Ever had one of those awkward moments when you’re in company and someone says something that is entirely the wrong thing to say and that strange, strangled silence falls over everyone? You know, when you can read in people’s eyes the collective thought ‘Did they just say that?’
I was at a wedding a year or so ago when during the truly atrocious speech by the best man exactly this happened. The guests’ smiles, which up until then had been broad and buoyed by the events of the day, wavered, and then fell. There were wide-eyed glances at each other, awkward shuffles, the parents’ heads suddenly bowed and taking a keen interest in their place mats. Everyone, it seemed, with the exception of the best man and the groom, who were doubled up with laughter, were totally unaware of the effects the speech was having on the rest of us. No matter how much they’d spent on their wedding – and it was a lot – and no matter how grand it looked, the entire day had been tainted by this verbal mudslide. There were also other glances, which quite honestly said ‘Now you’ve really shown who you are. No fancy wedding dress will ever cover that…’
As a photographer I attend a lot of weddings, but even I was surprised to hear virtually the same speech by three different grooms, three weddings in a row! Rather lazily, they’d gone to the internet for inspiration and reeled off the same tired quips and ‘heartfelt’ thanks for the parents etc. This lack of originality showed. The wedding speeches are an opportunity to say something meaningful, and yes, humorous too. You wouldn’t have the same wedding bouquet that had been used by thousands and inspired by the internet, would you? So apply this to the speeches. They’re just as important, in fact more important, than you first imagine.
As a special day, the wedding day is an image of an ideal world we’d love to inhabit, if only for 24 hours. We become the centre of attention, where love for each other (or outward professions of it) can take centre stage, where we get to dress up in fancy clothes like a prince and a princess, maybe settle down for a meal at a fancy table in a fancy venue the likes of which we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford. And of course, after such careful planning down to the last detail, you wouldn’t want anything to spoil that day would you? Neither do you want the speeches, which should be as individual as your wedding, to be so obnoxious as to take your breath away, or to come from someone else’s tired template.
So take a lot of care when considering them. Here are 6 things to ensure your speeches are a success and you don’t fall victim to both the unimaginatively bland speech and the verbal mudslide.
1/ Avoid tales of the lewd, the rude, the crude, sex and alcohol
The story I began with was a result of all of these being included in a best man’s speech, with horrifically embarrassing consequences. Stories that are OK to share ‘with the lads’ about boozy nights and their consequences, should be avoided LIKE THE PLAGUE. I cannot emphasise this enough. No one wants to hear about it. They’re rarely funny to anyone else – you ‘had to be there’ generally, and even then you probably had to be drunk. And nothing lowers the tone of the entire day like bawdy, near-the-knuckle anecdotes about the groom’s heady, drunken younger days (or the bride’s for that matter). Same for sex and the mention of body parts – one bride had to endure a story involving her boobs so that she squirmed with embarrassment and clearly wasn’t amused at all. Such stories can, in fact, appear quite sad and not funny at all. Want to embarrass yourself, the bride and groom, their parents, the majority of the wedding guests, and taint the day? Ignore my advice.
2/ Avoid racism, xenophobia, sexism – well, you get the picture.
Not only is this unacceptable, it’s as bad as the lewd and the crude for effect. There’s no excuse for being drunk when you say it, for you can write the speech sober. I once heard such a racist anecdote by the groom that I had to suck in my breath and couldn’t believe I’d actually heard it. Some others obviously had the same reaction as me. Like the plague, avoid this too.
3/ Avoid politics and religion
Always best to keep clear of these things anyhow. It only leads to arguments and division. Your speech is not an opportunity for you to stand on your soapbox and rant and rave about your political or religious views and to batter your guests’ ears with your personal opinions.
4/ Don’t be lazy – avoid ‘jokes for wedding speeches’ sites:
All you’ll end up doing going to sites is sad repetition. I’ve heard the same lines over and over: ‘This is the last time a man gets to say something without being interrupted’ and many more besides. Do you really want to say the same things as hundreds of others? I know for many people standing up in front of an audience and speaking is a nightmare, as is having to come up with appropriate lines. There’s a belief that you have to make it very funny, and you need a joke or two. That adds pressure. But funny can be a personal anecdote, and people are already geared up to laugh at anything you have to say.
5/ Don’t gush
We rarely get the chance to say the things we truly feel. A wedding speech can be an ideal opportunity to thank the ones we love and care for. A friend, a sister, a parent, a partner. But keep it real. There’s a tendency to let the emotion of the day run wild, and people can go over the top. So much so it becomes unbelievable, and your audience go from saying, ‘Ah, that’s nice’ to ‘Really? You’ve got to be kidding!’
6/ Be positive, be nice.
Sounds obvious, but I know one groom’s mother who used her speech to say something truly awful about another person not even at the wedding. Families have fall-outs. No family is immune from the upset and division that causes. But a wedding day is a happy day, about new beginnings, not old sores or old scores. We all know marriages are difficult to maintain, and it isn’t going to be easy for any bride and groom, but don’t bring any of your negatives to the speech. Reality can be kept at bay as far as this is concerned. Let the bride and groom have their day and leave them to ride the crests and waves together afterwards. Be positive, be nice.
Tying the knot in winter makes sense for a number of reasons: the venues are far cheaper to book for one thing, and they aren’t as over subscribed as they are in the peak summer months. And let’s face it, you can no more guarantee the weather in the UK during summer than you can in winter, though the odds of good weather in summer are more favourable, of course. The winter can also be dramatically different from a summer wedding, if dramatically different is what you’re after. But there are 5 things you must seriously consider and get right if the day is to go well.
1/ Look at your venue at the same time of year as you intend to get married, not during the summer months. This will give you a better idea of the type of weather you might get, and certainly the look and feel of the light. It all looks so different during those bright summer months, the trees in full greenery, the skies blue. Most have an outside area they’ll use, and of course they’ll tell you that you can use this if the weather is good. Don’t be fooled by this. The chances are the weather might not be good at all and you will be forced to use the inside for everything, from ceremony to group photos. If you do get good weather, that’s great, but never bank on it during the winter.
2/ Scrutinise the inside of the venue as if the outside wasn’t an option. Be prepared for the worse-case scenario – freezing cold and a torrential downpour. I recently had this in during summer! The couple picked the one day we had the remnants of a hurricane, the day was cloudy and grey all day, and it teemed it down. So look at where the ceremony will be conducted – does it feel right, can you imagine it being performed there, will it be as nice or as special as you would like it to be? To save money, a lot of places light their venues with low-wattage light bulbs, and they can be as dim as hell and not very inspiring. How will they dress the area? They can get away with things when performing a ceremony outside – the sunny day and greenery will compensate for any shortcomings, but inside it can often be a few plastic flowers and cheap lights. Is that what you want for your special day?
3/Remember the photographer! Taking photos inside can be a challenge, especially when the venue is small, dark and crowded. You want your reminders of the Big Day to be special, but inside shoots limits what you can have. If the place is dimly lit then you have to have flash photography – not always flattering – and not always easy for some photographers to get right. Talk it over with your photographer, invite them to the venue; they’ll gladly take you up on the offer. Will there be somewhere to take group shots? What about shots of the bride and groom? Where will they be taken? As I say, it’s fine if you can shoot outside, but always consider the worse case scenario. I had to do a wedding shoot with the bride and groom etc posed in an open doorway with the rain pelting it down outside. With the outside not being an option, it was the only real location the venue could offer and not very satisfying for all concerned. Remember, though our eyes are good at seeing in dim light, even modern digital cameras struggle in the same light. Think like a photographer, and if possible get their expert advice before finally deciding on a venue.
4/ Dress for the weather. Sounds perfectly reasonable, but I’ve come across many couples who don’t. Skimpy dresses and shawls are fine in summer, but you will freeze to death in winter, so even if it’s fine outside and you can go outdoors, chances are you won’t want to be out there long, and an even shorter time if you’re dressed for summer. Imagine wearing your wedding dress in winter when you first try them on. A lot of bared skin might not be something you want in the depths of winter! Buy something appropriate you can wrap around you to stay warm. Have a few white golf umbrellas to hand in case it rains (most wedding photographers like myself always have a couple to hand!). Remember, high heels sink into wet grass! If the weather holds, you might indeed have the choice of a large grassed expanse, but traversing it will prove nigh on impossible. Even consider a pair of Wellingtons! Go with the flow. Photos taken in the rain and snow can be very dramatic and romantic, if you’re prepared to get out there and have them taken.
5/ Don’t forget your guests. Winter can offer some really dramatic opportunities, but if everyone is freezing or wet through they’re not going to enjoy it one jot. Ensure they are as prepared as you are. If you expect them all to turn up wearing suits and dresses, as you would in summer, expect a lot of guests to be moaning behind your back desperate to get back inside out of the cold and wet. If they’re comfortable and protected then they’ll enjoy it and make your day special. If not, they’ll remember your day for all the wrong reasons. While they won’t complain to your faces they’ll certainly be letting rip behind your back. Ensure they’re allowed to be dressed sensibly too. If everyone on the photos are dressed in heavy coats, so what? It can look just as charming and special, in fact even more so than all those homogonous summer photos. Think of them and what you will be expecting of them. It’s fine if you two are prepared to do what it takes, but old Uncle Albert and ancient Aunty Liz might not be so enamoured.
Choosing a winter wedding can be challenging, but if you embrace what winter has to offer and be prepared, there’s no reason your big day can’t be just as successful as if it happened in the height of summer.
Let's face it, hiring a photographer is expensive, isn't it? I mean, all they do is spend a few hours on the day taking a few photos and charge the earth for doing it. After all, I have a friend who has an expensive camera and offered to take some photos. That'll save us pounds!
You'd be surprised how many times I've heard people say this. And yes, I have to agree that photography is not cheap. But you wouldn't skimp on other essential items like the wedding dress or the flowers, or the venue or cake. Strangely, photography is usually the last thing to book. And yet, after all the cake has gone and the flowers have withered away, all that's left for the ensuing decades are the photographs, so you want them to be as perfect as possible, to tell the unique story of your big day.
Honestly, I've seen many photographs taken by 'Uncle George' or 'my best friend', and generally they're, well, to put it kindly, sorely disappointing. I've had women break down in tears as they told me about their mistake in wanting to shave money off the wedding budget and forego the professional photographer only to be shocked at the photos 'their friend' took. In fact one mother-of-the-bride told me the photos of her own marriage, taken by her brother, were so bad she had to arrange for a professional photographer to come in, and they re-enacted as much of the day as they could a few weeks later! There are many such stories - a quick internet search will throw up all the horror tales and illustrative sorry pictures too!
But surely an expensive camera is all you need? Well it's like me saying that I have a pair of hairdressing scissors worth £400, but the chances are you wouldn't let an amateur like me loose on your hair on your wedding day! There's a lot of skill and talent behind the equipment.
You see, a professional photographer doesn't just own an expensive camera - they've spent years, often decades (like myself) perfecting their craft. Photography is an art form in its own right. It takes great skill and an eye for detail, for framing, for light and shadow, and an instinct for capturing the right candid moment, that makes a real photographer. Professionals make it look so easy. We're telling a story, like a writer or film-maker - so when it's all edited together you'll be transported straight back to that magical day. Your story is unique and you need someone there who knows how to capture it and relay it back to you.
But practically you don't just pay for someone taking photos on the day. A day's shoot will take me at least seven to ten days to edit in post-production. This is where a lot of the work comes in - whittling down perhaps a thousand photos to a few hundred, working on each and every one of those chosen photos to crop them, to get the colours and lighting right, before handing them over to the client. That in itself is a great skill, but because the aim is to make the photos as natural as possible, you'll rarely see this because it's invisible, or should be!
Finally, we are photographers because we're passionate about photography. We want our photos to be as perfect as we can get them, and we take great pride in producing stunning pictures that look so natural you could almost be there.
So why do I think you should pay for a professional photographer? Because we hate to see anyone cry...