cement floors, drop ceilings)
  2. Built in Decor (trophies, memorabilia, flags, taxidermy…anybody else ever have to deal with a taxidermied wolf in the background of the cake cutting?)
  3. Lack of Wedding Decor (centerpieces, linen, drapes)
  4. Lack of Ambient Lighting (up lighting, twinkle lights, candles)


5 Elements YOU Can Control! 

  1. Lens & Aperture Choice
  2. Your Own Lighting
  3. Direction your shooting
  4. Framing/Composition
  5. Creative Technique


1. Lens & Aperture Choice

Be Selective!

Selecting the correct lens & aperture is key for making a space look stunning. The best lens I can advise for you to use is an 85mm. It will allow you to compress in without having to invade the space of the couple. When you compress in, it will help pull in the background area, and show less of it. Secondly, the 85 will give you the option to photograph at a super low aperture. Compressing in while shooting at F1.4-2.0 will give you a buttery shallower depth of field. This will help to separate the couple from the space and turn the unattractive background areas into bokeh. If you don’t have a 85mm, then I would recommend the 135 f2, 70-200 f2.8 or 50mm 1.4 or lower.


Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 1.07.56 PM

Shot in a fair ground barn. 85mm @ f1.4



 2. Your Own Lighting

Backlight Backlight Backlight!

When photographing at these venues, lighting can get tricky. Having the knowledge and gear to light the space is key. One simple way that makes a huge difference is by adding a backlight. The backlight should be placed towards the back of the hall, not right on the corner of the dance floor. You should always be shooting towards your backlight. The backlight will put a rim light around that couple that is very appealing to the eye. Again, we are doing everything to direct the audience’s eye to the couple. The backlight will also reflect off of anything it hits. It will create bokeh off of guest dining-ware, centerpieces, and even heads sometimes. This will make the venue look like it was beautifully decorated even if it wasn’t.

The backlight is only half of the lighting equation. You need to make sure your ambient exposure is correct and the fill light on the couple is in place.



Shot in low-ambient light reception. 85mm @ f1.4 with backlight + fill-light



 3. Direction you’re shooting 

focus on people rather than place

Shooting at the right direction can make a world of difference in your reception photos. So many photographers tend to stand in with the crowd and shoot back at the couple. The problem is that usually means you are shooting with the DJ or blank wall in the background.

Turn around.

Shooting back towards the crowd will make such a difference. Family & friends applauding, smiles, color, and tableware turning to pretty bokeh. Take image below, the couple is cutting the cake with their backs towards some of the guests instead of up against the wall cinderblock wall. We politely asked the couple if they mind cutting it on this side. By rotating their plate and knife around to the other side, it allows us to photograph towards the crowd. If guests want to see more or take pictures they will move over to a space they can see better. Most are content watching from where they are. Look how pretty this cake shot is and it is in a fairground cement building! The expression of guests behind the couple is such a perfect memory! Always be aware of what direction you are shooting.



bride and groom cutting wedding cake

Shot in a fair ground barn. 50mm @ f1.4



 4. Framing/Composition

 Fill That Frame Up!

Framing/Composition can help you out tremendously if you are shooting in a venue that isn’t favorable. One reason I recommended above the 85mm is for this very point. With the 85mm you can get close up and fill the frame with the couple. Doing this takes out all of the distracting elements. In the photo below, you have zero clues about the venue. The beauty of this image is the raw emotion caught during the father daughter dance. If you are unable to fill the whole frame, at least compose the image towards the most interesting ambient light in the venue. If there are some hung lights over by the gift table…shoot back towards those lights!



Father Daughter Wedding Dance

Shot in a restaurant back party room. 85mm @ f1.4



5. Creative Technique

Be Fearless!

If nothing else, try something creative and new! This is easier to do in good conscious if you have a 2nd shooter you know is getting the safe shot. Try to shoot threw things, reflecting off things, behind things! Each wedding, I’m always looking for something new and different to make their reception photos unique.  You never know what you can come up with! Below are different shots I have tried.


Father Daughter Dance

Photographed between two champagne glasses. 70-200mm @ f2.8


Bride dancing at reception

Photographed while waving glow sticks in front of my camera! 50mm @ f1.4


Wedding Speech

Photographed through Christmas lights that were hung on a railing. 70-200mm @ f2.8

Lastly, is a popular method used for very raw nightclub shots. We love incorporating it into reception dancing. If the reception is has little to know ambient light, we typically do a 1 second exposure. To freeze the subject, make sure the flash hits it. You can also quickly jerk your camera in a circular motion or pan to create crazy imagery. If you are indoors, we typically set our shutter speed around 1/30 or 1/50. It really will depend on the amount of ambient light available.

Dragging the Shutter outdoors with almost no ambient light. 16-28mm @ f5.6 – 2 second exposure


Wedding Reception Guest Dancing

Dragging the Shutter inside with fair amount of ambient light. 50mm @ f2 – 1/50 second exposure


Wrapping Up:

It’s your job as the photographer to create stunning reception photographs for your client no matter the circumstances. No more excuses. The next time you photograph a reception, take a step back and really examine the space. Make sure you look for what ambient light is available, which direction you will be shooting towards, unique characteristics that you can use creatively. Before each reception my 2nd shooter and I always have a little meeting and discuss how we are going to make the venue look its absolute best. We decide on which lens, where to stand, and other creative ideas. Being proactive and knowing how you want to shoot beforehand will make a big difference!

Now get out there and make every reception venue look stunning!


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