How To: Seating Chart Photo Display


A make-it-yourself conversation starter

by Elizabeth Culatta

How To: Seating Chart Photo Display | A Practical Wedding

The Set Up

I’m not crafty in a sew-your-own wedding dress or design-your-own centerpieces kind of way—more in a spreadsheets on Word, tables on flowcharts kind of way. Organized, I guess you’d call that. So, this was the perfect project for me. It was time intensive, but our Seating Chart Photo Display ended up being one of my favorite elements of our wedding.

The Project

This idea is pretty straightforward: find a meaningful picture for each of your wedding guests and write their table number on the back. Ideally, the picture is of one of you together with this guest. Display all the pictures at the wedding. Guests will find their picture, take it down, and know where they’re sitting, while having a ready-made conversation starter in the form of a picture of you and them. It’s a way to have a photo display of every person at the wedding, but also serves as an opportunity to put up some sweet (in every sense of the word) pictures of friends and family.

How To: Seating Chart Photo Display | A Practical Wedding

What You’ll Need to Make It Happen

  • Two poles
  • Twine
  • Clothespins
  • Labels (or a pen)
  • A picture of each of your guests (preferably posing with one of you)
  • An instructional sign

The first step is to source pictures of you with your guests. Choosing the pictures is the time-intensive part, so make sure to set aside enough time for that. Once you’ve chosen your pictures, you’ll need them to all be printed at the same size. We ordered all our photos online at ten cents a print.

Next, you’ll need to create labels for the backs of the photos. You can also write directly on the backs, but if you have a fairly large guest list, computer-printed labels are the way to go. We used a label template in Microsoft Word to print our guests’ names, our wedding date, and the words “Table Number” on the back, leaving the actual number blank. I can’t recommend that one tip enough—things change the week of the wedding, and though my original plan was to slap another label over top if necessary (I printed a stack of extras) just waiting to write in the uncertain ones at the last minute was critical. We also chose to print out instructional signs to include in the display, letting people know that these were their table numbers.

Finally, setting up the actual photo display depends on your venue. We liked the idea of being able to walk around it—some of the pictures might not have been very recognizable to our guests—so we wanted to set up a freestanding display. But if you don’t have the option or space to create that, you could suspend this on a wall instead, and your guests could always just flip the pictures over.

To create our freestanding display, the wonderful owners of our venue found two pieces of rebar that were about two feet tall and stuck them in the ground. They covered these shorter pieces of rebar with seven-foot tall pieces of bamboo. The rebar provided a strong, sturdy base to the nicer looking bamboo.

The size of your guest list will determine the number of rows of twine and the distance of the poles. To hang 133 pictures plus three 8″ x 11″ instructional signs, we placed our poles ten feet apart and tied eight rows of twine. When you’re determining the width of the display, it’s important to leave enough space so the pictures aren’t crowded—wider is better. Also, we wanted people to be able to reach the pictures without having to crouch down or stretch up too high, so we took that into consideration when figuring out how large to make it.

The Issues

The hardest part was figuring out which pictures to choose. Trust me, I sunk some hours into finding that one picture that best encapsulates our whole relationship for several of my close friends. With other guests (especially our parents’ friends) it was a bit of a scavenger hunt, and we made peace with being creative for some of their pictures. For our lovely neighbors, we had a picture of their house because we somehow never had a picture with them in it. I agonized over hurt feelings or having someone not feel special, but seriously nobody seemed too torn up about it.

How To: Seating Chart Photo Display | A Practical Wedding

Why It Was Worth It

The vast majority of the pictures were meaningful and sweet for us and each guest. The picture of my brother telling me a secret while I giggle my fool six-year-old head off. That picture of my fiancé’s grandmother giving him a kiss while he focuses on his bacon biscuit—she didn’t put it down all night.

Even if we didn’t get to discuss each picture with each guest the day of the wedding, we certainly thought about it in the weeks leading up to the wedding and people have brought it up now, post-wedding. This was also a great way for our moms to get involved and in the wedding mood. Looking back at old pictures of their friends, some of whom they had not seen in years, who would be attending the upcoming wedding was a good change of pace from predictably tense conversations about specific wedding logistics.

On the wedding day, I loved looking around at all our people and seeing the pictures as a conversation starter. Guests seated at tables with people they didn’t know could ask about the other person’s picture and immediately have a story to tell or a connection to explain. Seeing the full display finally come together (despite the torrential downpour a couple hours before our outdoor wedding) was pretty cool (and a relief) but seeing people holding their pictures and showing them to each other was downright magical.

How To: Seating Chart Photo Display | A Practical Wedding

Elizabeth Culatta

Elizabeth Culatta is a fifth year graduate student working toward a PhD in Sociology at a Southern university. When not planning a wedding or fighting statistical analysis programs, she can be found reading novels, playing with her hound dog, and traveling with her husband to visit dear friends in far flung places.


The Info:

Photographer: Jesse Kitt Photography | Venue: Brahma Ridge Event Center

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  • Amanda

    Man….I seriously thought about doing this 1000 times, my husband must have brought it up 2000 times….I just couldn’t sign up for the logistics of it but, WOW, does this post make me wish we had! So, so cool.

    Also, I totally didn’t even consider the advantages of a project like this helping to circumvent some of those intense pre-wedding parent convos!

  • Moe

    I just collected the wedding photos of my married guests to use as part of my table centerpieces, I printed them all in black & white for some uniformity and style. That alone took some time, but so worth it. People took them home afterwards.

    • vegankitchendiaries

      Uh… so this is rad.

    • anon

      The picture centerpieces look cool, but I would feel pretty uncomfortable singling out (pun intended) non-married guests or unintentionally hurting guests whose marriages weren’t so swell at the moment. I guess this is a know-your-audience sort of thing.

      • Meg Keene

        I think it can go either way, and goodness knows Moe knows about that. She’s talked at length here about marrying late, and how that made her re-think her values: http://apracticalwedding.com/2014/04/ignoring-age-timelines/

        That said, I think there is a way where we can honor one group without dis-honoring another. And the truth is, when we get married, we join the ranks that go back through time of married folks, who are all fighting it out one day at a time. For me it’s actually NOT about honoring people who’s marriages are “swell” at any moment in time, it’s just about honoring how goddamn hard it is, and how you’re not doing this on your own.

        • Moe

          Thanks Meg! One of my friends did mention something about not featuring single friends. But I really wanted to honor marriage in this way. A few guests opted not to give me a photo when asked, and that was perfectly ok too.

          At my wedding I asked my friend to do a reading and at the time she and her husband were on the verge of separating after decades of marriage, two kids and grandchildren. She asked me if I was sure I wanted her to stand up and read considering where her own marriage was at. I was sure. Even now as I look back at my photos, it’s a reminder to me that I signed up for the long haul in marriage whether its good or bad. (My friend has since then reconciled with her husband. Even if they had divorced though, it would not change my decision to have her be a part of my day.)

        • anon

          Moe’s post is really beautiful and thoughtful. I think this comes down to friend circles, and among the circles I travel in, there would be some very hurt feelings and people who felt marginalized by something like this. Recently I’ve had a bunch of conversations with some friends who find the very notion of teams or joining ranks problematic or hurtful, and I wouldn’t want to contribute to that, Life is hard enough without unintentionally treading on prickly ground. I’ve come to appreciate through these conversations that even as I’m engaged and ready to embark on the work of marriages, I’m not the only one working hard. All of my people are pushing hard at life and relying on others in ways I hadn’t really considered before some of these engagement-prompted conversations.

          That said, I can see how the pictures honor marriage and contain a valuable message/aura.

          • Meg Keene

            Oh god yes, we’re all working hard. It’s just that marriage is it’s own particular kind of work, and it helps to have some sort of a community of people who can understand what you’re in, when you’re in it. It’s the same way that it helps to have a new mom to call (I don’t have a ton but I have a few) when I’m sleep training. My non-mom friends can help in other valuable ways (take the baby for a night so I can sleep), but I need someone who’s in it to be able to empathize, and I need that sometimes. We all need that.

            So, while we’re all on the same team, I think it’s not helpful to not be able to identify the bounds between people doing the same thing as what we’re doing at the same time. I’m not less close to my non-mom friends because I have mom friends (in fact, sometimes the opposite is true). But I really do need people who deeply first person understand my struggles. And let’s be for real, over the long haul, there are always times when marriage is a struggle.

      • ktmarie

        For our picture display (see my post below) for single friends we had a picture that included one of us or we used a group picture and just had the same picture for 3-5 people. I agree you sometimes would just have to go on a case-by-case basis.

    • Meg Keene

      Oh, I love that a lot. You often see people do that for their family, but I like the idea of joining a community of other people traveling down the married road, in good times and bad.

    • Moe

      PS: Photo prints are WAY CHEAPER than floral centerpieces. Just sayin.

  • Lauren

    amazing!

  • Penfield

    This is the coolest idea — and incidentally, maybe it’s also a good “should I invite this person to the wedding?” litmus test. If you’re having a larger wedding and on the fence about whether or not a person should be invited, if you (and no one else involved in the wedding planning) can generate a single “seating chart photo” idea, maybe the person doesn’t need to be invited. There were definitely a few people at my wedding whose pictures I didn’t have and whom I would have had no idea how to encapsulate with any other kind of photo representation, even with help from other guests who knew them better. :-D

    • LifeSheWrote

      Totally a great test. And sometimes people who you don’t have the perfect picture for are coming anyway as they’re important to one of your parents… but this drove home for us that the heartbreaking culling we had to do of our original all-inclusive giant list for money/space issues was actually spot on.

    • Alyssa M

      I like this idea, until I think about my own guest list. Like, the number of people invited as dates to people I love? HUGE… but there’s not a chance I have a picture of either of us with the Best Man’s wife… Also my partner’s totally awesome boss who has known him for years and even picks him up for work when it’s too cold outside to bike? Definitely invite worthy, not a picture anywhere…

      • Penfield

        Oh, sure sure. If the test was having an actual picture of the guest, I think the test would fail. I was imagining more the OP’s discussion about substituting in other photos to represent the desk. For some of my dad’s dear friends, I could definitely think photos of specific special geographical places, sports teams, buildings, etc. that represent them and that would be special to them. For his not so dear ones, I think both of us would be at a loss of what to pick.

      • LifeSheWrote

        Yeah, for a handful of people we used other pictures that would be meaningful to the person. Like I invited my grad school advisor who I’ve known for 5 years but don’t have a picture of – so we used a random picture from when my Mom met her college roommate and they took a picture of the bizarre coincidence. (Barring that, I was planning to use a picture of our academic building.) You can see in the first picture, bottom left, a shot of our longtime neighbors’ house. We even used a silly engagement picture of us for a one couple (friends of my parents) and just clearly labeled it on the back. None of the people for whom we used other pictures were confused about where to sit (though we did have a cousin “on it” in case people were really confused).

  • Jenni

    Oh. My. God. I love this …. It’s personal, it doesn’t seem too expensive, just time intensive. I have less than two months until the wedding, I wonder if I could do this or if it would just drive me nuts. Hmm …

    • LifeSheWrote

      You can do it! And it will drive you nuts!

      How many guests do you have? Do you have some families you’re seating together that you can use one picture for? Leave time for the pictures to come in and you to label them and, if you can, assign someone else to put it up on your wedding day! Would love to see a picture if you decide to do it…

      • Jenni

        Thank you for the encouragement!! >.< I emailed my MOH and mom to ask what they thought. I'm hoping that we'll have around 120 guests but I'm started to get worried that we might end up with more than that. The hardest would be some friends/relatives of my mom and a bunch of people on my fiance's side; hopefully his parents could help with that …

        • LifeSheWrote

          Yeah, my mom and mother-in-law were hugely helpful in tracking down pictures of relatives. Friends were easy to find from my own photos and Facebook but I absolutely could not have found pictures of relatives without their help. I had my mom and MIL upload their pictures directly to Shutterfly and then I edited/organized from there (so, knowing that we still needed a picture of this person, etc.). I started 10 weeks out from our wedding (after putting it off a lot because I was worried about having ONE MORE PROJECT that would be time intensive) and finished in plenty of time, with help. We had 130 guests but we used some pictures to represent a couple/family sitting at the same table so there were fewer photos than guests.

    • sara g

      Ha, I have just under 3 weeks left and I’m here wondering if I can pull this off.
      No, self, this is not a good idea to take on now. No.

      • dearabbyp

        Haha me too — just under 4!! I just emailed fiance and said, “what if I scrap everything else and just do this instead?” I’d rather have this than program fans, even if it will be 90 when I get married.

  • ktmarie

    I would also consider myself a very non-crafty person but I knew I wanted to do something with pictures of our guests. We did a similar idea but made magnet-polaroid photos (printed the pictures on a polaroid ‘border’ template and then attached them to a sheet of adhesive backed magnet paper from Michaels) and just stuck them on a magnetic white board. The best thing is every time we visit friends or family, we see their table magnet on the fridge! It took some time to crowd source pictures of guests we didn’t know as well, but we asked for our parents’ help.

    • Moe

      I don’t know what it is about polaroids that’s so awesome and nostalgic.

    • Michele

      This sounds so cute! Do you have a photo you could share?

  • Megan

    Love this idea! Bummed that I missed this past weekend’s Shutterfly offer of 101 free prints….will need to keep my eyes open for the next one!

    • LifeSheWrote

      I totally used Shutterfly with one of their 101 free print offers. They come around pretty often. I was worried one wouldn’t work out with the timing of ours so we went ahead and ordered some of them pre-sale but that was a nice little discount.

      If you use Shutterfly, be aware that they automatically edit your print in ways that are usually spot-on but can result in heads getting cut off. You can adjust which part of the picture gets printed, but I didn’t know that the first time I used it and was surprised when I lost a strip at the top of some pictures!

  • Moe

    If this is too much to coordinate for a wedding, I think it’s also a great idea for a wedding or bridal shower.

    • Meg Keene

      Yesss.

  • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

    This is a most awesome idea!

    Seeing as we’re already married I’m trying to figure out what other events in our lives we could do something like this for.

    • LifeSheWrote

      Anniversary party? Or something kid related – like a birthday party? Or a wedding or baby shower for a friend/family member? I don’t ever intend to have a seating chart at any of my future events again, but the “picture of everybody coming with the guest of honor” could still be sweet even without the seating chart aspect….

  • Ash

    We did this for our wedding, but we formatted them to Polaroid style! It was prob the most labour intensive of everything we did but by far the most popular. We also used copies of the pictures as the guest book so we have a collection of photos of our friends with their message on the back.

    • Ash

      Oh and for the parents friends that we didn’t have photos for we drew (very bad) cartoons, which thankfully everyone found hilarious!

      • LifeSheWrote

        That’s a great idea! We did a couple silly engagement pictures of us for friends of our parents we barely knew and they were totally fine with it. I love the idea of drawing a cartoon though (with or without drawing skills)!

  • Nell

    I LOVE this! How did you handle, for example, an old friend who has a spouse coming to the wedding that you have never met? Two names on one card?

    • LifeSheWrote

      Yep! That happened on both sides for with several couples. We just put both names on the back of the same picture since we were seating them together anyway. For some families that we were really close to, we had a separate picture for each family member, even if they were all sitting together. For an old friend (or an old friend of our parents) with a new (or new-to-us) spouse, we just did a picture of us with the old friend and included the spouse’s name on the back of that same picture. I agonized a bit over the disparity but nobody seemed to notice at all (or at least, thankfully, didn’t bring it to our attention). Actually, some of the spouses we met for the first time at the wedding commented on the photo display when they said hello to us (which, of course, prompted me to mentally identify what “their” picture looked like – and most weren’t even in the shot). It’s ok, they know they’ve never met you before too.

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  • Nic

    I LOVE this! One logistical question though: how would you handle dates of guests? We’re not doing a generic “and guest” for our guests, but we are inviting all significant others and are making no judgement calls about how significant, so there will be people there we hardly know or have never met. How would you handle this?

    • LifeSheWrote

      We only allowed two guests to bring dates that we didn’t know (part of that heartbreaking culling process of reducing our guest list) because many people were partnered and ones who weren’t would know other friends at the wedding to hang out with, except for the two people that we reasoned would feel more comfortable if they were allowed to bring dates we’d never met. For those two people, I texted them for the name of their date and then used a picture of the friend. (So there were two pictures of dear friend Jim, one with Jim’s name on it and one with Jim’s date’s name on it, placed next to each other so they wouldn’t miss it.) You could also put both names on the back of one picture or if there are two many dates coming for you to track them all down I’d suggest putting “and guest” as you would on an invitation. Names when possible, or “Jim and Guest,” if not. (Or something unique to you guys like “and sweetheart” or “and friend” or “and significant other.” I don’t know… I stuck with “guest” on the invites, but other terms could certainly work depending on your crowd.)

    • LifeSheWrote

      Oh and for the dates/significant others of guests for whom we put up a second picture (as opposed to two names on the back of one picture), we chose a pretty silly photo of their significant other/our friend. Especially because there were several girlfriends who we had never met before (or only once) despite their being with our friend for awhile because they live far away. Each girlfriend seemed to appreciate the funny picture of her boyfriend and get a good laugh out of seeing a ridiculous shot of them from long ago.

  • Julie

    I LOVE this and would totally do it if only my fiancé actually had any photos of himself, let alone with people in his family!

  • SarahN

    Love love love it – I’m a ‘creative’ the same way you describe yourself, and there’s nothing I love more is than cataloging photos!! I’d just do this for anything really!

  • msditz

    I almost never have “wedding regret” because I hate going back and thinking, “if only…” But this is for sure something that makes me think, “damn! I wish we did that at our wedding!”

  • Stacy {Woodsy Weddings}

    I love this idea, not only does it make sitting at a table with acquaintances easier, but it shows you thought about each person.

  • dearabbyp

    My day-of-coordinator suggested pinning these to cork board as she has an easel we can use to stand it up. Just a thought for anyone who got a little nervous about constructing and transporting something.

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