Thank you to our friend and English Wedding member Fiona Kelly Photography for this super helpful advice feature!
Capturing a wedding day in a more natural, documentary style is wonderful. It allows for all the emotions, love and laughter to be photographed in an unobtrusive way and gives you an amazing record of the day to look back on. My approach is all about capturing the day as it happens in order to create beautiful storytelling images that go further than just recording who was present. I love to photograph the natural moments and the in-between bits; the happy tears as you say ‘I do’, the embarrassed faces during the speeches, the proud smile on your granddad’s face as he watches you walk down the aisle. These are the photos I love to capture and the moments that make an image into something very special. However, I also totally appreciate that this is the one day where all your family, friends and loved ones are there at the same time. There is still a place for doing group photos.
It’s the one time you might have four generations of family together, the one time all your best friends from school will be in one place. Getting a group photo of all these people can also add to the memories of the day in a different way. Group photos can be particularly important to your parents and older relatives. These are the photos that often get the most print orders and I know they will be adorning the mantlepieces of proud aunties and grandparents countrywide.
The trick is to plan and organise the photos in the right way!
With over 300 weddings under my belt, I have definitely worked out the right way to approach these photos. If you want easy, stress-free group photos that don’t take forever and allow you to enjoy your own wedding reception here are my top tips.
1. You don’t need that many group photos
I recommend no more than 10 individual combinations. Think hard about the people who you actually want a more formal photo with. It’s likely to be immediate family and closest friends. Trust me, you don’t need 30 group photos! Are you really going to print all of them? Will you look at them after the day? Do you really want to spend the whole of your reception taking these photos? Prioritise which shots are must haves within the formal photo time e.g. immediate family, bridal party, parents.
Remember that your photographer is generally there for most of the day so there will be time during the day to grab those who aren’t in the formal group photos for a more spontaneous picture. The formal photo time should be kept for the closest and most important groups.
2. Allow enough time for each set up
Knowing how long it takes to do group photos will help you to plan your reception timings. Making sure that you can have all the photos you want and have the canapés and Prosecco! Do bear in mind there is a lot of other photography that’s done during the reception, the group photos is just one part. Here’s a rough idea to help you plan timings. For groups of 6 people or less you should allow 3-4 minutes to round up, arrange and take the photo. For larger groups allow for 5-6 minutes. A photo of everyone at the wedding can easily take 15 minutes to sort out. It is also a good idea to allow another 5 minutes for any unexpected things, such as family members going awol or disappearing to the toilet just when they are needed for a photo! It happens…a lot!
3. Be specific
Who is included in the ‘family’ shot? Parents, siblings, cousins, siblings other halves? Are friends classed as everyone who isn’t family? It can be a bit of a minefield if you leave things open so it helps to be specific. Write the names of the people in each shot so you know who is needed. This is helpful for your photographer to understand family dynamics. It will also help your ushers or those allocated to help round people up for the groups. Which nicely leads me to point 4.
4. Allocate people to help… and make sure they are up for doing the job!
Let the ushers ush, or something along those lines! Choose someone who will be happy to help and who is responsible enough to be useful! I say this from experience. Having a ‘helper’ who vanishes to the bar when they should have been collecting Aunty Mavis is not useful. It make sense for one of the people to be a family member and another to be a friend, this covers most bases. Often the more helpers the better too! Some people are naturally more suited to the job than others. They will need to be nice but firm in rounding guests up and someone who has a slightly louder voice can be useful for making announcements! Guests are generally more responsive to a charming bridesmaid or smooth-talking usher.
5. Talk to your parents about the group photos
This is sometimes the point in the day where there are differences of opinion on who should and shouldn’t be included in a photo. It can also be the point where it all goes pear-shaped and what was supposed to be a handful of photos turns into many, many more! To avoid any issues, or losing your reception having more photos than you really want, have a chat to your parents beforehand. This way you can either add in ones they would like before the day or at least discuss what you are planning.
6. List your shots in a streamlined way
To make the best use of the time you have it’s good to arrange the shots in a logical way. If you have one person in shot 1 and then again in shot 5 the chances are you will lose them and it will take time to get them back again. I tend to start with the larger family shots, which is especially helpful if they include grandparents who don’t want to be standing around for too long. From there you remove people and work down to shots with parents. Its good to leave the wedding party photos until the end so there is time for something a bit more fun. Plus bridesmaids and ushers are often the helpers, so that way they can make sure all the other photos are done first.
Here’s an idea of a group shot list:
– couple’s extended family
– couple’s immediate family
– couple’s parents
– your parents
– your partner’s parents
– couple’s friends
– ushers and best man
– bridesmaids, ushers and best man
7. Let your photographer guide you on location
My main reason for choosing a place for the group photos is because of the light (and the space if it’s inside). I’m not going to stand in front of a kitchen door near the bins, but the beautiful spot you thought would work might not work so well if it’s in glaring sun. Very bright sunlight will have everyone squinting in the photo. This is never going to be flattering! If you really have your heart set on a particular location have a chat to your photographer about it. It might be that you will need to do these photos later in the day when the sun is lower and the light softer. But do bear in mind that can be tricky as rounding up guests after a few drinks is often comparable to herding cats!
8. Have a reserve list
This is the follow on from point 1. The reserve list is the people who you would like a photo with, or of, but groups that can be a little more spontaneous or informal. They might not even need to include the bride and groom. These could be relatives who have travelled from far away or friends who are there with their new baby. The reserve list doesn’t need to include every guest! Just a handful of people who you are close to, but don’t need to be included in the main formal list. I always remind my couples that I am there for the day, so there is no panic in getting photos with friends or more distant relatives. I am available to be grabbed during the reception or later in the evening and these spontaneous photos can be a lot of fun for everyone.
9. Group photos don’t have to be static
For the most part, your group photos will be arranged in a line or on steps where everyone can be seen. However, you don’t have to have all your photos done this way. While your granny might not be up for doing anything too off piste, you can do something a little different with a wedding party or immediate family photos. I always take a guide from my couples about doing group photos that are a little less static or more creative. Not everyone wants to do that (which is totally fine), but if you do you can add some movement (walking, jumping, holding a pose, it’s up to you), or do something a little more editorial in style with where you have the photo taken or how you set it up (use chairs, use a part of the venue that is particularly striking). Have fun, a brilliant group photo doesn’t always need everyone looking to camera. Sometimes the loveliest ones are when people in the photo are interacting.
My aim is to make this part of the day as fun, efficient and easy as possible and to scoot through in about 20-25 minutes, leaving you plenty of time to celebrate with your guests and enjoy those canapés (I will make sure my couples get their canapés if it’s the last thing I do!)
I hope this helps to give some guidance for making the most of your group photos and making them easy! Most couples will never have organised such a large event, so feeling a bit lost when it comes to planning your photos is understandable. If you want more guidance or help I’m always happy to share, just ask! You can find more top tips by checking out my WEDDING PLANNING GUIDE page.
Thanks for popping by