Photographing a Receiving Line: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

I have a love hate relationship with a few things in my life.  Exercise, for one.  I love how I feel after a good workout, but I truly despise the actual work itself.  Nature is another.  I love the beauty and serenity of the great outdoors; but I hate the fact that I sunburn all too easily and swell beyond recognition with just a few black fly bites.  My most intense love/hate relationship; however,  has to be with receiving lines!

I love the fact that a receiving line allows the couple some personal time with their friends and families and this always results in beautiful candid shots to compliment the collection of memories produced during the day.  So why the hate-on with receiving lines?

The secret of a successful receiving line is in it’s execution.  A poorly planned and poorly executed receiving line tops my list of ‘things I hate’ as they are excruciatingly frustrating to photograph successfully and can cause major delays in a wedding day.

So what constitutes a successful receiving line?

Schedule more time for it than you think you’ll need!  If you think that you’ll get 125 guests through a receiving line in less than 30 minutes, you’re kidding yourself.  In a receiving line, the average guest will take about 20 seconds of your time.  Twenty seconds isn’t that long: a few seconds for a hug, a few more seconds for them to make a comment about how beautiful you look and then the obligatory “wishing you the best, many years of love, etc.” before they are ushered on to the next person in line.  Imagine you have 125 guests (which is fairly average for a typical wedding).  At 20 seconds per guest, plus a few minutes for the line to get organized and start as well as wrap up, you’re looking at ( 125 x 20 seconds ) + ( 5 minutes for the line to start + 5 minutes to wrap up and continue on to the next activity ) = 42 minutes + 10 minutes = 52 minutes.

What happens when you don’t schedule enough time for the receiving line:  You’re faced with a really awkward situation if you don’t allow enough time in your day for the receiving line.  You either have to walk away from your guests mid-line in order to stay on schedule or you must accept the fact that you’ll be running late for your next activity (which is typically photos, but more on that in a moment).  Running late for photos means a rushed photo session, less time for creative poses and overall, less photos of the bride and groom (which, let’s be honest, is what your day is all about!)

Choose a safe time of day for the receiving line!  Receiving lines do not need to be done immediately following the ceremony; in fact, receiving lines work much better if they occur during the cocktail hour or immediately before the reception.  When you choose to have your receiving lines immediately following the ceremony (and before photos), you run the risk of the receiving line running long.  After the ceremony, your guests are not concerned with where you need to be and what schedule you need to follow – they just want to congratulate you and give you a hug.  When the receiving line occurs during the cocktail hour or before the reception, your guests are more aware of what time it is and are looking forward to a delicious meal so the line has a tendency to move much faster.  (This sounds really silly, right?  But take it from someone who has seen it countless times!  When a guest is hungry, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that they’ll be in their seat on time for the reception instead of doddling in a receiving line making small talk with those in the line they don’t know… which brings me to my third point…)

Don’t put people in the receiving line who the majority of the guests don’t know.  Your great aunt Gladys isn’t going to want to make small talk with all six of the groomsmen.  Putting too many people in a receiving line will only cause it to run longer and it will force your guests to make small talk with many people they don’t know.  Bride and groom and sometimes, parents.  That’s all you really need.

Maximize the photographic opportunities: Bride and Groom should be the last people the guests meet in the receiving line!  The last people the guests should greet in the line are the bride and groom.  After the guests greet the bride and groom, it should be very clear to the guests as to where they need to go from there in order to prevent a build-up of people.  You may find that there are co-ordinators or officiants who suggest breaking up the receiving line into two portions: one portion with the wedding party/parents and the second part with the bride and groom only.  This way the guests can choose to eloquently skip the first part of the line if they feel like they don’t know the wedding party/parents well enough for kisses and hugs.  Even if you choose to separate your receiving line into two portions, it’s really important that you still ensure the bride and grooms are the last ones for the guest to see.  (Clearly, I cannot stress that enough!)

What happens when the bride and groom get lost in a swarm of people during the receiving line?  No matter what the cause of the build-up is, once there is a build-up of people in the receiving line, the photographer loses their view of the action!  You can’t take a photo if there are people blocking your way (nor is it at all polite for the photographer to shove people alone for the sake of a shot) so a cluttered and crowded receiving lines means that you’re losing out on the possibility of a whopping amount of beautiful and unique candid moments.


From a photographers perspective, receiving lines can be wonderful events that allow us to capture some of the moments that make your day truly unique – that is, when the receiving line is executed properly.  Instead of ending this article with a punchy little conclusion or a personal statement, I decided the best thing to do was to show you two of my favourite receiving line photos from a remarkably well organized and flawless wedding.  The genuinely candid emotion captured speaks for itself.

bride in receiving linebride and groom in receiving line




Similar Posts