Tips for Candlelit Receptions

January 31, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

There is {almost} nothing more romantic than a candelit wedding reception. Turning off the overhead lights can really make a cavernous gym feel cozy and smaller somehow. There's something about the glow of candles that makes winter weddings seem warmer somehow. I get all mushy just thinking about it.

Before we get into the how to, there are a couple situations where a candlit wedding is not ideal. The first scenario I can think of is if you or the groom are blinkers. I think this is a genetic thing. If you want to know if you have it, look at your childhood photo albums. If your eyes are closed on half the indoor pictures, the same thing will happen at your wedding. Although flash may make your blink in a bright room, the tendency is exaggerated in a darker room. The camera shutter may be open a tad longer, giving you a split second more to react with a blink.

The second scenario is a really tight reception area where people are scrunched up against each other and there is not much space between tables. Your servers and photographers may find it difficult to navigate the minefield of purses and diaper bags that hide in the dark. Servers carrying pitchers full of drinks will thank you the most for making sure it's bright enough to see obstacles on the floor. And if parents put sleeping children partway under the table, it could really become dangerous, especially if they're wearing dark clothes.

The third scenario is something only Mennonite wedding photographers will understand. If you have a lot of Old Order Amish relatives who are very uncomfortable being around cameras, really dark receptions might not be a good idea. It's hard to take a stealth photo of your grandma you really want a picture of, but who doesn't want to know about photos taken of her. I always want to honor the couple's wishes when it comes to how much to photograph Amish relatives, but taking photos without flash feels more respectful in iffy situations.

Now that we have those scenarios out of the way with, let's talk about some basic tips.

1. Always preview your lighting scenario ahead of time. Not all candlelit spaces are equal. You want to make sure you have enough light for people to see where they are going, yet still have it dim enough to set the mood.

2. Your bridal table should be at least as bright as the surrounding area, maybe even brighter. People like to be able to see the bride and groom at a wedding, and the bridal table is a focal point. Your friends' cell phone camera photos will look better. Bridal party members will be able to take better selfies if you have some more ambient light. But if you're both super reclusive and want to hide from your guests and want a completely unplugged reception, then less light might be your thing.

3. Twinkle lights are always a good idea. In addition to looking nice in pictures, you are probably going to need some additional lighting to what is on the tables. Get creative, and string them wherever you can. And if your reception is in a gym, then make use of the basketball hoops!

4. Think beforehand about when you want the lights turned off. I've been at weddings where the lights are on until just before the bridal party comes in, or after they are seated. It is really nice for reception ushers and even servers to be able to see clearly across the room. And, people typically turn the lights back on as people are leaving. In addition to helping the folks cleaning up, guests can see things they may be leaving under tables a little more easily.

5. This goes without saying, but enjoy your candlelit reception! A designated lighting person will make that easier to do. Let someone else worry about making sure all the candles are lit and the lights are turned off at appropriate moments. That job can be done by candle lighters, ushers, or reception coordinators. Better yet, give the job to a relative or friend you have no jobs left for, but you want to be involved in your day.


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