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Chapter 11

Ultimate Guide to

Cutting the Cake & First Dance Photography

 Cutting the Cake, the First Dance & Evening Celebrations Wedding Photography


Bride Dancing with Father for Porchester Hall Wedding Photography

Father and daughter enjoying being purely in the moment as they dance together. Your wedding photographer should strive for shots as special as this.

Cutting the Wedding Cake

A  short time after the meal, the newly-weds usually cut the cake.  This ancient tradition probably stems from ancient Rome, where a wheat cake was smashed over the bride’s head to bring the couple good luck.  Thankfully, I’ve never seen this happen at any weddings I’ve photographed, although it would make for some great photos!

Disclaimer:  I don’t advocate smashing anything over anyone’s head at weddings or anywhere else generally!

Black and white portrait of couple cutting cake behind 'Love' letters

Kolbe & Rebecca had a lovely display around their cake. This helped make for a more striking portrait of their cutting.

Wedding Cake Display

The cake is generally displayed prominently throughout the reception for guests to admire and take photos of.  Sometimes it’s at the side of the room throughout the day, then brought into a central location for the cutting.  This situation suits me more, as sometimes it’s awkward to pose the couple when the table is against a wall or in a corner.  If the background isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing, don’t worry – the photographer should make it look much better than in reality.

Groom and Best Man Carrying Wedding Cake

The cake location wasn’t ideal when Patrick arrived at the reception, so he and a guest moved it for the cutting. The moving made for a nice photo moment too.

Wedding cake displayed on beer barrel in Old Barn, Pencoed House Estate

An example of the cake having been moved to a better spot for the cutting. It was moved again for the first dance.

Posing the Cake Cutting

Often the cutting is announced by a DJ or MC and guests gather round to watch the bride and groom as they cut their first slice of their wedding cake.  This can seem a little intimidating for the more introvert couple.  Couple’s are always unsure where and how to stand but usually manage a fairly relaxed pose it with guidance.  The best position is for them to stand to the side of the cake, with the groom’s arms around his bride.  He then places his hands over hers whilst she is holding the knife.  With encouragement from guests, they generally relax into it and the cutting happens without incident.

The bride sees the funny side of the cake cutting

Soumeya definitely saw the funny side whilst I set up for the shot.  The moments just before the serious pose can be the most fun.  I’m always looking out for the more memorable moments such as this.

Cake Cutting Shenanigans

As a documentary photographer shooting candid moments, the cake cutting never used to appeal to me very much.  Then I saw the humour in the situation.  It reminds me very much of the ‘Dummy Register‘ as explained in Chapter 5 – Signing the Register.  Everyone feels a little bit silly, but goes along with it as it’s become an expected part of the day.  If you do feel daft during the cutting, feel free to ham it up a bit.  Pretend stabbings are popular (be very careful though!)  It also makes for some great photos when the pair feed each other.  I don’t spend a huge amount of time photographing the cutting of the cake, but have come to realise that there’s more potential in it than first meets the eye…

Below is a selection of some fun cake cutting shots I took at recent weddings:

Bride and Groom carefully cutting the wedding cake in London cafe

Some couples just get on with it and don’t mind the onlookers and photographer.

Bride being fed wedding cake by groom pulling funny face

I often ask the couple to feed one another a piece of the cake which makes for much more fun photos as they delight in shoving far too much into each other’s mouths! I love the look on Amanda’s face here as Mick feeds her a slice of cake – a whole slice by the look of it!

The bride pretends to stab the bride at London wedding

Here’s that fake stabbing shot – Paloma takes a knife out to her new husband. He survived to enjoy the first dance though!

The bride laughing whilst cutting her wedding cake

They did get round to having a fairly sensible cutting which Paloma laughed through.

Groom looking enthusiastic as he cuts wedding cake with new wife

Adam totally hammed up the cutting to make a mixture of a serious and silly cake shot.

Couple kissing whilst cutting the wedding cake in Cardiff

Adam’s humour quickly turned to passion he and Melissa share a quick cake cutting kiss as their guests look on…

Groom giving thumbs up and bride licks fingers after the cake cutting

Job done! Thomas gives a thumbs up as Melissa licks her fingers…

The First Dance

The couple’s first dance is one of my favourite times of the day for capturing some stunning images.  It’s the time that the couple’s true love for each other really shines through.    Photography that personifies the couple and their new marriage is highly likely. As friends and family gather round and the lights dim, they launch into a carefully rehearsed (or not!) routine to a favourite and meaningful song.

Bride and groom embracing during first dance at Cardiff wedding

Most couples are so ‘in the moment’ that they rarely notice the photographer circling them during their first dance.

Poor Lighting for Ambience, not Photography

I’m never quite sure until it happens, how the lighting will be and have to quickly act to adapt appropriately.  DJ’s often love to dim the lights and use their own ‘disco’ lights for ambience.  This means I have to work fast to adjust the camera settings to both preserve the atmosphere and to get the shot.

NB: In poor light situations, conversion to black and white works well and colours can appear muddy and dull.

Guest with top off dancing with bride at wedding with band in the background

The lighting during the dancing at this Cardiff wedding was really poor. By pushing my camera to it’s limits, I took a series of atmospheric and fun shots that the couple loved.

Lighting effects shot of couple dancing at wedding

A guest couple dancing post first dance: The lighting was dim, but with a mixture of direct flash and clever camera work, I took a series of unusual and striking dancing shots.  I utilised the disco lights to good effect here.

How to Photograph the First Dance

It’s very important that the newly-weds feel confident and relaxed going into their first dance.  Alcohol usually plays a large part in how they and their guests feel and behave from the reception onwards (more on that below).  I try to chat with them beforehand and ask them not to worry about what I’m doing but just to enjoy their moment together.

As far as the photography is concerned, discretion is important, but I do use a wide lens and need to go in quite close for the more intimate close-ups. I feel it is important to take a mixture of these and some wider, more contextual shots with guests in the background looking on which adds context. I like to take a sequence of shots if possible as this works well over a double spread in the wedding album.

Light Hearted First Dance at Hampton Court House

Don’t worry if you can’t dance. Emma and Ben couldn’t, but played on this and had a fun filled first dance.

Top First Dance Tip:  Couples are sometimes unsure about having a first dance as they feel they will embarrass themselves. Don’t worry – just ‘be together‘.  Go for it and have fun (as in the photo above).  However you approach your dance is up to you, but don’t overthink it and do try to enjoy it…  As far as photography goes, I think it is crucial to have a first dance as it really finishes off the set of photographs and the results can be well worth the effort.

Groom lifting groom at LGBTQ wedding in London

Grooms Stewart and Marco couldn’t really dance but did know how to have fun and threw themselves fully into the first dance at their same-sex wedding.

Bride and Groom kissing whilst dancing under streamers from balloons

A three piece play whilst Gloria and Oliver have their first dance. The streamers from the balloons made for some unusual shots when I moved closer.

We’ve Danced Together, Now What?

At some point before the end of the first dance song, the couple usually beckon everyone else to come and join them on the dance floor.  During the second song, the floor is often busy with everyone wanting to dance and it can be tricky to negotiate my way between people to get shots of the dancing and fun.  I don’t mind this at all.

The couple themselves often dance with parents: the groom dances with his mum, whilst the bride sways with her father as below.

Groom pointing at camera whilst leading mother on to the dance floor

Groom Kolbe takes to the dance floor with his mum. I love it when this happens as it extends the family dancing a little bit and is very poignant and meaningful.

Bride and groom about to give first dance at wedding in London

Annabel and James take to the floor for their first dance…

Chinese bride laughing with wedding guest

Natural moments of the bride interacting with guests are most plentiful during the evening party. I try to take as many of these moments as possible to add to the couple’s photographic memories.

Male guest exuberantly dancing at wedding

After the first dace, the dance floor often goes quiet. However this guest made up for that with his exuberant and lively dancing.

The Evening Entertainment

As with most facets of the wedding day, the entertainment options for later in the day are almost endless

Some couples opt for a DJ, whilst others prefer a live band.  Some even go for both for a little diversity throughout the evening.  I’ve attended weddings with comedians and drag queens too.

Ideas for entertainment for your guests needn’t be confined to music or comedy either.  Other ideas include a photo booth, garden games in the summer (popular with the kids!), sweetie cart, a quiz game, dance off or talent show or any combination of these and many more.  However, it’s the traditional DJ or band that couples return to for their partying time and again.

IRock Band Playing at Pencoed House Wedding in Cardiff

Bands are still a popular addition to the wedding evening entertainment. here IRock play the Old Barn at Pencoed House near Cardiff.

Groom meeting DJ at wedding at Hampton Court House

Ben’s wedding day surprise was that his favourite DJ had been booked to play a set in the evening. I took a sequence of informal shots as they chatted later on.

Black and white shot of saxophone player playing at wedding

A relative took to his sax as part of the evening entertainment which was a special surprise for the happy couple.

Guests and couple toast marshmallows at wedding

Summer weddings are often outdoors based. This creates a whole different atmosphere and things that take place such a marshmallow toasting here.

Groom in front of bride and bridesmaids at London wedding

After a few drinks, everyone relaxes and there is potential for fun and more informal shots.

End of the Wedding Photographer’s Day

I normally stay until about half an hour after the first dance.  By then I have taken a huge selection of shots throughout the day as well as some of the couple and their guests dancing.  I always liaise with the couple before departing and if they want me to stay later then I don’t mind doing so at all.

Groom lifting bride during dancing at wedding

Later in the evening, things can start to get a bit messy. Things were delayed at this Irish wedding so I ended up staying a lot later than usual. It turned very rowdy but was extremely good fun!

Bearded groom doing dad dancing at wedding in London

A bit of ‘Dad dancing’ from Thomas as he dances with his bride Melissa.

Groom dancing with guests at wedding at Porchester Hall, London

Kolbe really was the life and soul and very instrumental in getting everyone on the floor dancing.

Men lifting up friend at wedding celebration

Later on there are all sorts of things to look out for. I’ve no idea why this chap’s friends wanted to lift him up, but it happened so I shot it…

Bridesmaid dancing - lost in the moment

When guests start to get this drunk, it’s maybe time for the photographer to leave!

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Guy Milnes Photography is based between London and Cardiff, covering South Wales, Bristol, London and the home counties.
He has been a professional photographer since 2008 and loves to capture the wedding day's atmosphere as it unfolds naturally.


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