The wedding meal

It is now less common for there to be a formal “line-up” greeting as wedding guests make their way into the room for the meal. This is a loss in some ways as a line-up is an opportunity to take some nice close-up photographs of the main family members. Almost everyone will greet guests with a smile and this often makes for really relaxed and happy faces in the photographs.

The problem with a line-up is that it can take quite some time and more often these days guests will go straight in and wait for the bride and groom to join them. Whether or not there has been a line-up the entry of the bride and groom will almost always be announced and guests will stand and applaud to greet them.

It is worth checking the route that the couple will take to get to their seats and maybe even advising them as to the best way to go so that you can get good pictures. I also remind them that it is nice if they hold hands and take their time as they make their way through the room. I started to do this after seeing a couple walk into a dining room and then separate and take two totally different routes around the tables to their places – It did not look the best way to start a marriage and certainly did not make for good photographs!

The view will be obscured to some extent when all the guests stand so it is important not to be caught out. I often use the technique of holding the camera above my head, it is a little risky but I think worth it because it can produce some really dynamic and interesting photographs.

The traditional time for wedding speeches was after the meal but they are now more frequently made before the meal is served. This means that the speakers can then enjoy their food (and drink!) having got what is often a nerve racking few moments out of the way.

As with all my wedding photography I like to keep as low a profile as possible, in this case literally low as I find the best place to shoot from is kneeling or sitting on the floor in front of the top table. This way I can get a good view without blocking the view of seated guests. The first few seconds as someone stands are important as this is sometimes the only time that they look out and smile towards the guests before nerves take over. I watch for interactions between people as as the speeches take place – a bride taking her fathers hand, a husband bending to kiss his new wife, the groom putting his head in his hands at some revelation by the best man – these and similar photographs give a visual clue as to the content of the speeches.

Photographs of people eating are rarely attractive and so, after taking some wide views of the room, I take the opportunity for a short break at this point. Even so it is worth keeping an eye on what is happening in the dining room as, towards the end of the meal, the couple will often move around meeting friends and family that are seated at the various tables. These more casual meetings often make good pictures.

The last formal part of the wedding meal is usually the cutting of the wedding cake. If I am not staying through to photograph into the evening then I set up a “mock” cake cutting before guests come into the dining room. Backgrounds and light can sometimes be a problem here; the venue will have positioned the cake but are not likely to have given any thought to where it is from a photographer’s point of view. Even so I always position the couple to get the best possible photograph where the cake has been placed –I have never thought the risk of trying to move the wedding cake to be worthwhile! As well as the couple with the cake, pictures of guests gathering round to take their own pictures can make effective photographs too.

There may be a long break after the meal or, depending on the timings for the day, guests for the evening might have started to arrive even before it is finished. I will look at covering that in my next post

Links to previous posts in this series by Lincolnshire wedding photographer Chris Marsh:

Part 1 Getting ready for the wedding

Part 2 At the wedding venue

Part 3 The bride arrives

Part 4 The Ceremony 

Part 5 Formal wedding group photographs

Part 6 The Golden Hour