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Photographer’s Guide to Wedding Toasts and Speeches

17 min read

Wedding toasts and speeches are some of the main events at a wedding reception, providing moments of laughter, emotions, stories, and memories. As a photographer, capturing these moments presents an opportunity to document these stories with creativity and artistry. However, photographing these instances comes with its unique set of challenges, from low lighting to fleeting expressions. In this article, we will guide you through various aspects of this task, from understanding the setting and choosing the right equipment to mastering lighting and angles, ensuring you perfectly capture these treasured moments.

Thank you to the Wedding Maps Wedding Photographers for providing the images in this article!

Capturing Emotions and Reactions

When it comes to photographing wedding speeches and toasts, capturing real, spontaneous moments is the main priority. Be on the lookout for the genuine laughs, the tearful eyes, and all the unguarded emotions in between. It’s not just about snapping pictures left and right; it’s more about reading the room, sensing the mood of the speech, and being ready to capture those special moments.
emotion - tearsPhoto by Photo by Jessie and Dallin (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at The Ledges in St. George, UT USA

Photographer Positioning

Positioning yourself strategically is critical to getting the shots that you need. Ideally, try to find an angle where you can capture the speaker and the wedding couple in the same frame. This will give the photo context.
emotion - laughPhoto by Photo by PMC Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park in San Diego United States

If you have multiple photographers, assign each photographer to a different aspect of the moment. Here’s an example of the assignments:

  • Lead Shooter – Focus on the Speaker
  • Second Shooter – Focus on the Couple’s reactions.
  • Third Shooter – Focus on audience reactions

If you’re a solo photographer, you’ll need to capture all three, prioritizing the speaker, then the couple, then the audience.

Understanding Common Emotional Moments

To capture fleeting emotional moments, it’s important to understand common moments that elicit emotional responses. Here are a few common moments to watch out for.

Laughs During Toasts and Speeches

Watch for laughs after a joke, as you see in these examples. Many good speeches front load the jokes and end with something sentimental, so stay ready for good laughs at the beginning of the speeches.

jokes - couplePhoto by Photo by Shukhrat Kamalov (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at in MA USA

jokes - best manPhoto by Photo by Courtland Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Brazilian Room in Berkeley, CA USA

Tears During Toasts and Speeches

Watch for tears after a childhood memory, a strong expression of love, or poignant story. You may notice a pause prior to the tear.

spotlight lightingPhoto by Photo by Holding and Co (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at The Retreat in Corona, CA United States

emotional moment - couplePhoto by Photo by Elizabeth Victoria (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Santa Barbara in Santa Barbara, CA USA

Hugs After Speeches

Watch for the big hugs after the speech, as you see in this example.

after the speechPhoto by Photo by BridgetQ Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Whitney Farm Estate in Oxford, ME USA

hug after speechPhoto by Photo by Lazzat Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Dubsdread Golf Course in Orlando, FL USA

Smilies During Speeches

Watch for smiles as the couples lifts their glass at the end of the “thank you” speech, as you see in this example.

couple focusPhoto by Photo by Tekoa Rose Photo (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Deepwood Museum & Gardens in Salem, Oregon USA

thank you cheersPhoto by Photo by Bob Kniley (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Strathallan Hotel in Rochester, NY USA

Understanding and Lighting The Scene

Wedding toasts and speeches often take place in environments that pose significant challenges for photographers. Dimly lit banquet halls or outdoor settings at dusk can create complex lighting scenarios. Understanding these conditions and preparing for space constraints is crucial. Here are some of the most common scenarios that you’ll face:

Photo by Lin and Jirsa (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

Outdoor Receptions during the day

In this scenario, you can likely just use natural lighting.

natural lightPhoto by Photo by Kristin Cheatwood (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Croney Cove in Sun Valley, Idaho USA

Indoor Receptions with sufficient natural light

In this scenario, you can also just use natural lighting so long as sufficient lighting is on the speaker, the couple, and the guests.

couple in the foregroundPhoto by Photo by Larsen Photo Co (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Flagstaff House in Boulder, CO USA

Indoor Reception Halls with low neutral-colored ceilings – In this scenario, you can either use on camera bounce flash or off camera flash, depending on your desired look.

emotionPhoto by Photo by JCM Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Alexander Homestead Weddings in Charlotte, NC United States

Indoor Reception Hall with high or dark ceilings – In this scenario, you’ll likely need 1-2 off camera flashes. You can either place a grid on the flashes and fully control the direction and spread of the light or use a flash diffuser to soften the light and allow it to spill across the scene. The right decision will depend on your desired vision.

FramingPhoto by Photo by Mauricio Urena (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Zephyr Palace at Villa Caletas Hotel in Jacó, Puntarenas Costa Rica

Outdoor Receptions at night – Similar to above, in this scenario, you’ll likely need 1-2 off camera flashes
Be sure to understand the venue prior to the wedding day so that you can be fully prepared with the right equipment and skills to capture the moment.

couple focusPhoto by Photo by Stephanie Sonju (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Woman’s Club Coconut Grove in Miami, FL USA

Equipment Essentials

Having the right gear is a critical in wedding photography, especially when it comes to capturing reception toasts. Here’s what you should have in your arsenal:

  • Camera with Low Light Capabilities: A must-have for those dimly lit venues or evening shots. It ensures your photos are crisp and clear, even when the lighting isn’t ideal.
  • Zoom Lens: This gives you the flexibility to capture close-ups and wider scenes without having to move around too much. It’s perfect for catching those intimate moments from a distance.
  • On-Camera Flash: A lifesaver in low-light conditions. It helps to brighten up your subjects and bring out the details in your shots.
  • Off-Camera Flash: This is great for creating more dynamic and professional-looking lighting setups. It gives you control over shadows and highlights, adding depth to your photos.
  • Orange Gels: These are essential for balancing the color temperature when using flash, especially in rooms with tungsten lighting. They help to keep skin tones looking natural.
  • Flash Diffuser and Flash Grid – These light shaping tools will allow you to sculpt the light from your on and off camera flash to match your vision.

Each setting calls for a different combination of these tools. For instance, in an outdoor setting bathed in natural light, you won’t need the gels or the off-camera flash. The key is to be prepared for any lighting situation. By having each of these items in your gear bag, you’re ensuring that you’re equipped to handle whatever lighting challenges come your way, and you can adapt quickly to capture stunning photographs in any scene.

Framing and Composition for Speeches and Toasts

Framing and composition play crucial roles in enhancing the storytelling aspect. This section discusses three key techniques: using foregrounds for context, capturing the entire scene with a wide angle, and zooming in for emotional close-ups.

Using Foregrounds to Provide Context

Foregrounds can be a powerful tool in adding depth and context to your photos. When shooting speeches or toasts, consider including elements like the audience in the foreground, or perhaps a glass raised in a toast.

These elements not only create a sense of depth but also help to frame the main subject – the speaker. This technique provides a viewer with a fuller understanding of the environment and the event’s atmosphere. It’s about creating a photo where the viewer feels like they are part of the scene, peering over the speaker’s shoulder or standing amidst the crowd.

Photo by Nix Weddings (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at The Farm at Brusharbor Concord, NC USA

Taking a Wide Angle Photo to Capture the Entire Scene

spotlight Photo by Photo by SMJ Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Ballroom at the Ben in Philadelphia, PA USA

Wide angle shots are essential for capturing the grandeur and scale of the moment. They allow you to encompass not just the speaker, but the entire environment – the layout of the room, the audience’s reactions, and the overall ambiance of the event. This perspective is especially valuable in telling the complete story of the wedding toast or speech. It sets the stage, showing the speaker in their environment and illustrating how their words resonate with the audience. Such shots are particularly impactful at key moments, like when the entire room erupts in laughter or listens in rapt attention.

otherPhoto by Photo by Gaetan Dardenne (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Hangar C in Heers, Limburg Belgium

Zooming in Close to Capture Up Close Emotion

Big laughsPhoto by Photo by Andy Sidders Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at The Priory in Little Wymondley UK

While wide shots tell the story of the environment, close-up shots capture the essence of emotion. During a speech or toast, zooming in on the speaker’s face can reveal a wealth of emotions – the nervous excitement, the joy, or the poignant reminiscence. Similarly, focusing on audience members’ reactions can capture the impact of the speech on them. These close-ups are powerful; they freeze a moment of emotion in time, offering a glimpse into the raw feelings of the day. Whether it’s a tear trickling down the bride’s cheek, a wide smile from the groom, or a look of affection from a parent, these shots are invaluable in creating an emotionally resonant narrative.

tightPhoto by Photo by Lauren Elliott (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Jesemond Dene House in Newcastle England

Other Examples of Photography for Toasts and Speeches

speaker in the foregroundPhoto by Photo by 4 Eyes Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Valley Ridge Golf Course in Calgary, AB Canada

center compositionPhoto by Photo by Mattie Wezah (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at The Maine in Williamsburg, VA USA
wide anglePhoto by Photo by Jeroen Savelkouls (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at De Schildhoeve Buitengewoon in Photo by Gaetan Dardenne (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) The Netherlands

thank you cheersPhoto by Photo by Frank Balzan (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Phoenicia Hotel Malta in Valletta Malta
thank you cheersPhoto by Photo by Magda Moiola (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Cascia Il Casale in Inverigo Italy

jokes - maid of honorPhoto by Photo by Gretchen Troop (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Wild Basin Lodge in Allenspark, Colorado USA
otherPhoto by Photo by Geoffer Lopez (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Villa Lago in Alajuela, La Garita Costa Rica
otherPhoto by Photo by Natasha Lamalle (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Woodend Sanctuary and Mansion in Chevy Chase, Maryland USA

Capturing wedding toasts and speeches is an art that requires technical skill, creativity, and sensitivity. By summing up the key points from this guide, we hope to inspire and empower photographers to refine their skills and develop their unique style in wedding photography. Remember, each wedding is a new story waiting to be told through your lens.