Planning the group photos at weddings

Group photos at weddings can be tricky for people to navigate or just quite a lot to think about.  You probably don’t know where to start.  You do know that you don't want to be stuck in a line for hours fake smiling at the camera.  But you are not sure how to go about doing the group photos at your wedding without them taking too long, missing out family members or trying to navigate the family politics of who should and should not be in the wedding photographs!

If this sounds vaguely familiar to you, read on for my top tips to help you though the planning process.

ted baker bridesmaid dresses, Chelsea town Hall wedding prince albert bridge london, group photo at wedding

Best advice - keep them short and sweet and don’t have too many.

We’ve all been a guest when the group photos at weddings seem to go on forever.  You can see the smile on the couples face start to twitch from the effort of holding it.  You notice that slight twinge of annoyance in their eyes as the canapes whizz past and they don’t get to eat anything because they are on group photo combination no. 45!  Aunty Jean has wandered off again.  Someone has been sent to look for her but that person was supposed to be in the next group photo - NIGHTMARE!!  

No-one wants to stand in a line and for the group photographs to take forever. This is definitely not how I approach group photos at weddings, I promise. 
Let’s make it simple and easy.

Group photos at weddings family stands in front of the mountains in St Moritz

I like a more relaxed but organised and simple approach for the group photos at weddings.  I hope this guide will be helpful to you.  If you have no idea where to start or are worried that the group photographs will be boring and/or annoying or take too long and make your face hurt from all the smiling; There is another way, read on to find out more.

bride and her bridesmaids hug, they are all smiling.  Bride has swallos on her veil. wedding photograph Switzerland

How to get through the group photos at weddings easily, quickly and painlessly.

Let's have fun.  I’ll be honest with you, the group photo section of the day is usually the part that my couples look forward to the least.  This doesn’t have to be the case though, we can make it easy and painless, it just takes a little bit of organisation.  

People are generally a bit worried about the group photos at weddings because for the rest of the day the wedding photography will be focussed on a natural, documentary approach. Which can feel much less intimidating than posing. You don't have to do anything apart from enjoy the day!  Photographing the day as it unfolds naturally without direction and posing is all about natural happy smiles and capturing beautiful moments.  The group photographs are the only parts of the day (wedding photography wise) where there needs to be a little bit of organisation, direction and posing to get the photos done.  The right combinations of people don’t just stand in a line and smile at the camera without me placing them there first (oh my goodness, imagine if they did though!)  

a groom and his friends are laughing at one another, wedding photography South Farm

The group photos at weddings do require some organisation, but it's not a lot.  We can make them fun and most importantly, quick, and successful without anyone getting bored or upsetting people in the process.

The key to all of this is to make a plan and to think about this before the wedding day comes around:

  • Have a list of group photos prepared. 
  • Do not have too many different group photographs on that list.
  • Stick to it and not to be influenced by other people’s opinions. 

But I’ll get onto that in a bit.

Firstly you need to decide if group photos are for you.

Even as a documentary wedding photographer, I personally think it’s important to have some group photos at your wedding.  I would advise not too many.  The more time you spend doing group photographs, the less time you can spend enjoying the day and the company of your guests.  Spending time with people is one of the joys of a wedding.  Don’t get bogged down in too many group photographs.

Unless you are eloping on your own, you'll be surrounded by friends and family on your wedding day.  It’s not often that we all get together like this.  To photograph this is pretty special.  

It’s also important from a social historical point of view.  I love old photographs.  It's so good to be able look back at a different time and see what the world was like then.  To wonder at the outfits, hairstyles and the surroundings.  I bet you’ve had a giggle at your relatives old family portraits.  You’ve marvelled at how young your Dad looked and how good his hair was.  (No?  Just me?  My Dad had the BEST hair - long and dark and curly.  He’s fairly bald now, sorry Dad, love you!)  Or perhaps you’ve enjoyed looking at how your Nan and Grandpa stood next to each other clutching each others’ hands and looking all fresh faced and sweet?   These reminders of our past are such a treat to see.  

Bride is smiling at her Grandma at her wedding.  Grandma is wearing a blue hat bride has a 1 shoulder dress on. group photos at weddings

Also, on a more pressing note.  I bet your Mum would want a group photograph or two to display proudly on the wall of fame in the hallway.  I know mine would!  

Don’t forget though, I will be capturing these people all day long so is it really necessary to have too many group photos?  Just pick the most important ones to you.

friends of the couple are laughing and smiling before the group photos at a wedding

Make a plan before the wedding day.

Make a plan of the group photos you would like before the wedding.  We can discuss this together and I can provide suggestions (get in touch and I’ll send you my recommendation list)

Keep this list short and sweet.  It's not necessary to have a group photo with every person at the wedding or every family group attending.  Stick to the groups that you really want and try not to get swayed by other people when making this decision.  

Which group photos do you see yourselves printing out and hanging on your walls?  Stick to these combinations.  I advise no more than 8 different group photos at weddings, even less if you can.  

group photo at a wedding in front of the Grossmunster in Zurich.  Civil wedding photography in Switzerland

Timing is everything for group photos at weddings.

Make sure you have enough time in the schedule of the wedding day for the group photos.  I always recommend budgeting for around 5 mins per group photo at a wedding.  This sounds a lot and *usually* doesn’t take this long but it can do.  If we don't use all of that time then it gives you extra time during the apero for chatting, enjoying being with your guests, eating, drinking and for your couple portraits. 

bride, groom and witnesses at the Zivilstandsamt in Basel after a civil wedding in Switzerland

There are a couple of different options and opinions of when is the best time during the wedding day to do the group photos.  It depends on what you have planned for the rest of the day as some timings are fixed and can’t be moved.  Personally, I like to do the group photos at weddings in the middle of the apero or after the ceremony.  But, never immediately after the ceremony because this time is reserved for congratulations and hugs from your guests!  You will be showered with love at this point with everyone wanting to say congratulations and wrapping you both up in a great big hug so I definitely do not want to get in the way of that.  Plus this part of the day is photo gold!

Destination wedding in France bride and bridesmaids in front of beautiful old chateau

Where to have the group photos?

Let your photographer guide you in the choice of where to have your group photos at your wedding.  It very much depends on the light and the weather.   Light is everything when it comes to photography.  Even if there is the most spectacular backdrop that you had pinned your hopes on, if the sun is beaming down into everyone's eyes, it will not work.  The choice of backdrop for group photos at weddings has to be a combination of the light direction and what is actually behind you.  Please trust your photographer who will have a good idea of where it is best to do the photographs.   

Choose one spot and do all the group photographs in that place.  This will save time and make it easy to switch people in and out of the photos.

If possible have a back up indoor contingency plan if the weather is bad.  This can be so useful and will give you peace of mind.

Avoiding any potential family upsets.

Oh family politics. There is nothing like a wedding for everyone to let you know their opinion on how you should do things is there?  Obviously you don’t want to upset anyone but it is important that you have the family group photos at your wedding how you both would like to have them. Not how someone else thinks you should have them.

laid back back garden wedding in the summer bridesmaids in dark blue with champagne glasses.  Wedding photography Switzerland

You might have some over enthusiastic family members who still think that wedding photography = 35 different combinations of family group photos and not a lot else and not the spontaneous documentary photography you love. If this is the case then it might be a good idea to let them know before your wedding day that it won’t be like that. This will avoid any unwanted drama on the wedding day itself. 

Talk to your parents. This is often the part of the day that people have strong opinions about.  To avoid any upset and confusion it's good to discuss your plans beforehand so that everyone knows where they stand.  I can always grab some spontaneous photos of groups of people as you are chatting with them during the rest of the day if there is time. Ultimately I want you all to be happy.

wedding couple just married and surrounded by friends and family showering them in confetti on Southend Pier.  One bride wears Vivian Westwood shoes and a vintage 50s inspired dress

Be very specific about who is in the group photos at the wedding.  

Do you want just your immediate family in the photographs?  (Parents, any step parents, grandparents, any children or step children you might have, your siblings (do you want to include their partners’ and any nieces or nephews if you have them?)  Or, do you want to include extended family too?  (Aunts, uncles, cousins etc).  Is your family situation complicated or just different?  Or, do you want something completely different?  That's great!  Just let me know and let these people know too so we all know what to expect.  

Civil wedding in Switzerland, group photograph of family in front of the Münster in Basel

Obviously the larger the number of people in the group photograph the longer it will take to organise. So consider this when making your decisions.  It is completely up to you here, only you know how close you are to your families, what the dynamic is like and what is important to you to have photographed.  I’m not going to tell you that or force my opinion on who should or shouldn’t be in the photos.  

When you have sorted out all the family politics and you have decided who will be in the photos and are making a list for your wedding photographer. Please don’t just write “my family” on the list.  Please include their names so I (or a helpful helper) can call them out.  Be clear on this list too so that everyone knows who is in each photo and it doesn’t lead to any awkward questions like “Am I in this one or not?”

zivilstandsamt in Basel wedding photography.  group photo at a wedding

Don’t forget your friends.

It's nice to have a group photograph with your friends as well as they are important to you and part of your lives.  If you are short of time, it can be a good idea to do this later on in the day in a more informal way. 

couple on their wedding day having a group photo with all of their friends.  Group photos at weddings

Get some willing helpers.

Help from a best man/woman, a sister, one of witnesses, bridesmaid/usher or friend is so useful.  If this person is a tiny bit bossy, responsible and organised then that's even better (if they love a list and a clipboard then I will probably try and recruit them for all my weddings!)  Someone with a loud voice is also pretty excellent!  We’ve all got that one friend (or a couple of friends) who love the limelight.  Rope them in to help, they will be perfect.  It's all about people management.  It is so helpful to have someone who knows the members of your family.  Give them the photo list and ask if they can help.  Gathering people together and keeping them there so no-one wanders off.  This makes everything so much easier and seamlessly.

2 groomsmen are looking confused trying to work out how to use a video camera and one is holding a wedding bouquet made of roses.  Wedding Photography Switzerland

I was at a wedding once which went one stage further in organisation and honestly was the easiest group photo session I have ever done!  The groom's witness had made sign posts with each group photo combination written onto it.  He then went and placed the signposts out where were were going to do the photos.  Then he stood on a table and asked everyone to go and stand by their appropriate signpost.  I then just had to call each group forward for their photo and when they were finished they went back to enjoying the canapés.  It was so easy, I couldn’t quite believe it.  I’m not suggesting that this level of organisation is needed for every wedding but it did make the photo super easy!

barefoot bride watch as her son is crawling on the grass at her wedding

Relax and try to have fun. 

If the children are running about everywhere then just let them - it's cute.  It makes for great photos.  You just make sure that you are looking at the camera and smiling - not looking down at the child and telling them to look at the camera when they are actually looking cute already!

flower girl is smiling at the camera her family stand behind and are happy, wedding photography South Farm

Lastly, these aren’t really tips but just a bit of insight that I’ve learned over the years

Traditional shots of everyone looking at the camera are great and as I said earlier on, very important. But, the ones of you looking at each other and not at me - they are better.  I always start with a traditional photograph then I like to get a group photograph of you all looking at each other, it makes you all grin to see each others smiling faces.

I find that photographing the organisation of the group photos is all very visually appealing.  That slight confusion of everyone deciding where to stand, getting themselves sorted out.  It is too good not to capture.  

bride and her friends getting ready for a group photos at weddings.  One girl is laughing the other is messing with the veil

I like to look behind me too as there are always people taking photos over my shoulder.  This makes me laugh, they always look guilty when I spot them.  It’s as if I've caught them doing something naughty and those expressions are priceless! 

I don’t mind at all if your guests are taking photos at the same time as I’m doing the group photographs at weddings.  It is important that you look at me though and not at another family member with a camera during the group shots.  Try to ignore Aunty Jean who has her ipad with her.  Oh bless good old Aunty Jean - there is always someone with an ipad!  I actually quite love grabbing a photo of this too!  There is time when I’ve got you all smiling at me for you all to smile at Aunty Jean too so she gets her photo, I don't want her to miss out.

I hope that helped.

You made it to the bottom!  That was a lengthy blog post wasn’t it?  I didn’t actually intend for it to be so long!  But as I was writing it I realised that there are so many things to consider during this part of the day that you might not have thought of before.  So I thought I’d include everything.  

If we can get through the group photos quickly and easily then it makes for a much happier, less stressful time for everyone and ultimately that's the aim isn't it?  For you and your guests to have fun at your wedding and to enjoy it.  

1 half of a married couple nuzzles the neck of the other half of the married couple they are surrounded my plants in a beautiful garden group photos at weddings

Perhaps I’ll write a shortened version of this post one day with just the bullet points so people don’t have to read all my ramblings?  That’s probably a good idea don’t you think? 

It would go something like this: 

For quick and easy group photos at weddings:  

  • Keep them short and sweet; 
  • Don’t have too many;
  • Make sure that you have chatted to family members beforehand to avoid any awkwardness on the day;
  • Look at the camera!
Destination adventure wedding Mettmenalp, Switzerland.  Group photos of everyone who is at the small intimate wedding ceremony in the mountains.  A mountain lake is behind them.  and example of a group photo at a wedding

Mostly, as with everything, the most important thing to do is to not stress out, stay calm and to be flexible if things don;t go completely to plan.  This is what I am here for, I’ve done this so many times before and keeping calm is my specialty.  

It will all work itself out in the end.  We might have to wait for someone to come back from the loo.  Possibly your brother has completely wandered off at precisely the wrong moment and we have to send someone to find him.  We may have to work around the fact that your cute and normally angelic little niece decides to scream her little lungs out right now!  It's OK, and it's all part of the wonderful fabric of life. We can just be patient.  Perhaps we’ll have to do the photo with your screaming niece a bit later on instead?  No problem. Although I would strongly advise to do one while she is screaming the house down, for bribery purposes for when she's older!

Together we’ve got this, it’ll be amazing.

wedding photography Les Trois Rois, Basel.  Stylish couple about to throw the bouquet - group photos at weddings
wedding photography London wedding party preparing for a group photos at a wedding on the Prince Albert Bride London on a very sunny day
Venue list:
Chelsea Old Town Hall, London, UK
Hotel Castell, St Moritz, Switzerland
South Farm, Cambridge, UK
Zivilstandsamt, Basel, Switzerland
Der Teufelhof, Basel, Switzerland
Villa Merian, Basel, Switzerland
The Garden Barn, Little Bradbury, Suffolk, UK
Das Stadthaus, Zurich, Switzerland
Château St Julien, Poitiers, France
The Farmhouse, Mackworth, Derbyshire, UK
A back garden wedding, Marlow, UK
SouthEnd Pier, Southend-on-sea, UK
Christ's College, Cambridge, UK
Baur au Lac, Zurich, Swizterland
Les Trois Rois, Basel, Switzerland

Group photos at weddings. Wedding Photographer Basel, Switzerland. Hochzeitsfotograf Basel

Share this story

Let’s talk

couple kissing in front of the Stadthaus in Zurich, her hair is blowing in the wind and she's laughting, he is kissing her neck

If you are looking for wedding, elopement, or family photography in Switzerland (or further afield) introduce yourself and tell me all about what you’re planning.

Work with me