4 ideas for planning your wedding speeches

This photograph is not about composition, it’s about moment. It’s about capturing emotion.

I could deliver just this one photograph of the best man’s speech at Emma and Ian’s wedding at the Vermont Hotel in Newcastle, and you’d still understand exactly how it went down.

Wedding speeches can be deceptively tough to photograph.

The first issue you generally have is the layout of the venue. Often, the tables can be tightly packed and once the guests take their seats there can be very little room to move around. I like to vary my photographs and would prefer to take them from multiple different angles but that’s not always possible if you struggle to move around freely. The other issue with space is that even if you find a good spot to take photographs, is that you’ll often be blocking the view of a guest or two. That’s another reason why I prefer to move around, so that I don’t completely ruin the experience for one or two guests.

The second thing to bear in mind when photographing wedding speeches is that it’s equally as important, if not more so, to photograph the guests reactions to the speeches as the speaker themselves. I’m especially concerned to get the married couple’s reactions as well as the friends and family closest to them. This is relatively straightforward to do when you have a traditional top table, as I did in this photo, but increasingly I find that couples choose different layouts for their wedding breakfast. You might have the couple on their own table, with the mother of the groom in one corner, the father of the groom in an opposite corner and the parents of the bride in the middle.

That means that I am constantly shifting position and camera settings to capture the speech maker and their guests reactions. Add in the normal nerves which can lead to shortened speeches (I once failed to get a photograph of the 14 year old son of the married couple making his speech as he simply said thanks to everyone for coming and was halfway sitting down before the words had left his mouth) or can lengthen speeches (twice at weddings I’ve seen the best man’s wife interrupt her husband’s speech and hand the microphone over to someone else) and photographing speeches can be trickier than you’d think.

When you are considering how to arrange the speeches for your own wedding I have a few suggestions based on attending dozens of weddings and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

I think the best time for speeches is before your wedding breakfast. For one thing it means that the photographs will look better as the tables and centrepieces will be intact. After the meal you’ll get tables littered with half eaten food and empty wine and prosecco bottles in the background of your photographs.

Having the speeches first means that everyone can go on to enjoy their meal and drinks with their nerves out of the way. Doing the speeches last means the speakers can enjoy their food and might drink a little bit too much to settle their nerves.

I definitely wouldn’t recommend scattering your speeches throughout the meal. Some couples have the father of the bride’s speech after the starter, the groom’s speech after the main course and the best man’s speech after the dessert. This is a logistical nightmare for the catering staff and can lead to waits for food or eating cold food following an unexpectedly long speech. It also means that your poor old photographer won’t get a break, or perhaps even any food at all, as he or she will constantly be on alert.

The other idea I have is to not pack your venue with the maximum number of guest possible. If the venue says it can hold 80 guest for the wedding breakfast only invite 60. Similarly if you have 110 guests for the sit down meal, don’t squeeze them into a room that only sits 110.

By the time everyone has taken their seat there won’t be space to swing a feline, and you have to remember that guests often stand up and push their chair back during the speeches, reducing space even further. Your serving staff won’t be able to get through, and neither will your auntie Doris who is unsteady on her fit. Nor will your photographer who will be limited to one or two spots for the photos.

And the heat! 110 bodies in a tight room will generate a lot of heat and unless you are planning a naturist wedding you might not want to see Uncle Bob stripping down to his vest.

My last tip is that if your wedding breakfast is taking place in a room with large windows, don’t put the top table in front of them. If you do, you’ll be back lit meaning your photographer will be shooting directly into the light. He’ll then have to overexpose to see your faces, blowing out the background and you’ll not even see the beautiful grounds in your photographs. Worse, you won’t even see the view yourselves, as you’ll have your back to it.

Ask for your top table to be opposite the windows or off to one side, and you’ll end up with much better photographs.

In the end my advice is simple:

  • Have the speeches before the meal

  • Have all the key players as near to the married couple as possible

  • Don’t fill the room to it’s maximum capacity - leave some space for you, your guests and your photographer to move around

  • Have your top table opposite or off to one side of the main windows in the room

The best man’s speech is going down well…

Camera: Fujifilm X-T1

Lens: Fujifilm 56mm 1.2

Focal length: 56mm

Aperture: 1.2

ISO: 400

Exposure: 1/125

Check out more photographs from Emma & Ian’s stunning wedding at The Vermont Hotel in Newcastle.