Group photographs - the dos and don’ts

Let me start by saying that the group photographs on a wedding day are probably my least favourite part of the day by far, they take up a lot of time and it’s hard to get people to be themselves in the small window you’ve got. This is, also, usually one of the biggest conversation points when I meet with couples and can be a big talking point when planning your wedding and how you are going to structure your day. Below are the main things which come up at pretty much every meeting I’ve had since I started.

How many is too many?

This is a very fine balance when it comes to deciding on your group photographs - you want everyone to feel part of the day but you don’t want them standing around for ages waiting to have a photograph taken.

I usually recommend the following photographs as a starting point of a list, but it all depends on what you both want:

  1. The couple with both sets of parents (then one at a time)

  2. The couple and immediate family

  3. The couple with the bridal party (basically anyone who’s outfit you’ve paid for)

  4. The groom and the groomsmen

  5. The bride and the bridesmaids

  6. The couple with any children they have

Obviously this list may change depending on circumstances but it’s usually a good starting point. You may want pictures with extended family and friends and that’s totally ok, just be conscious of time. There can be an endless list of group photographs that can be taken but think carefully about a) will you ever use them? b) would it be a better photograph is grabbed more casually? (as a documentary photographer I will say that “b” is the case 90% of the time)

Will we have enough time?

Most venues will recommend an hour and a half between the end of the ceremony and the guests sitting down for the wedding breakfast (usually while a room is being turned around or for people to arrive from the ceremony). This will usually give plenty of time for group photographs, formal portraits and a chance to have a drink and a chat.

Remember that getting a group photograph set up takes time to make sure everyone is there and in a position where they can be seen. If you work on an average of 5 minutes per group that soon adds up if you’ve got 10+ groups of people you want photographs of. Also if you’re having a winter wedding think very carefully about sunset - the light can fade pretty quickly!

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how will you get everyone in the right place?

When doing group photographs I will always have a list with me so that guests can see if and when they are needed for photographs so that no one is waiting around for ages. However, the make use of time most effective so everyone can get on with having a good time I do always ask for a helping hand, someone who can help me chase people up rather than have me yelling at your guests and coming across like a wedding day dictator.

does everybody need to be involved?

The short answer here is no. Like I’ve said above its great to get a photograph of the main people in your lives, the ones who when you look back at your photographs you would be gutted there isn’t a photograph with (this is why I never recommend having no group photographs at all) but believe me when I say that guests won’t leave your wedding chuntering if they haven’t been involved in one of your group photographs.

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do we have to just stand in a line?

With this I’m not talking about adding in CGI dinosaurs (it’s a thing for some reason) or adding anything in that’s unrealistic or not ‘you’. I just know for a fact that me and my family and friends have never spent time standing in a line hip to hip - we have a laugh, we pull silly faces at each other so why should your photographs with them just be formal lines?

Find something quirky at your venue that you like, or just trust your photographer if they have an idea. Why not create an ‘old boys’ club style photograph, or why not be gathered around the bar? Even if you do go with the more formal line up still have a laugh with it!

The big group photograph…

Now, this one may be a little controversial but you haven’t got to have a big photograph with every guest at your wedding on and in my personal opinion I think this photograph has had it’s day; I’ve never seen anyone use this as their Facebook banner picture or printed out on their wall and it can take a lot of organising of people (some of which may not necessarily be keen on having their photograph taken) which eats into the time where your friends and family could be having a few drinks and some nibbles.

There are a lot of pros and cons to this photography; they can be great for making everyone feel included and are a great way to get everyone in one place to start the formal portraits or for a confetti shot if you haven’t managed to get one yet.

On the other hand, they can be an absolute bloody nightmare! It’s incredibly difficult to get everyone in shot, you can almost guarantee that someone is going to be blocking someone else or a hat is going to be half covering someones face, some venues have the advantage of height which can make this a little easier, but it’s still something of a mare if it’s facing into the sun at the wrong time for example. They can also sometimes just look like a bit of a rabble gathered around a bride and groom unless you’re willing to sacrifice a good half an hour to getting everyone into a position where they can be seen (and please god don’t ask me to stand your guests in a heart shape because I might throw up in my own mouth - those photographs send chills down my spine) it just seems to be a lot of effort for very little reward.

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Again, this is just me expressing my personal opinions and what I’ve seen over the last few years but, like with my other advice pages, if there’s something which could be useful then it’s done it’s job!