Jessica McHale Photography

Choosing a Wedding Reception Venue

What would I look for in a reception venue if I were planning a wedding?

1 - The right size room. That seems like a no-brainer, but trust me, if you pack the max number of people into a room you’ll be bumping chairs with the next table and not really be able to move around all night. That limits mingling, conversation, and even dance floor movement. If you fall in love with a venue that has a room a little too large, that's an easier fix. Design an area for sitting with coffee tables, low lighting, snacks and couches, or make a game area. Having the right amount of space for your guest count goes a long way towards creating a great event! Pro tip: several of the venues I listed above have multiple rooms of different sizes so you can truly customize the space and flow for your wedding reception.

2 - Lighting. I really lean towards venues with outdoor space and lots of windows. Just a personal preference but natural light adds so much to the day, especially if you reception is going from day to night. The ambiance changes as the natural light fades and the glow of candles or chandeliers take over and it’s just gorgeous! Bonus - your photographs will have a huge variety of light throughout your event, creating visual interest.

3- Privacy. In my opinion it's such a nice touch to have a space that's all yours, where your guests are moving around in multiple rooms, spaces, or outdoor areas. Ask your venue how they manage events throughout the day to get a feel for what you and your guests will experience on your wedding day. Several venues in the area manage multiple events at once and still give everyone privacy, and many have more than one a day effectively. Whatever your preference, this is something to take into consideration when looking around.

4- Vendor rules. I would personally lean towards venues that do not lock you into certain vendors - you should have the option of choosing who best reflects your style, taste, and budget. The only exception to this is caterers. They have a ton of logistics to manage on the wedding day, from electricity to staff to huge rolling refrigerators. Several venues have tricky catering requirements and their recommendations will help your day go smoothly. As for other vendors - photographers, videographers, florists, etc, you should get to choose who you want as part of your team.

5 - Photographic opportunities. A good photographer can make great images anywhere, of course, But it's great to have multiple different spots for photos. I like to take family and group photographs near the cocktail area for logistical reasons, and then move away with the couple for more private images that have a completely different background. As night falls, I usually scout out an additional spot for outdoor photographs at sunset or twilight. It's great to have options and be able to move around a property. Bonus for having lots of different spots to choose from - your images don't look exactly like every other couple's images! Finally, a gorgeous venue is great, but doubly so if there are good photo opportunities regardless of weather. Indoor rooms with big windows are a favorite over here!

Other than that, make sure you are comfortable with the on-site coordinator and read your contract so there are no surprises. We are so incredibly lucky here on the east coast to have an incredible variety of incredible wedding and event venues. No matter if you are looking for something historic, formal, rustic, or urban.

I often get asked “have you been to my venue before?”

There’s lots of conflicting information out there if the photographer’s experience at your wedding venue should come into play when selecting who to hire. And my answer is: maybe. I know, not super clear but there are so many factors.

Some wedding venues are just more complicated to photograph at, wether it be logistics like getting around in the city, lighting, weird overhang ceilings over a dance floor (Warren Center and Red Lion Inn, for instance), dark walls, crazy mirrors (hello, Fairmont Copley Plaza ballroom!) - there can be lots of things. If you have a tricky venue it’s great to get a photographer who has photographed a full wedding there, BUT if they are experienced enough and are willing to take the time to research and even visit before your wedding, a fresh set of eyes can actually be a wonderful thing! Inviting a wedding photographer somewhere new will likely mean they are working harder to scout image locations and you'll end up with a fresh set of eyes, ideas, and an image collection that is uniquely yours! If you've worked with me and seen my face when a coordinator says "but everyone takes their photos on the stairs! oh, wait - your images look great nobody has ever does that before!" you'll know what I mean :)

Below is a *small* list of venues I've worked at recently. This is certainly not all of them - and it's just from memory, I'm sure I'm missing a lot! I've been photographing weddings since 2002 and have been to a a couple hundred venues in that time. I have my favorites, of course, but honestly get much more attached to great clients then I do to venues. If you are wondering if I've been to yours, feel free to ask!

Massachusetts Wedding Venues

A few of the venues I've enjoyed photographing at in Massachusetts are: Avenir, Barker House, Borsari Gallery, Boston Aquarium, Boston Museum of Science, Boston Park Plaza, Boston Public Library, Canoe Club Ballroom, Cape Cod Museum of Art, Chequessett Yacht Club, Codman Estate, College Club of Boston, Colonel Blackington Inn, Commanders Mansion, Endicott Estate, Fairmont Copley Plaza, Fogg Art Museum, Granite Links, Hampshire House, Harvard Club of Boston, Independence Harbor, Kalmar Village, Lake Pearl, Lakeview Pavilion, Lanam Club, Lenox Hotel, Lyman Estate, Meditech, Nauticus Marina, Omni Parker House, Rob Burton Training Village, Rowes Wharf, Salem Cross Inn, Saphire Estate, The Barn at Gibbet Hill, The Connors Center, The Liberty Hotel, The Mansion on Turner Hill, The Red Lion Inn, The State Room, The Villa at Ridder Country Club, Warren Conference Center, Westin Copley Place, Westin Seaport, Willowbend Country Club, and Willowdale Estate. Also so many on Cape Cod I can't remember them all!

Rhode Island Wedding Venues

In Rhode Island, I've enjoyed wineries, beaches, city, and mansion weddings. We really do have it all! Including Aldrich Mansion, Mount Hope Farm, Linden Place, Castle Hill Inn, Belle Mer, Warwick Country Club, Gracie’s, Blithewold Mansion Gardens & Arboretum, Hillside Country Club, Herreshoff Maritime Museum, Hotel Viking, Atlantic Resort and Wyndham Newport, Ocencliff Hotel, Harborlights, The Towers, Crestwood Country Club, Fort Adams, Biltmore Providence, Rosecliff, Regatta Place, Kirkbrae Country Club, The Squantum Association, Cove Cabin at Mount Hope Farm, and Glen Manor House.


Connecticut has it's own great list of wedding venues, including on of my favorite above the Lord Thompson Manor. I've also photographed at the Mystic Seaport, The Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station, Mystic Yachting Club at Willow Point, and Saltwater Farm Vineyard.

New Hampshire

With summers in NH since I was a kid, there are many areas in the white mountains that feel like home. I have photographed at several of them including Wolfeboro Inn, Church Island on Squam Lake, and Squam Lakes Natural Science Center. Somebody please take me to the mountaintop ceremony space on Loon Mountain! I literally gasped when I hiked up there the first time!


Maine is slightly more of a drive but there's nothing like it! Clients have taken me to Portland and Camden for weddings.


Fun fact: I started my wedding photography career in Ann Arbor Michigan and photographed all throughout the state for two years. My favorite location there, hands down, is the Henry Ford Estate in Dearborn.

I'd love to hear where you are hosting your event!

All images and text ©2005-2024 Jessica McHale Photography.