Dancefloor wedding photography

Photographing the dancefloor at a wedding can be very different to photograph everything that has led up to it. The rest of the day is probably more formal, but the first dance and beyond is no less important, especially if, like myself, you want to tell the whole story of the day.

Wherever possible, I always like to stay beyond the first dance at a wedding, to capture the whole wedding party on the dancefloor. 

There are three different types of photograph I look for when photographing the dancefloor action at a wedding; the black and white silhouette shot, the 'environmental' light shot, and the 'action packed' shot.

First up, it might be worth talking about the equipment I use.

Photographic equipment for dancefloor wedding photography

I generally try to be as minimalistic as I possibly can throughout the wedding day with my photo gear, so the dancefloor might well be the first time my flashes come out. Here's what I have:

  • Two flashes
  • Two transceivers
  • A flash controller (for the top of the camera)
  • Two lighting stands

I check with the venue and DJ where the first dance will be and put up the lighting stands at the back or corners of the room, where people won't trip over them. The transceivers go on top, then the flashes on top of them. The flash controller goes on my camera. This bit of kit means that I can control the power of both flashes from wherever I am in the room, without any trailing wires.

I tend to use my 35mm prime lens for all my dancefloor shots.

Black and White silhouette shots of the first dance

Hopefully you should be able to pick out these shots yourself (the third and sixth photos for those that couldn't!).

I set my camera up at something like f/11, 1/200 shutter speed and ISO 400, and then convert the Raw files to black and white after the wedding. I position myself directly opposite the lights with the couple in between. 

These sort of shots are great for getting all of the background clutter out of the photograph, so that you can get a romantic, classy shot of the bride and groom. The high aperture ensures you get the starburst effect on the flash as in the third photo. In the sixth photo I had opened the aperture up to get more detail into the brides face, which changed the look of the light behind. The high shutter speed means that you get crisp, sharp images even as the couple are moving.

Environmental photographs of the wedding dancefloor

You can see examples of this type of shot in photos two and five. I will just crank up the ISO on my camera, shoot wide open and drop the shutter speed and shoot the available light. Typically this will be a mixture of window light, house lights and whatever set-up the DJ has; often lasers or multi-coloured moving lights. You can never tell what you are going to be working with until the day, so you just have to go with the flow with these type of photos. I often change these photos to black and white as it can be impossible to get a correct white balance, and I often get harsh colour casts on my subjects from a stray beam of green light, for instance.

Action-packed wedding dancefloor photos

I usually take these photos after the first dance, when all of the guest are up and partying and everyone has had a drink. I set my shutter speed somewhere between 1/4 of a second and 1/15, set my aperture to something high like f/8 and my ISO around 200. I use back button focusing or manually focus to around 2 metres or less, as using autofocus on a dark dancefloor with moving people means most of your shots will be out of focus even with the best camera. I then put one of the flashes on my camera and dial it in to a low setting such as 1/16 or 1/32 power. I angle the flash so that it is pointing directly at my subject and zoom it in as far it will go. Again, I use a wide angle prime lens, usually 35mm.

Once it comes to actually taking the photographs I have to be brave and get in really close to my subjects - I actually get onto the dancefloor in amongst the action. I try to shoot with lights behind my subject and then move the camera as I take the shot. All of this means that the general scene will be blurred, but the flash will freeze your subject. As many of my other dancefloor shots are in black and white, I tend to keep these action shots in colour.

It's tough to describe, but the photos should tell you everything you need to know. I hope that they capture the energy, colour, movement and excitement of the dancefloor at a wedding.

So that's my guide to wedding photographs on the dancefloor. Which style do you prefer? Which style have I missed? Let me know in the comments below.