Rachael Giles

December 30, 2021

Let There Be (Soft, Flattering) Light: My Guide To Lighting Your Wedding Reception

My Journal

Let’s talk lighting. It might not be something you’ve considered yet, but the right wedding reception lighting makes all the difference! Think about your favourite French bistro – part of what makes it so special and romantic is that gorgeously soft lighting, right? The same is true for your wedding. Mood lighting not only sets the tone for an incredible evening of celebrating with your nearest and dearest, it also helps us create gorgeous wedding photos. 

If your lighting is right, we can take natural, authentic photos without the need for flashes and artificial light – which can be distracting when you’re trying to enjoy your first dance or slice that delicious cake! 

Not sure how to get that dreamy mood lighting just right? Don’t worry – I have a few amazing suggestions that have worked really well at previous weddings I’ve photographed. Here’s my guide to lighting your wedding reception to give you some inspiration.

Wedding reception set up, Wedding reception lighting
Brown Brothers Winery rustic style wedding reception set up.

Talk to your venue

How do you light up a wedding reception? My first suggestion is to speak to your wedding venue, if you’ve booked a wedding package. Most wineries and reception spaces that cater to weddings will host events pretty much every weekend, so I guarantee they’ll know which type of lighting works well within their venue.

Ask to see photos from previous weddings they’ve done and check out the lighting used, then ask them what type of lighting they’d recommend, based on your wedding party size and preferred aesthetic. This can save you a lot of time (and the stress of figuring out the details yourself!).

Many indoor reception venues will have chandeliers, so using these is a great option – they look timeless and offer gorgeous, soft light for you and your guests to dine and dance under. Of course, for DIY weddings, you’ll need to arrange your own lighting (which can be fun too!).

Wedding Couple Reception Photographer
Wedding reception lighting should be soft and romantic, but not so dark that your guests can’t see their dinners!

Create a canopy of light

Planning a gorgeous winery or farm wedding? If so, one of my favourite lighting ideas for outdoor wedding receptions is to use strings of fairy lights to create a canopy of light.

Outdoor Christmas lights will do the job for very cheap, so it’s a good option for those on a budget too. To achieve this look, all you need to do is string fairy lights back and forth across the reception area, deck or marquee, creating a twinkling, starry ceiling. This look works well indoors too.

Soft, glittering fairy lights look magical in photos, so they’re ideal for illuminating candid reception shots and giving your photographer great light to work with. 

Garden Wedding Photographer
From a photography perspective, I just love the glowing, memorable images we can capture when the lighting is just right!

Set the mood with candles

Is there anything more romantic than candles? They look so elegant and classic – but I recommend going for electric candles rather than real ones. It’s much safer, since lit candles can easily be knocked over by excited kids (or your best man after too many drinks!) – don’t take the risk!

You can use candles as part of your table centrepieces – the battery-powered ones simply toggle on and off and flicker just like a real candle, so you don’t need to worry about them going out. Candles can also be used to light up an outdoor space, so get creative. They really set the mood and bring the romance – and I guarantee no one will notice that they’re not actually lit! 

Wedding reception candles, Wedding reception lighting
You can’t go wrong with candles. It surely creates a romantic vibe! 

Draping fabric and lighting can look so elegant

A gorgeous look that’s simpler to achieve than you might think is soft, billowing curves of white fabric above your reception area. Drape your fabric, then string along fairy lights to give everything a soft glow. 

Or, if there’s a lighting fixture in the room, you can anchor several sheets of fabric from it and make it billow outwards to the corners of the room – such an easy way to jazz up a plain-looking space. Just be sure to use lights that don’t overheat and are safe to use with fabric. 

Light the way with lanterns

There’s nothing quite like lanterns to really deliver subdued, moody lighting! As with candles, I’d suggest using electric lanterns so you don’t need to worry about them being knocked over.

You could light the edges of your outdoor reception space with lanterns, creating a cosy, golden perimeter. We can also use lanterns as props for evening couple portraits – this is super cool for winter weddings too, since an old-fashioned style lantern can create nostalgic, elegant images on a cold night!

Splurge on a fireworks show for your guests

This one is a little out there, but if you want a seriously memorable reception, why not arrange a fireworks show for your guests? Assuming it’s allowed by your venue, a fireworks show is such an incredible way to treat your guests to something they probably aren’t expecting.

Of course, the bold colours and lights of fireworks will make a unique backdrop for your couples’ photos – I’m already imagining that ‘Wow!’ image of you sharing a kiss while your friends and family cheer you on, lit only by the killer fireworks in the sky!

Safety should always be your top priority with lighting

It goes without saying, but if you’re attempting any DIY lighting projects, safety should always be your number one consideration. It’s so easy to accidentally overload powerboards, purchase the wrong type of lights or get cords tangled, so always do your research and take your time when setting up your lighting. 

If you’re ever unsure about how to attempt lighting, always ask for help! There are also plenty of wedding vendors you can hire to help you set everything up, including your lighting – plus, hiring wedding props and lights is much more eco-friendly than buying new. I’m always glad to give you some vendor suggestions! 

I hope this guide to wedding reception lighting has given you some food for thought. The right lighting can honestly transform any space into something jaw-droppingly gorgeous, but it also makes life much easier for your photographer and helps them capture better quality images. In addition to making time to shoot during golden hour, the right reception lighting should be one of your priorities when planning your wedding day. 

Have any questions about the lighting for your reception? If so, let’s grab a coffee and chat about all things wedding lighting! 

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