The first dance as a married couple is one of the most anticipated parts of the wedding day. Traditionally, it signals the start of the evening party. I’ve covered everything from five minutes of choreographed dance sequences in large ballrooms to simple shuffles around a hotel dance floor.
So what makes a good first dance photograph?
Lighting the first dance
Lighting is one of the most dramatic ways of creating a spectacle at the wedding. When it comes to the first dance, the lighting often reflects the personality of the couple and the location of the event.
Spotlights are very popular, particular in marquees. They add a sense of occasion and drama to the first dance. In Cheshire, this couple danced between spotlight beams on a dark dance floor. To get lighting like this isn’t usually something you can do without using professionals, and while the effect is fantastic, it isn’t for everyone’s taste or personality.
In Yorkshire, the couple danced on a sunken stage in front of their guests. It was a lot of fun. If you are the type of person that enjoys being in the spotlight (sorry – I couldn’t resist), then go for it. We are happy to recommend some exceptional planners and lighting experts that can put on a show for you.
At this Aynhoe Park wedding, there were spotlights, gobos, and all sorts of lighting effects. It looked spectacular and was fitting for the couple and their guests who wanted a nightclub feel for the evening party.
Older venues may not have the option of spotlighting, but part of their charm is that the lighting they do have often reflects the history of the building. In a ballroom lit by chandeliers, it’s easy to imagine past weddings taking place in the same room a hundred years earlier. It would be a shame to ruin the history and character with strobes and lasers!!
At Maunsel House in Somerset, the room chandelier’s illuminated the couple. A wonderfully soft light which added to the intimacy of the dance. This location was perfect for the couple and their personality.
Often, the band or DJ brings additional lighting. Over the years, this has been the most common lighting setup I have come across. At this Thornton Manor wedding, the lighting from the DJ’s rig gives a lovely rim light to the couple.
If your DJ is supplying the lighting, always ask that they switch off any pinpoint laser effects during the first dance. They might look funky, but they cause havoc with digital cameras!!
At Coombe Abbey, the function room lighting combined with the small lighting rig from the band, created some wonderful modelling on the bride’s face.
At this modern barn venue, the room lights are the primary source of illumination. It isn’t the best light, but I want my clients to go back to the moment depicted in the photograph, with the light, mood and atmosphere that was present. Imagine dancing together and remembering the low light, the shadows, and your guest’s faces in the dark. I believe wedding photographs should keep that authenticity.
The first dance together or with friends?
There are no rules. A lot of couples like to complete the first dance song before bringing their friends in on the second song. Others give it a few bars before getting everyone to join them.
At Askham Hall, the guests joined the couple during the first song. The layers of people with the three couples kissing at the same time added interest to the photograph.
In Newcastle, the bride and groom performed a specially choreographed dance (the bride is a former Strictly Come Dancing winner) before inviting their guests to join them. What I love about this is that the couple defaulted to a traditional first dance once the second song started.
In Cumbria, the guests add interest to the background for this moment.
Alternative locations for a first dance
It might seem crazy to suggest this given the UK’s climate, but we have had couples who have foregone the traditional dance floor for something a little different. Outside!! There is always a plan B, just in case of that great British weather!!
A first dance photographed on a lake in the grounds of Swinton Park Hotel in Yorkshire. An acoustic guitar and vocal. No pyrotechnics or fancy lighting. It has drama and uniqueness, as not everyone has a location like this, but it also has a lot of intimacy as the guests are a long way from the couple.
At this wedding in Oxfordshire, the couple danced on a hill next to the marquee. It was pitch black. I used the videographer’s light to pick the couple out from the darkness. They will remember dancing with a video light in their eyes, so I was happy to show this as part of the day.
In Italy, this couple danced outside in the darkness at Convento dell’Annunciata. The illumination provided by small lamps in the garden area where the reception took place. An incredibly atmospheric and intimate environment as the darkness allowed them to concentrate on each other and not their guests.
Two wedding photographers are often better than one
Taking wedding photographs of the first dance can be better achieved with two photographers, especially in tricky light or with lots of guests. Two photographers can give a different perspective and add interest to the coverage.
I’m lucky to work alongside my wife, Sarah, at every wedding. An internationally published documentary photographer, she adds something refreshing and different to the photography. In Romania, she took this picture of the couple as they walked onto the dance floor for their dance. This image was used as a lead photograph in the Canon EOS 5D MKIV advertising campaign.
Another of Sarah’s images from an Aynhoe Park wedding. The use of complimentary colour is fantastic and the low camera angle adds a different dimension to the image.
One of my favourite images from Sarah. Taken at the end of the first dance in Cambridge. The little boy with his toy bear is just brilliant.
Another Askham Hall wedding. Here, Sarah was working with a wider lens to get the overall feel of the first dance.
Using a longer lens, I was able to get the expression of sheer joy from the bride as she was lifted in the air.
Alternative first dance photographs
One of the main advantages of having two photographers is that it allows for experimentation which is essential to growth as an artist. It can also add something quite different to first dance photographs.
With Sarah covering the dance from one angle, I was able to push the boundaries by using movement and grain from my position. From a wedding in Laurens in France.
At The Inn at Whitewell, shooting really tightly produces something very different. The hands become the main feature of this picture.
The bride and groom make their way onto the dance floor at Rudding Park. The reflective surface of the bar creates an abstract image.
Shooting against a marquee window creates a lot of distortion. The vocalist in the background adds to the story. While this sort of image might not appeal to everyone, but it is different from the traditional pictures of the first dance.