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Chapter 10

Ultimate Guide to

Wedding Meal & Speeches Photography

Wedding Breakfast & Speeches Photography


Bride and groom holding each other at wedding speeches

The wedding speeches are such an emotive time for the bride and groom and their family. It’s a time for those close to them to say how much the couple really mean to them. Words that are rarely said in the reality of daily life.

The main wedding meal or wedding breakfast presents so many different options and possibilities depending on your taste and budget.  A buffet in the upstairs rooms of a pub is ideal for those on a budget.  A seated 8-course meal in a top hotel or restaurant suits those with more cash to splash.  Whatever suits you for your wedding meal, there are definitely venues, menus and meal plans that can be tailored specifically for you and your wedding day.

Bride with father standing outside Canvas and Cream Wedding Venue in London

My photography is all about natural moments, but I also need to capture the details. Here I combine both: This portrait of the bride standing chatting to guests with her father also shows the Canvas and Cream Cafe venue in South London.

Announcing the Happy Couple

Generally, the couple are announced into the dining room after their guests are seated. For larger weddings, there is a Master of Ceremonies (MC) or wedding planner who take on this responsibility. Sometimes the couple hire their own or the venue often supplies one as part of their wedding breakfast package. At smaller weddings, the best man or another guest welcomes the couple. Of course, it’s entirely up to you whether this happens at all – you can just sit down with the guests. Some newlyweds prefer this.

The bride and groom being welcomed by their wedding guests at RAF Club, London

Katie & Ludwig being greeted by guests as they enter the dining room for their wedding meal. The Bride and Groom have a narrow passage through the dining room as chairs are pushed back for guests to stand.

The Bride & Groom’s Entrance to Dinner

This is likely to be the first time you will sit down together for a length of time as a married couple. Your entrance makes for a great sequence of photos. However, some couples are rather quick paced during their entrance into the dining room.

In order to capture you from the front, your photographer has to walk backwards through the dining room. This is complicated by erratic table plans and narrow gaps between tables as guests invariably push their seats back to stand. In order to get some great shots, give your photographer a few extra seconds. Do take your time and enjoy the moment!

Bride and bearded groom laughing at their wedding breakfast meal

It’s important for your photographer to capture a nice photo of the couple seated early on in the meal. I prefer natural such as this of Melissa and Thomas, but posing for the camera is good too.

The Photographer’s Meal Break

Your photographer will usually take their break during the meal. People don’t generally need or want photographs of themselves taking mouthfuls of food – having a photographer around at this time can feel somewhat intrusive.  I generally cover the guest’s seating and the couple’s entrance before everyone starts to eat.

Wedding days are often long and the meal is a great time for my break.  I stay nearby in case anything unexpected happens (it often does – see below) and return for the speeches.  In my questionnaire  that I give to couples to fill in on booking, I request they provide me with a meal if it’s a full day.  They are always only too happy to do this and it makes things easier logistically.

Two ladies laughing at wedding breakfast meal holding wine glasses

The mothers of the bride and groom had only met that morning. By the end of the meal they were best friends – as this beautifully natural wedding photo shows.

Bridesmaid at wedding meal in restaurant holding fan and laughing on a hot day

You may remember this bridesmaid on a bus in the chapter on Wedding Travel. Here she is again, fan still in hand on a hot summers wedding day. Some guests are more open to photography than others, and she was definitely one of those.

Baby with hand in man's mouth at wedding

At the start of the wedding breakfast, I capture one guests clowning with his baby daughter. I took a sequence of shots. Shortly after this, she pokes him in the eye! I feature this amusing moment at the top of my About Me page…

Little girl with two spoons in mouth being fed by dad at wedding meal

Children are great to photograph at weddings and I couldn’t resist including this messy eater. Mind you, the chocolate brownie did look that tempting!

During the Meal: Unexpected Moments

So, at this point in proceedings, I’m generally sitting in a nearby room having a bite to eat and enjoying a well-earned breather.  I do like to be within earshot as often a big round of applause will explode from the dining room as a sign that something unexpected is going on.

This is quite likely to happen at a multi-cultural wedding where the couple are from somewhere with different wedding traditions and customs.  I recently shot a Danish wedding where when a guest clicked their glass with cutlery, the couple had to dive under the table and kiss.  I was in and out from my break quite a few times during that one but didn’t mind at all.

Bride's father kisses the bride at Danish wedding in London

This is the Danish wedding: another tradition was for all the guests to get up and kiss the bride. This made for some amazing and fun photography.

Wedding Speech Traditions: a New Way of Doing It.

Traditionally the wedding speeches are made after the main course and before dessert.  However, these days it is becoming more common for couples to bring them forward to the beginning of the meal.  There are lots of advantages to this:

Firstly, there’s the couple who don’t want their photographer to stay until the end of the meal.  They don’t need the evening party to be photographed or maybe the celebration will end after the wedding breakfast.  But the speeches are important to them, and to keep costs down, they will take place just after the guests sit down.

Bride in hysterics at father's wedding speech

Bride Tai laughs hysterically at her father’s speech. Unfortunately, he went on and on and she eventually had to remove the microphone from him. Happily, he took it in good heart.

Bride Looking Embarrassed During Wedding Speeches in Cardiff

It’s not only the groom who gets embarrassed: Here, bride Emma tries to cover her blushes as her father gives his speech at her Hampton Court House wedding.

My Speech Experience

Another important reason is that it lets the speech makers relax and enjoy the rest of the meal.  I was a best man once at the wedding of a good friend.  I can say with authority that I would have enjoyed the meal much more without the thought of the forthcoming speeches.  What if no-one laughed at my jokes or I fluffed the words?  Fortunately all went well and my well-prepared speech was received with laughter and enjoyment. Most guests are relaxed and ready to enjoy the evening and what it brings – including the speeches.

Good News:  I have never witnessed speeches that went badly awry!

Father of the groom holding up a photo of the groom as a baby

A popular speech tactic is for a family member to try to embarrass the groom. Here, his father displays a poster of the groom as a baby – along with an amusing/embarrassing story!

Bride laughing in surprise and groom with hand over mouth during wedding speech in Cardiff

And the couple’s reactions are often priceless: One clearly enjoying the moment at the expense of the other’s embarrassment…

Photographing the Speeches:  Emotions and Fun

Wedding speeches can be such an emotive time for the couple and their close family and friends.  It’s time for the most stoic of family members to tell the room how much the couple really mean. Words and sentiments that are sadly rarely said in the every day reality of life.

I regularly find myself on the verge of tears as the bride’s father tells of a childhood trauma she suffered or speaks of an inspirational mother who has sadly passed on and is not there to witness her daughter’s nuptials.  It can be a very private time as people’s inner thoughts and feelings are laid bare and tributes given.  The photographer is lucky enough to be able to hide behind their camera, but can catch many guests is various states of emotion.  I always try to balance capturing the moment with respecting the occasion.  and am discrete, moving slowly so as not to distract.

Bride's mother crying during wedding speeches

I do try to exercise discretion when photographing emotions. This photo of the bride’s mum in tears I took from the side, so as not to intrude too much on the moment.

Speech Timings: Short or Unexpectedly Long

Most couples assure me that the speeches will only last for five minutes each.  However, the reality is often very different.  Fathers particularly get ‘on a roll’ and very involved in the storytelling.  They often veer drastically off Piste and away from the prepared piece of paper in front of them, thus extending the formal mealtime and, therefore the whole day.  Wedding breakfasts’ are a part of the day that might possibly overrun for many different reasons.  Your venue should be prepared for this and it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.  But it’s a good idea to check with them beforehand.

If you’ve booked your photographer for a set time, ensure that they are happy to stay on in case of a later finish. I’m very flexible and don’t mind doing this at all. I was once due to finish at a wedding in London at 9pm but ended up staying on until gone midnight due mainly to the food being delayed.

Bride's father pointing at guest during the wedding speeches

It’s great when the speeches happen close to the couple as I can photograph their reactions as well as the speaker.

Usually the speeches are made by the father of the bride, the groom and then the grand finale by the best man.  But there are variations on this.  Occasionally the bride herself says a few words.  Sometimes the whole room is opened up with guests asked to say a few special words if they wish.  The main thing to remember is that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the wedding breakfast and speeches.

Sometimes the top table is in an awkward position for photography. Many photographer’s would be horrified when faced with light like this but I embrace it. Shooting into the light produced some interesting effects such as the lens flare here.

End of the Wedding Meal:  Another Time for Delay

After the speeches, guests are served dessert and coffee.  There’s nothing more conducive to wedding guests than relaxing after a satisfying meal and sitting awhile.   This is sometimes in conflict with the schedule, particularly if the meal and speeches overran…

The dining room often needs to be transformed into a dance floor.  Tables need to be cleared and a DJ or band have to set up for the evening’s entertainment.  Guests will be asked to retire to the bar or lounge for half an hour whilst all this takes place but may be reluctant to do so.  Don’t worry about this at all.  Experienced wedding venues are adept at handing this and this is not your problem.  Your job is to enjoy your day, not worry about timings and minor issues that do creep in sometimes.  Your wedding planner/venue contact should liaise closely with you and keep you informed.  They should also deal with the ushering of guests as the evening’s entertainment is set up.


Two Wedding Meal Tips

Tip 1: Huge floral displays in the middle of the tables look lovely and really do add to your wedding theme. However very tall arrangements can make it a bit tricky to get clear shots of the couple and their guests during the speeches. If your photography’s important to you, this is well worth considering.

Tip 2: Consider where the speech makers are standing. If they are near you when speaking then there is likely to be more interaction between you and them. Your photographer will capture this, giving context to your photos.

Bride laughing at father's wedding speech whilst groom watches

Important Tip: Positioning the speeches close to where you are sitting gives your photographs more context and the photographer can take both the speaker and the reactions in the same shot.

Father of bride giving speech in old barn ad Pencoed House in Cardiff

It’s good to take a nice overview shot of the speeches such as this one. In this shot taken at Pencoed House near Cardiff, the bride’s father is on the same table which means good reactions from everyone, not least the couple’s little boy sitting not so quietly on bride Catherine’s lap!

Chapter 11: Cake & Dancing – Time to Let Your Hair Down – Next>>>>

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Wedding Photographer in London, Bristol & Cardiff

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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