Elegant outdoor tented event setup with blue-themed table settings, floral arrangements, and wine on the tables under a white marquee.


Wedding reception

Wedding receptions in the UK typically come straight after cocktail hour and in the middle of the afternoon.

After the service guests are invited to have a drink and relax while the formal group photos of the couple and their immediate family are being completed. This is an informal part of the day and whilst the main photographer is capturing the group photos the second photographer, if the couple choose to have one, will be taking candid, photojournalist images of the activity and emotions they see around them.

When the group photos and cocktail hour is completed we are ready for the wedding reception.

This is a typical wedding reception, let’s unpick it a bit.

Receiving line

A receiving line is usually made up of yourself and your now spouse, meeting and greeting every one of your guests as they go through into the wedding breakfast room.

Pro’s of a receiving line

It’s your chance to make sure that you get to see and talk to, all be it briefly, everyone who has come to your wedding, and trust me when I say that your day will fly by so this may be your only chance to see everyone.

Cons of a receiving line:

If the wedding day has slipped on the timeline (and quite often they do) due to traffic delays, makeup and hair or small clothes issues, then from a photography point of view the receiving line would be the one area that might need to be sacrificed if you are to get the family formal photos or couples portraits that you want. Other parts of the day, such as the wedding reception, cannot be moved without causing a great many problems.

A little story…..

I was shooting a wedding with a friend, and we were running over half an hour late traveling from the church to the reception, remember when I said in the wedding timeline about padding the timeline around transport, case in point. It has to be said we were not the only ones who were running late the entire wedding party including the bride and groom had also been held up by a major football match and the traffic which was running through the middle of town.

We finally arrived at the reception and set up for the group photos, by now the day was running behind by 45 minutes according to the wedding timeline. The receiving line for the wedding reception was due to start in 15 minutes, not enough time for group formals, and with half the guests still stuck in traffic the receiving line looked like it might need to be sacrificed in order to gain back the 30 minutes we needed for the group photos. We consulted with the bride and groom who decided that if they needed to they would sacrifice the receiving line as family group photos were more important to them as a couple.

I suppose what I am saying in this story is prepared to be flexible, communication between you, the photographer and the wedding co-ordinator will be crucial as changes to the wedding timeline can and do happen on the day. You may want to have a receiving line but regardless if the wedding is running late the wedding reception will still start on time so something may have to give and it is up to you what to decide what that needs to be and what is more important to you.

Wedding reception

Grand entrance

So everyone is now sat down and it’s time for your grand entrance. A grand entrance is just that, your guests clap and cheer as you and your new spouse walk into the wedding reception hand in hand, maybe to music, maybe a little bit of dancing, clapping by the guests, before taking your seats.

But this is your opportunity to really go to town.

An alternative Grand Entrance

An alternative might be to get your whole wedding party involved in your grand entrance.

  • The mother and father of each partner
  • Flower girls and Paige boys,
  • Grooms man coupled with a bridesmaid etc.

The venue co-ordinator, or the Master of Ceremonies, will then make the announcement that you are about to enter the room.

Grand entrance tips

Get your wedding party to take their time and dance their way to the table having fun with the guests as they go.

This allows me, as the photographer the opportunity to take some brilliant reaction and entertaining photos of you, your bridal party and your guests laughing and celebrating together.


Dinner begins: this is usually where I will take my break as no-one wants to have photographs taken while they are eating. I do ask my couples if they can place me nearby so that I can be on hand in case something happens. I also ask that they feed me as I am usually with you for up to 12 hours and of course need to have something to eat. Now this does not have to be a guest meal. Venues are quite used to supplying hot vendor meals so just speak to your venue about food and a drink for your photographer as this can work out significantly cheaper than a guest meal.

Couples portraits

Depending on the timeline and the time of the year you have your wedding your dinner may well fall within the sunset or golden hour. This is the best time of day to take your couples portraits. Any photographer should when talking through your timeline at a pre-wedding meeting be considering your couples portraits and the sunset. If they can see that the sunset will fall during your wedding dinner they may well suggest, as I would, that you consider going outside for a few minutes during dinner courses to take advantage of the beautiful light that the golden hour, sunset gives.


Normally speeches are given after the wedding breakfast, but there is a growing trend for speeches to be completed prior to the wedding breakfast, and I have to say I think this is a good idea. Let’s go through the pros and cons like we did before.

Pros of having early speeches:

You have spent a lot of money on your venue and making your venue look beautiful, and of course I will capture those details prior to your guests taking their seats, but equally your speech photos will look better with the flowers and tableware still in place. It just adds a quality to the photographs.

Cons of having early speeches:

You will be hungry, trust me. Wedding days are long (even I need to have a snack before we get to the wedding breakfast) and wedding breakfasts don’t usually happen until about 3 or 4pm so you miss lunch. To have speeches prior to your dinner means waiting a bit longer before you eat which may, or may not, be a problem for you but either way I would definitely advise you to have a snack prior to the ceremony.

Not a pro or a con, but may I suggest that your speakers all speak from one location, ideally the end of the table. This makes life so much easier from a photography point of view when lighting your photos.

After the speeches there is usually a bit of down time before your evening guests arrive and this, depending on the time of the year, may well be about sunset, a perfect time for your couple’s portrait session. Please see my article about couple’s portraits.

After your portrait session the evening reception is ready to begin and this is the time to party.

Couples usually have their evening guests arrive about 7pm and cut the cake at about 7.30pm.

Cutting the cake

Along with the first dance this charming tradition is one of those photo opportunities that every couple wants. The cake cutting represents the first activity done as a couple; just make sure you have the cake knife!

The bride and groom feeding each other cake

The second act of traditional cake cutting is when the bride and groom feed each other a small bite of cake. This can be romantic and sweet, symbolizing a commitment to provide for one another and a show of love and affection. Please see my article on How to choose your wedding cake.

First dance

As well as the official first dance, I like to suggest to my couples that they might like to consider a staged first dance. This is done earlier on in the day, before the guests come into the wedding reception. The idea behind it is to show you both as a couple, within this beautiful reception that you have created. It allows me as the photographer to get some photos of you both that it may not be possible to get in the official first dance. It certainly something to think about but again needs to be planned into the timeline if you would like to follow this route.

The first dance itself offers a lovely opportunity to get photos of the pair of you with your guests looking on, but if you are planning a surprise dance for your guests please let me know so I can get the best possible photos.

Father, daughter dance

Whilst you need to remember your wedding day is a big day for you and your future spouse it is also a big day for your parents, particularly for your father as this is a day that has probably been thinking about for a very long time. One way of spending a bit of precious time with your dad and to say thank you for all the love and care he has given you over the years is to consider a having father daughter dance. This dance normally takes place directly after the first dance and is a sweet way to show your love to this important man in your life. Choose a father, daughter dance song that has meaning to both of you and their will not be a dry eye in the room.

Night-time portraits including sparkler exit:

Whilst you are partying I will set up for some night time portraits. This is your chance to get that get that one artistic photo that you will want to hang on your wall and show off to all of your friends. Not officially part of the reception but something to consider in your timeline.

Time to party

That’s it. That’s your wedding reception, now it’s time to party. I will normally stay for a little while to get some dancing shots and then take my leave, leaving you both to party the night away with your friends and family.

About Helen Chapman Photography

My philosophy:

“To provide excellence by placing YOU, Your dreams, Your wants, Your needs in the heart of everything I do”.

“To create beautifully, naturally, authentic, fun, romantic heirloom photography, that YOU are guaranteed to love and that will be cherished by future generations to come”.

“To provide YOU with a truly exceptional service through following my core beliefs of honesty, fairness, integrity, determination and creativity.”

I have been helping couples plan their weddings in the stunning natural landscape of the Devon countryside, rugged moorland of Dartmoor and spectacular seascape of the coastline of Devon, Somerset, and Cornwall for years and I’m using that experience and relationship with a great network of wedding vendors to help you plan your special wedding day. Why not take a look at my Client resources pages & Check my availability for your wedding and book a call today.