Wedding guests are definitely important. They’re the people you invite to share one of the most memorable days of your entire life. They give up a weekend to attend your wedding, they buy hotel rooms, and they bear gifts. Some even travel from far corners of the world in order to be a part of your big day. So it makes sense that you want to honor them in a significant way—to have a lasting record of their faces, so you remember their presence and generosity twenty years down the road.
Photography seems like the perfect solution, right? And it can be. But before you ask your wedding photojournalist to visit each and every table during the reception to take photos of every single guest or the entire table, consider this: as easy as it sounds, table shots may not be the best approach for you, your guests or your wedding photojournalist.
WPJA award winner Porter Gifford hasn't done a table shot in 15 years.
And the fact that table shots are generally not very attractive—with beer bottles strewn about the table, next to half-eaten plates of food—doesn't have anything to do with it. "It's a personal preference," he says. "Their not very dynamic, and they're not much fun."
Gifford says that he would hire an additional photographer to do the shots before doing them himself. "Someone who wants a [wedding] photojournalist probably doesn't want table shots," he says.
Photojournalists are known for their unscripted, real moments—for documenting the events as they naturally unfold, not just a lineup of the guests. Think about the real moments your wedding photojournalist might miss in the process: the bride dancing with a flower girl, the groom laughing with his buddies.
Traipsing around to every table can also be an intrusion by many of the guests, who aren't aware that the bride and groom have requested the photographs. Some wedding photojournalists won't even do table shots without the bride and groom.
But that’s not going to be ideal either. He’s happy to do it, if that’s what the client really wants, but he offers words of caution: “It does take a significant amount of time. Do you want to spend the reception naturally chatting with your guests or standing posing with everyone?”
The bride and groom may not realize how much valuable time and effort goes into taking table shots; they’re not as easy as making a pit stop at each table and snapping a quick picture. Why does this seemingly simple exercise take so much time? It’s very rare that everyone is actually sitting at the table when the wedding photographer comes around. Guests have to be rounded up; the photographer doesn’t know who people are or even who’s at what table. Like Romine says, “it’s a nightmare.”
If wedding photographer Richard Nowitz is going to do a table shot, he wants it to look good—which means even more organizing, time and energy. “I arrange the chairs and make everything look nice. I have the lady sit down and her husband stand behind her, and then I have the bride and groom stand in the center. I shoot it nice and tight, so I don’t see the mess on the table,” explains Nowitz. “When you have hundreds of people, it becomes quite an ordeal. It’s getting all the people at that table; I have to keep coming back to tables where people are missing.”
If it is, in fact, wedding photojournalism the bride and groom are seeking, but they still feel very strongly about capturing the guests, there are some alternatives to the dreaded table shots that may work out a little better.
Some people solve the quandary by placing disposable cameras at each table and asking their guests—by way of a note at the table, or word of mouth—to take photos of one another. If your guests are adults (and not too inebriated), they’re going to be better at following directions.
Gifford suggests something a little more fun than the dreaded table shot. Friends and family members are likely to want a group photo for posterity. “It's a lot more efficient and a lot more fun. You can print one big photo instead of so many little guys,” says Gifford. This approach allows the guests, as well as the bride and groom, to spend more time enjoying the reception. And that is, after all, the point.
—by Meghan McEwen for the Wedding Photojournalist Association