Wedding Reception Photography: Taking “Table Shots” of your Guests

It’s been a while since I’ve had a strongly worded and passionate blog post.  My last passionate post was about my feelings towards photographing receiving lines, but this post is all about the dreaded ‘table shots’.  Many brides ask for ‘table shots’ to be taken at their reception and I’m not quite sure why.  Perhaps it’s because a plethora of “must-have wedding photography shots” websites will tell you that table shots of your wedding guests are an absolute must-have.  Maybe it’s because they are just trying to think of ways to capture shots of their guests.  No matter the reason, I want to have an honest discussion about table shots in this article so please, after you’re done reading, feel free to comment and share your thoughts too.

I decided to write this post after having an interesting conversation with a soon-to-be bride Toronto bride during one of our meetings together.  There’s no easy way to summarize our conversation, but it went something like this…

Bride:  So, what happens during the cocktail hour?  Do you just take candid shots?

Me:  I take my cue from the bride and groom.  I typically following you around the room, with my long zoom-lens on so as to not interfere, and capture the candid moments you’re sharing with your guests.  I also keep a keen eye out for any other action happening in the room to ensure lots of photos of your guests; but I primarily take my cue from you and your husband.

Bride:  Okay, that’s good, we like candid shots.  We also want to make sure you take table shots during the dinner.

Me:  So you want a shot of all the guests at each table?

Bride:  Yes

Me:  And I’m assuming round tables, 8 to 10 guests per table?  How many tables?  

Bride:  Yeah, they’re round tables.  Most probably have 8 people, except for the ones with kids.  I think there’s going to be about 15 tables.  You can do that during dinner, right?

Me:  I could, if that’s what your wish is but I want you to keep a few things in mind.  First, people really don’t like being photographed with food in their mouths.  It can make them very uncomfortable and self conscious – can you think of any other time that you want these done?  Second, table shots can be disruptive to dinner for your guests because in order to get the entire table in one shot you need to ask half the guests to get up out of their chairs.  Would you like me to prompt the guests to get out of their chairs or just take several pictures per table?  

Bride:  I want the shots done during dinner because I want to make sure people are actually at the tables and not wandering around.  You don’t need to ask them to get up – don’t disturb the guests.  Just the candid shot of whole group is fine.  

Me:  With people sitting in a circle, it’s impossible to get all 8-10 of them looking at the camera unless half of them get up out of their chairs.  The photo always looks better when you can pose the guests properly and get debris out of the way, too.  You don’t want a table full of empty beer bottles, purses and pashminas to be the foreground to your photo.  If you don’t want your guests to be posed on one side of the table then it’s inevitable that we’ll be shooting the backs of at least 2-4 people’s heads, even with my widest possible lens on.  We can shoot groups of 2 or 3 of them at a time which is very reasonable, but unless I ask half of them to get up out of their seats and stand behind the other guests, you’re not going to get the entire group facing the camera.

Bride:  Are you trying to make excuses so that you don’t have to do this?

Me:  [shocked by her rudeness and inability to understand how a circle works] That’s not that I’m saying at all.  I’m trying to get you to understand that there’s no such thing as a casual table shot with all 8+ members of the circular table all facing the same direction unless I prompt some of them to move in some way or another.  You told me that you don’t want me to prompt your guests and disturb them (which I agree is the best option).  You also told me that you want a group shot of each table.  I’ll have to take multiple shots per table since it’s impossible to get all 8-10 people who are sitting at a round table, looking at the camera at once, without disturbing them.

Bride:  Can’t you just put a wide angle lens on?

Me:  Even the best ultra-wide lens in the world can’t turn someone around in their seat.

Bride:  I just don’t understand what’s so hard about this…

So I drew her this diagram…

Now, I’m not much of a sketch artist – but my crudely drawn line diagram managed to finally hit home the message to the bride.  The crude stick figure drawing finally helped her realize that I can only get 2 or 3 people in per shot without some form of prompting to the other guests (whether it’s to duck down, push aside or get up out of their seats entirely.  I felt bad having to even draw this in the first place as I thought it was a simple concept to understand, but apparently not.

I’m sure by this point in my rant you’re thinking “Well, couldn’t she just get all the guests to turn around in their chairs and face her while she takes a picture?  What’s so wrong with that?”  The long and the short of it is this: having your guests turn around and all face the camera still means that some guests may be blocked (either by other guests of centerpieces), the camera settings typically used for darker reception halls isn’t ideal for shooting a scene that required a large depth of field to be in focus and also – it’s a dreadfully amateur ‘pose’.  Setting up a proper table shot at a wedding reception takes time to do properly as well as guest involvement.  Why pay for a professional photographer to do the same thing that a guest can do with a disposable camera at other points in the evening?

Below you’ll see an example of candid table shots – taken at a wide 24mm and shot from above, although a cute photo – still impossible to see everyones faces:

I urge all the brides out there to stop asking for the dreaded ‘table shot’!  If you want a record of the guests that are at the wedding, make sure you socialize with them all during the cocktail hour so that you can get candids of them as well as yourself, put disposable cameras on the tables, have your photographer stay later into the reception to ensure more time for candids with the guests after dinner or rent a fun and funky photobooth for your guests to play around in all night.  There are many, many other ways to photograph your guests without having half of them get out of their chairs during dinner time so please, have mercy on your guests and let them enjoy their dinner in peace!



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