I always think that the “ritual humiliation” of the couple’s first dance at a wedding is rather a strange custom. Many couples find the prospect of dancing solo in front of all of their friends and family rather a daunting one and it’s seems like a spectacle designed for the amusement of the guests rather than anything else. In reality, by the time you have got to the first dance, most couples are really well beyond being worried about what people think and any self consciousness will be long forgotten. There are, however a few things that you can realistically do to help to make the first dance a bit less stressful:
- Many couples have a bit of a practice before hand and, no matter how simple the rehearsal is this can make a big difference. I have frequently seen couples practicing even the “hold on tight and rock in time to the music” dance in a quiet corner after the wedding breakfast and this can give a bit of confidence when the actual moment arrives! Taking it to the other extreme, some couples will rehearse a Strictly Come Dancing type routine, even sometimes going for dancing lessons, and this can be hilariously funny as the surprise factor for the guests is amazing!
- It can be a good idea to perhaps dance together for the first half of the song and then have some willing bridesmaids etc to flood onto the floor say, for example, at the second chorus. This can be helped along by asking your DJ or band to invite everyone onto the floor half way into the song to save you having to solo dance through the whole four minutes!
- You don’t have to do a first dance! Get everyone on the dance floor from the very beginning and you will probably enjoy the experience much more.
From a wedding photographer’s point of view photographing the first dance poses a number of challenges. I am looking for images that show the love and warmth between the couple as well as recording the fun and people really enjoying themselves. I always look for the bride perhaps having a dance with her Dad and groom with Mum, these are often emotional moments and happen at most weddings.
Technically, the dancing is often the only time I will use flash during the whole day. I always try to carefully balance the ambient light with the flash so that as much of the colour of the background and the atmosphere of the lighting is retained. There’s nothing worse than a over flashed face stuck in a black hole of a background. Focusing can often be hard in the dark and I often use manual focus and manual exposure to help the camera react a bit more quickly. Timing is of the essence, as is making sure I don’t get walloped by any flailing limbs! If the light is right it’s also possible to photograph with a fast lens without flash at all and these photographs can often be very atmospheric.
However, the best advice all round is to just soak up the atmosphere and go with the flow! Everyone will be having a great time by this time in the day and for me, it’s a last opportunity to get some great expressive shots before wending my way home to a well deserved rest, a bag of Twiglets and a large glass of wine!