Cocktail Hour Wedding Photography Tips

When Ben and I started dating, we had a very different approach to the relationship.  I felt like we needed to read every relationship book, talk about expectations, and set boundaries.  Ben would just laugh it off.  It’s not that he didn’t care about the relationship, he just didn’t care about following a rule book. 

Picture of a nightstand with books and a mug, propped up against a lamp.  The mug has hand lettering on it that says, "Hot Stuff". | Debra Eby Photography Co.

While Ben is a man of tremendous integrity, he’s not one for following the rules for rules sake.  I, on the other hand, am a "people pleaser" and avoid trouble, even if it means following silly rules. 

This is why Ben is so good for me.  He lightens me up, and I make him read books and follow silly rules every once in awhile.  This is one of the many ways that our opposites attract. 

Just like Ben, modern weddings are breaking silly rules like crazy.  Personally, I love it. 

If you don’t care for a stuffy reception of caviar and champagne, then break out the giant Jenga or pastel darts.  Fill the day with custom fun. 

This new style of entertaining guests helps with mingling.  It also avoids the awkward conversations with strangers around the bar. 

How to plan your Cocktail Hour Wedding Photography.  How to break rules to create fun for your guests.  | Debra Eby Photography Co.

Immediately following the ceremony, your guests transition to cocktail hour.  This is a time of mingling, refreshments, and sometimes even entertainment. 

During the first 20 minutes, family will be taking a few portraits.  As long as everyone is present and ready, this shouldn’t take up too much valuable time. 

If you had a “first look”, you are free to go enjoy time with your guests, or sneak away for a private time of refreshment.  If you opt out of a “first look”, then your bridal party and you will continue on with portraits for the duration of cocktail hour. 

Something to be aware of, if there is no second shooter and there is no “first look”, there will not be any cocktail hour coverage. 



Image of cocktail hour wedding hors d'oeuvre platter at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Florida | Debra Eby Photography Co.



Cocktail hours, as with most parts of a wedding, have evolved greatly.  Lounge areas are now popular, with cozy seating areas.  Pinterest is brimming with ideas from other weddings. 

I love capturing a wide angle look of your cocktail hour set-up, then I go in for close ups of each detail you carefully put into your day.  I capture any signature cocktails, even trays of food circulating. 



Candid Images


Once I have the overall look of your cocktail hour, I find natural groupings of guests and request to take a picture.  I find this works much better than rapid-fire candids where guests have awkward posture and chewing shrimp.  Everyone feels better when given a chance to pose a little. 

If you are mingling, feel free to grab a few friends and family for spontaneous portraits. 

Guest portraits on a wedding day with a bride at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Florida. | Debra Eby Photography Co.





If there is live music, guests playing games (like cornhole), or any other form of activity going on, I will be sure to capture this as well. 

  • Research interactive wedding games on Pinterest and then customize the playing pieces for your wedding brand.  
  • Live music is another way to create a beautiful guest experience.  
  • Create guestbook fun with polaroids or other creative custom signing options.
  • Bring in an artist to paint the setting or a caricature artist for a more interactive experience.
  • Make food fun with a popcorn or donut bar.

All of these pieces of your day tell the story of your couple brand. 

Wedding Day Cornhole Game, customized couple logo.  TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Florida. | Debra Eby Photography Co.

Be a wedding rule breaker.  Find ways to customize your wedding day, filling it with all you love best.  

Now, onward to the reception celebration.


xoxo Lovelies

Wedding Reception Photography - Capturing Your Celebration

Have I mentioned that Ben and I have four children?  That’s right, four.  No, we aren’t crazy.  Yes, we actually planned for this. 

Okay, maybe we’re a little crazy.

Picture of a record player.  The record is black and the record player is silver. | Debra Eby Photography Co.

Many weekends you can find us in the middle of a spontaneous dance party, breaking it down on the family room rug.  Ben’s record player spins tunes, usually something vintage like The Beatles.  The little ones twirl and jump in all manner of un-choreographed chaos. 

Sometimes I pause and watch, taking in their pure happiness.  I love that they are learning how to celebrate life.  Celebration is such an important part of our humanity.  My hope is that our little ones learn to dance to any music life brings their way. 


A wedding celebration should be full of every joy, welcoming the journey of marriage.  We pop champagne, serve the best dinner, and dance the night away.

Those details you painstakingly chose?  I love taking an editorial approach to your details, such as flowers, centerpieces, food.  They will be captured in all their glory.

I take a photo-journalistic approach to the events of the reception.  I want to capture the sentimental smile, the tearful happiness, and your flower girl sneaking an extra piece of cake. 

Here are ways to make your reception images shine. 

Tips on the best Reception Photography for your Wedding Day. | Debra Eby Photography Co.



As the sun sets and your reception begins, lighting is very important for the aesthetic of your reception.  Lighting has come a long way with fabulous up-lighting, café lights, and chandelier rentals.  I highly recommend investing in quality ambient lighting.  It will make a huge difference in the atmosphere of your celebration and the aesthetic and your images. 

Warning - Any colored lighting will cast that color on your skin.  Flash will help off-set this, but the prettiest lighting is always a neutral color. 

A fabulous DJ or band can really make your reception the one of your dreams.  They sway a lot of party power with getting guests on the dance floor and moving the night along.  Occasionally, a DJ’s special affect lighting can be difficult to work with.  If your DJ is using laser spot lighting (they look like tiny polka dots), that is the most challenging to work with.  Flash will not offset the dots all over skin.  Not typically an attractive look.  Just have a conversation with your DJ about the lighting set-up so that there aren’t any surprises. 



Grand Entrance


This is when the band or DJ announces your entrance into the reception area.   

Traditionally, each bridesmaid and groomsman pairing enters together to some fun music.  The bridal party enters beginning with the same order that the bridesmaids walked down the aisle, ending with the Maid of Honor and Best Man.  Then, you are announced in, as the newlyweds. 

Tip: If you want an amazing entrance picture.  Stop once you’ve just entered the dance floor for a kiss.  This will help freeze the movement and allow for a prettier entrance image. 

Typically the bride and groom then sit down or go into the first dance. 

The benefit of going right into the first dance is that you have the attention of all of your guests.  It’s a very natural transition.  It also helps if you are on a tight timeline with your photography coverage. 



First Dance


The first dance is one of those special moments where you hold each other close and breathe in the moment of the day.  Everything slows down for whispers, quiet laughter, maybe even a tear of joy. 

If you have anything special choreographed, definitely let me know in advance.  It’s helpful to be prepared for any unique elements to the reception. 



Wedding Reception Photography, father/daughter dance under cafe lights. | Debra Eby Photography Co.

Parent Dances

Ahh, I’m a sucker for the father/daughter dance (you maaay find me wiping a tear in between shots). This is another sweet time to spend a few moments with important people in your life. 

These dances do not have to be stuffy and traditional.  One bride and her father broke it down to “I Don’t Need Anyone But You”, such a joyful moment. 

You also don’t have to make it Father/Daughter and Mother/Son dancing.  If a parent is absent or not playing that traditional role in your life, you can get creative.  Include grandparents, or make it a “family dance”, bringing up parents and siblings.  Modern weddings welcome new celebratory memories. 





That Filet Mignon is going to sound pretty amazing about now.  Take the time to sit down and enjoy your meal.  There will be time to make your rounds with guests once you are finished. 

The worst time of the day for pictures is during dinnertime. 

When I was a new photographer, I would shoot and shoot and shoot all through dinner.  Guess what?  Not one image ever turned out.  Ever.  Instead, I would get the “evil eye” from guests who instinctively knew their best look is not while stuffing a bite of salad into their mouth. 


Artist & Vendor Team

This is also an ideal time for your vendor team to eat as well.  That way we are free to keep working once you complete your meal.

It may seem strange that your vendor team requires dinner.  Speaking as a photographer, I can say how important this dinner break really is.  I promise, it’s not a diva request.

Our day is filled with non-stop action from the moment we step foot into your day.  It can be a long day of hustle with no food or drink breaks.  This dinner break is important to maintaining momentum for the evening work. 

Sometimes, I am asked what the ideal scenario is.  Really, I welcome any break that involves a little refreshment.  My requirement is that dinner is provided or that a one hour break given so that I can go grab dinner.  

The perfect set-up is a quiet, simple, little table in the corner of the reception room.  This is a table, just for the vendors, so that we can jump up and work, as needed.  When I am off in a vendor room (while a lovely break) I do get nervous that something may happen in my absence. 




Toasting at a wedding reception | Debra Eby Photography Co.

Oh that time of the night when everyone hears your embarrassing childhood antics.  This is my favorite time for reaction shots, as parents laugh and as guests tear up over the sweet words and stories. 

If toasts happen during dinnertime, just give your vendor team a heads up (especially if we’re in a vendor room) so that we are prompt when they begin. 

A reception schedule is super helpful for the photographer to have, this way we are ready for all the action. 



Sunset Portraits


Those moments, just before sunset are absolutely breathtaking.  Your skin radiates a warm glow, the colors are soft and romantic. 

I love sneaking the bride and groom away for a quick 10 minutes of beautiful sunset portraits.  The results will make you forever grateful.

TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra, Florida.  Sunset portraits on a wedding day with the bride and groom kissing. | Debra Eby Photography Co.



Reception Photography, special friends picture. | Debra Eby Photography Co.

Special Friend or Family Portrait


Your reception is a perfect time for pictures with any special friend groupings or family groupings.  There is usually more time and everyone is more relaxed about jumping in for a picture. 

Simply list these groupings in your prep form so that I can remind you to gather them during this time.



Photo Booth


A photo booth is a perfect way to capture your guests in a fun way.  Most guests love jumping into a photo booth with their significant other or group of friends.  Just as much as they do not like gathering for that awkward “table shot”. 

I highly recommend investing in this as a part of your wedding day. 

If you aren’t able to, the best time for your photographer to get candid images is over cocktail hour.  This means, hiring as second shooter to ensure candid images are taken during that portion of the day.      




Wedding Reception Photography at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Florida.  Removing of the garter. | Debra Eby Photography Co.

Bouquet & Garter Toss


Whenever there is fast movement with low lighting, even the best camera equipment can struggle a bit.  This is why I usually recommend that my couples “fake throw” first to make sure I get that image.  That way I can focus my energy on “the catch”. 




Dance Floor

Wedding Reception Dancing with the bride and groom at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Florida.  | Debra Eby Photography Co.

Time to put those gorgeous stilettos to work on the dance floor. 

Okay, more realistically, it's a great idea to use those bridal flip-flops. 

My wide angle lens will get right in the action.  I shoot fast and furious.  Then, I back away for a bit.  Repeat.  I want to give guests their space while still documenting all the fun.  

Tip: to look amazing in dancing pictures, grab a friend, pause and smile mid-move.  A little love to the camera goes a long way towards making your dance moves look super fab. 



Grand Exit

It is now time for your great escape.  While it is sad that your celebration has come to an end, the marriage journey is just beginning.  That is worth some serious honeymoon celebration.

Once again, any time there is fast movement and low lighting, that camera equipment is working extra hard.  Whatever type of exit you are making, take time to pause for a kiss, maybe even two.  Those images are always the prettiest. 

Bride and Groom exit on their wedding night.  An estate wedding in central Florida. | Debra Eby Photography Co.




Each photographer has a different post-wedding workflow.  Be sure to chat about that before your exit so that you know when you can expect your sneak peek. 

You can read all about my post-wedding workflow, right here.

On a wedding day, something is bound to go wrong.  Keep moving forward, dancing to the music.  It is all about embracing your day and any unexpected surprises.  It's all good practice for the marriage journey ahead.  

Make spontaneous dancing  a part of your newlywed life.  The best is barefoot on the family room floor.  

Then, if your dance party multiplies, embrace every un-choreographed moment.

xoxo Lovelies

LPGA Wedding Daytona Beach

He began loving her before he could even drive a car. In classes together at a Christian Academy in Ormond Beach.  He knew that she was the one. 

She is full of organizing, and making things happen. He is full of laid back smiles and charm. 
She is full of grace and beauty. He holds her and she laughs with abandon. 

They are young love. 

During the engagement portraits months ago, we strolled the streets of downtown New Smyrna Beach. Both of them telling me their dreams. She laughs saying she's the planner. He smiles and nods in agreement. Both have an easy way with each other. 

On the wedding day, they read letters to their parents. Tears and laughter bubble over in the room. She says she's more like her father. There is laughter in this truth. He speaks kind words to his brother and sister whom he is leaving. There are tears. 

There is love everywhere. Family, friends, and all those in the presence of this day. Love in boundless measure. 

Being a part of such a meaningful and lovely day is everything that I love about being a wedding photographer. 

Wishing Nathaniel and Elizabeth a very Happily Ever After on their journey ahead.