The cake cutting ceremony is one of the key moments in a wedding reception that is not without its challenges. From lighting to positioning, the proper techniques and preparation are critical to delivering consistently incredible images for your clients. In this article, we’re going to provide some cake cutting photography tips to level up your wedding reception photography.
This education is inspired by the Wedding Photography Training System, available on SLR Lounge Premium. If you’re interested in leveling up your wedding photography, be sure to check it out.
Cake Cutting Tips
Cake Exposure – Watch out for the exposure on the cake. A white cake can easily “blow out” and lose all of the detail when you use flash.
Be careful of your angles – Cake cuttings can be unpredictable in terms of the action. So be sure you’re in a position where you can see both the bride and the groom as well as the cake itself. Compositionally, use the cake as a context piece and frame the couple beside it. Because the groom is generally taller than the bride (but not always), place the groom behind the bride when positioning the couple near the cake.
Get the Ideal Background – Like first dances and toasts, the ideal backdrop for cake cutting is the audience (or guests). If a coordinator or wedding planner asks, be sure to inform them of your preferred shooting direction. In cases where you are tasked with coordinating the cake cutting session, try to position the couple between you and the other guests.
Use Storytelling – As per usual, consider storytelling when capturing the action and cover wide, medium, and tight angles of the couple as they cut the cake, feed each other, make toasts, and react to the situation. Be careful not to miss moments as the entire sequence can start and finish in a matter of a couple minutes.
Cake Cutting Lighting – Pinned Constant or OCF?
Once again, pinned constant or off-camera flash lighting is ideal for photographing the cake cutting. This lighting method only takes 1-2 minutes to set up, and it works in any scene or location. It does, however, require an assistant or 1-2 light stands.
It’s important to position the light so that shadows are minimal, whether it be a shadow cast from the cake over the couple, or from the bride over the groom, etc. (note the diagram above). The flash power will have to be adjusted based on the distance between the light and the couple. Whereas we generally recommend setting the flash power to 1/8-1/16 during most of the reception, the flash power may have to be reduced to 1/16-1/32 for the cake cutting. Whatever the case, make sure the flash power is set lower than the ambient lighting and/or modified with a softbox or umbrella to minimize shadows while shooting close up. On-camera fill flash is also an option, but it’s really the photographer’s preference.
Secondary angles (other than tight vs. wide angles) are typically not needed for photographing the cake cutting, so second and third shooters should focus on VIPs or other guests’ reactions.
Multiple light sources allow for more dynamic lighting options and up the production value by providing rim lighting and separating the couple from the background. Making simple adjustments can utilize the background lighting to create flares or backlighting for the couple (see the image below).
Bonus – Cake Photography Lighting
I suppose you could also title this post, “What do you do when your lens hood is no help at all?” Either way, here’s today’s image of the day, and some insight into how it was shot and processed. Hopefully you folks are enjoying your weekend!
The Equipment and Settings
- Nikon D700, Sigma 35mm f/1.4, hand-held.
- 1/90 sec @ f/1.4 & ISO 800
- Manual exposure, manual WB @ 3000 Kelvin, RAW.
- Nikon SB80DX wireless flash with CTO gel, Pocket Wizard 2 radio triggers.
The Shooting Conditions
When I first came in to photograph the details of this wedding reception, I didn’t have a flash set up in the corner yet and needed to focus on getting the wide-angle images first because guests were about to enter the hall. The cake phots looked good, but I knew I would come back and do better later when I had more time. The cake is one detail in a wedding reception that often gives you this opportunity, because it is usually in a corner and goes un-touched until later in the night.
Once the reception got started up and I eventually had a few minutes to spare, I came back to the cake now that our team had placed a flash in the corner of the room just to the side of the cake. It was perfect, except for one thing. I wanted to frame my shot with the up-lighting on the walls just exactly the way you saw in the above image, with the rim-light from the flash at just the right angle so that it wouldn’t be distractingly bright, ….unfortunately that meant that the flash in the corner was so close to that composition that it caused THIS, even when using my lens hood:
So, what to do? Ninja-chop the flare, of course! It may look silly, but it’s the fastest way to get the results you want. Now, if you have no idea what I’m talking about when I say “ninja-chop”, allow me to demonstrate:
…That’s about as low-tech as it gets, folks! But, problem solved. Now I had the crisp, vibrant contrast and color that I felt this image needed. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes flare is a great thing, just not in this situation.
If you pay attention to detail on the front end, (exposure, white balance, etc.) …then post-processing for an image like this should be easy. Usually I just start with the Visual Flow Lightroom Presets, then tweak my white balance as necessary, and maybe bump one or two of the basic develop settings. Some of the time I may need to tweak one other setting such as vignetting. If the image is one of my favorites, I might do a touch of burning and dodging or other local adjustments.