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!

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.

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.

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 wedding day the photography will be focussed on a natural documenting  approach.  Photographing the day as it unfolds naturally without direction and posing.  It’s all about natural happy smiles and capturing beautiful moments.  The group photographs are the only part 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!)  

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

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

  • 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.  

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 that 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.

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.  

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. 

There are a couple of different options and opinions of when 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 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!

Where to have the group photos?

Let your photographer guide you in the choice of where to have your group photos at the 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 having 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 would like to have them.  

If you have some over enthusiastic family members who still think that wedding photography = 35 different combinations of family group photos.  Not the spontaneous documentary photography you love then it’s a good idea to let them know that it won’t be like that to 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. 

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, siblings – do you want to include their partners’ and any children they may have?)  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.  

Obviously the larger the group the longer it will take to organise so consider this when making your decision.  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 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 so everyone knows who is in each photo so it doesn’t lead to any awkward “Am I in this one or not?”

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. 

Get some willing helpers.

Help from a best man/woman, a sister, one of witnesses, bridesmaid/usher or friend iis so useful.  If this person is a tiny bit bossy, responsible and organised then that’s even better.  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.

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.  He then 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 canapes.  It was so easy, I couldn’t quite believe it.  I’m not suggesting that this level of organisation is needed for every 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!

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 but the ones of you looking at each other are better.  I always start with a traditional one then I get a photo of you all looking at each other.

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

I like to look behind me too as there are always people taking photos over my shoulder.  This makes me laugh as they always look guilty when I spot them.  It’s like I’ve caught them doing something naughty and those expressions are too good to miss!  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 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!  Usually there is time when I’m done for you all to smile at Aunty Jean too so she gets her photo.

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.  

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!

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.  Someone might need to be sent to find your brother who has completely wandered off.  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, we’ll just be patient.  Perhaps we’ll have to do that photo with your niece a bit later on instead?  Although I would strongly advise to do one while she is screaming the house down too for bribery purposes for when she’s older too!

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

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

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