No other tradition during the wedding day should rely as heavily on improvisation as the cake cutting. Those entrenched in the traditional camp may want to offer guidelines on where to stand, how to cut the cake and when to smile for the camera, but their promptings need not be followed for a thoroughly memorable experience.
In fact, not following the “rules” is frequently what makes the cake cutting unforgettable. This time-honored ritual can turn into an entertaining affair with teasing, laughter and affections shared between the newlyweds. Occasionally, things can even get out of hand with couples demonstrating the fine art of smashing their beloveds’ faces with finely decorated, multi-tiered dessert.
Whatever you decide, if you are planning to follow this age-old ritual of cutting the cake, wedding photojournalists are ready to make the most of your experience. We’ve spoken with four WPJA award winners to get their input regarding this timeless wedding day tradition.
Great pictures are more likely to emerge from a photo-friendly setting, even if the surroundings are not entirely visible in the captured image. The cake is no exception. New Jersey, USA-based WPJA member Louis Schroder enjoys working receptions where the bride and groom have placed the cake somewhere in the open so that there are people surrounding the couple. “That way, whatever angle I’m shooting at there’s something interesting going on in the background,” he notes. However, since wedding photojournalists do not give direction to the wedding party or guests, they must work with whatever conditions happen to exist, and they are definitely up to the task.
In Schroder’s award-winning photograph of the groom feeding the bride, the white interior of the tent reflects plenty of light. Looking at this picture, you would never guess that they were on the beach, and that there was a hurricane close by, creating waves 20 feet high. “As a result [of the hurricane], the bride and groom went out of their way to be relaxed and let it all out at the cake cutting,” Schroeder recalls.
Gulnara Samoilova, a New York, USA-based WPJA member, who also likes to work this ample space says, “I move around a lot and like to capture the groom feeding the bride from her perspective and vice versa. Also, I like to photograph from unusual angles.”
Sometime before making your way to your wedding cake and picking up the serving pieces, the question should arise: To smash or not to smash? For some, it seems integral to starting off the marriage on the right foot. They believe that whoever smashes the greatest quantity of cake in their partner’s face will have more control in the marriage. We wish them well…
For others, the grooms in particular, smashing the cake in their beloved’s face can be the quickest route to honeymooning on the couch, a lonely place. The grooms are frequently the most hesitant on whether or not they should smear the cake on their new spouse. Somehow, they have not been able to deduce whether the blushing bride will appreciate the joke.
Often, however, to smash or not to smash is a completely spontaneous decision—making it all the more eventful. Either scenario brings out immediate responses. Daniel Min, a WPJA member based in Virginia, USA, says, “I want the couple to express their true emotions. The best pictures are when I’m capturing the real feelings.” That happens when the couple allows their inhibitions to go away.
You can see this in Min’s award winning photograph of a bride and groom who have just smashed one another with a bit of cake. Min did not see this spontaneous display of emotions coming. He explains that it was a very small wedding and that during the entire event both bride and groom were reserved. Then the cake-cutting time came and something clicked—or snapped. Handfuls of cake went through the air and onto one another’s faces. The laughter roared and Min got this wonderful, action-filled photograph.
Srinivasa Regeti, a Virginia, USA-based wedding photographer, knows this dynamic well, and his award-winning photograph is testament to that. Regeti says the guests held the groom while the bride got her shot at him—a scenario which can wreak havoc on the couple’s clothes, hair and make-up. In under a minute, all the time, energy and finances that the bride and groom may have invested in their appearance can go down the drain, so to speak. Know when to draw the line during the cake cutting; but if you aren’t sure what that line is, be sure to find out. Regeti says, “Usually, when prospective clients see that picture, the bride tells the groom not to even think about it.”
If getting smeared with cake is not what you anticipated when you said your “I dos,” then there are other ways to keep the cake cutting from getting out of hand. Regeti has noticed that usually when the cake is brought out earlier in the evening, the entire event remains well organized and in control. Conversely, when it happens late in the evening (when libations may have been freely flowing for a longer time), things can get a little crazy.
The personality of the couple shapes much of the wedding. The cake cutting ritual in particular is an opportunity for their inner selves to take center stage. Samoilova recalls a reception in which the bride took the entire top layer of her beautiful cake and set it on her plate. Supposedly, in her culture this symbolizes that she’ll have more control in the relationship.
In general, Samoilova likes it when there is a lot of action surrounding the cake cutting. Her award-winning image of a groom feeding his positively jovial bride shows a joyous carefree couple. Samoilova says, “It does say a lot about the personality of a couple…it’s too bad that you often have to wait until the end of the reception to see it.”
Wedding photojournalists tend to have different opinions on what makes good cake cutting photographs. Schroder suggests, “It’s interesting when they decide to get crazy with it. Sometimes it’s more fun when they let it out and have a good time.” It’s much more difficult to photograph a couple that is stiff and uncomfortable than one that is letting loose. Regeti says, “Just do what you do and don’t worry about the camera.”
As with much of the wedding day activities, it’s most important to relax and let things fall where they may. Though if you’re adamantly against cake smashing, it’s a good idea to tell your fiancé before the wedding. Otherwise, you may be stuck with an experience you wish was not so uniquely yours.
—by Lauren Ragland for the Wedding Photojournalist Association