As a documentary wedding photographer, I see group shots as an important part of the wedding day. They are often the best way of getting important family members in the same photo, they are also the photos that make it onto family mantelpieces, and also help to keep parents and grandparents happy. So even though it’s not a ‘natural’ photograph, I see it as an important part of my job.
Sometimes couples don’t want group shots for themselves – perhaps they have had a bad experience with a fussy, slow photographer as a guest at a wedding in the past, or perhaps they gravitate more to the natural work that I do, or maybe they have family reasons not to indulge. If that is the case, I am always happy to go with their preference – it gives them more chance to catch up with their guests after all!
That being said, badly-executed group shots can have a negative impact on the wedding day, and make for bad results, as well as a tired and bored couple. So, I thought I’d compile my top tips for successful group shots:
Have a list and stick to it. I always get in touch with couples before the big day to check in, and get a final group shot list. The reason? You don’t want to get your group shots back after the wedding and find out that Uncle George decided to go to the toilet at that exact moment, and so it looks like he didn’t come to the wedding. Another reason is that the couple’s parents and grandparents get the chance to have input on the list, and ensure we don’t have any last-minute additions.
Allow enough time in your schedule. Group shots always take more time than they perhaps should. It’s a law of nature: people individually are usually quite smart and considerate, but once you are dealing with a group, it’s very much like herding cats. Depending on how many group shots you want, and the people involved, it can take as much as an hour. I would recommend you allow at least 25 minutes in your schedule – and do it before the alcohol starts flowing too freely!
Aim to have no more than 6-8 group shot setups. This is a good balance between getting the key people from both sides of the family, and keeping it within a reasonable time frame. I find this a good sweet spot, which allows for even the largest families to ensure everyone who is important is in a shot, whilst also meaning that the married couple get the chance to enjoy cocktail hour with their guests!
Nominate bridesmaids/ushers to help round people up. This is a surprisingly big help on the day, and probably the single biggest thing that will help the group shots not to take up too much time. All we need is someone assertive with a loud voice to round people up, and I find it tends to go more smoothly. Ideally, this person will have the list of personnel required, and can round them up while I’m taking pictures, then it tends to finish on schedule. Keeping on schedule is one of the biggest challenges on a wedding day, and this is a good way to ensure that!
Start with the biggest group shot first. Simply put, it’s quicker to (politely) tell people they are no longer needed, than it is to locate every single guest once they disappear off in various directions. This tip will certainly ensure that everyone’s sanity is preserved on the day.
Remember that it is your day. Often, the couple’s parents want to have input on the day, and, especially if they are paying for it, it’s good to be respectful of this. Having said that, it is your day, and you should be focused on what is right for you. If that means having 3 group shots in total, then feel free to have 3 in total, and use the time you could have spent in group shots hobnobbing with your guests. I find that there is usually an opportunity to grab a quick shot of you with various guests whilst I wander around anyway!
Work with your photographer to choose a time and location that will result in the best pictures - and plan for bad weather! Usually the best time for the group shot is as soon after the ceremony as possible – depending on the venues and amount of travelling involved. Basically, you want to do it when everyone is most likely to be together, and not too ‘involved in the refreshments’. The best location is somewhere there is enough space for the biggest group shot, with a fairly plain background, and also decent shade. The next obstacle is thinking about the light. With most ceremonies taking place around midday – when the sun often casts harsh light and unflattering shadows – this can often make or break a photo, and is definitely something worth bearing in mind. Last but not least, like everything on an English wedding day, it is best to consider the weather, and have a backup indoor group shot location, just in case the weather doesn’t play ball!