Wedding group photography made simple

Caius College Cambridge bridal party and grooms men wedding photo

 

Wedding Group Photography Made Simple

 

(DISCLAIMER: Before you begin, I should make something clear: I am a Documentary Wedding Photographer! This means that although you will see  formal group photos on this page, this isn’t ‘my style’. It’s a traditional part of the day that I keep to a very short session and I thought I’d pass on a few ideas about how to make this as painless as possible.)

Sometimes they’re for Mum and Dad, other times for grandparents and yes, just occasionally, they’re even for the bride and groom, but one thing is always the same: wedding group photography is the one part of the day that no one really looks forward to.

As a guest, I know I used to dread it. I was once at wedding on one of the hottest days of the year. Everyone was having a fantastic time… and  then the group photography began. The photographer wanted everyone in multiple groups, in a host of different poses – jumping, running, dancing, gurning… you name it. It went on and on and on. In that heat, with only tiny snacks to line our stomachs, the drink went to people’s heads and an overheated, slightly faint exhaustion set in. Maybe it’s just me, but when you’re then asked to go and perform a can-can with ‘male friends from the second year of University’, the entertainment value soon wears thin. Worse still, the couple missed out on all the fun of the drinks reception. Surely it doesn’t have to be that way?

Family Heirlooms

Actually, I don’t think it does, and despite my grumblings, I do see the value in group photography:

It’s often something your parents will treasure and if that’s the case, let’s face it, they deserve it

A big part of the wedding story is two families coming together, so a group photo that shows this is a powerful symbol of this newly forged bond

Where elderly grandparents are involved, this may even be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get a good photograph of you all together

These images become family heirlooms for future generations. They are records of your family history, something that connects future generations to their roots, and as such, they have an inestimable value

So, there is as slight conflict here – most people want these images and I do see the value in them, but it seems a shame if this part of the day becomes too much of a drag. As with many things wedding-related, the only answer is to plan ahead…

The group equation

Before any wedding, I’ll discuss group photography with the couple and help them come up with a tightly edited list. This needs a little thought – the key is to minimise the amount of times anyone has to step in and out of different groups. Problems inevitably start when Uncle Bob thinks his bit is done and slips off for another pint, just as you need him for another family line-up. To avoid this kind of problem, I think of the session as a ‘group equation’, adding and subtracting parts of each group in as logical a way as I can. A ‘short and sweet’ session could look something like this (where ‘C’ means ‘the Couple’):

Family Groups

Brides family + C

Brides family + C + Grooms Family

 Grandparents + Brides family + C + Grooms Family + Grandparents

C + Grooms family

The wedding party

Bridesmaids + C

Bridesmaids + C + Groomsmen

C + Groomsmen

 

There, that was simple enough, and for a lot of weddings that pretty much covers it.

A mid-sized session

Understandably enough, some couples require a little more than a ‘short and sweet’ list and may require separate photos with their grandparents and family images with just their parents. Once you start needing more configurations of each group, it gets harder to follow the principle of not moving people in and out of the photos, but with a bit of rule bending you can get pretty close.

A slightly more comprehensive session could look something like this:

Brides Grandparents + C + Grooms Grandparents

Brides Immediate Family & Partners + Brides Grandparents + C + Grooms Grandparents + Grooms Immediate Family & Partners

Brides Parents and Immediate Family & Partners + C + Grooms Parents and Immediate Family & Partners

Brides Parents + C + Grooms Parents

Brides parents + C

C + Grooms Parents

This would give you images of you with your grandparents, the entire family of both of you with your grandparents, the entire family without grandparents and then images of you and the parents together and alone.

 Can you make it large?

You may now be thinking we’ve had short and mid-sized, what about the large? Well, while there are of course many more variations you could choose to have, I always advise giving some thought as to whether you really, really need them. Depending on the location, the size of crowd, the amount of drink flowing and the work rate of the ushers, even a mid-sized session like this can easily take 20+ minutes. Once you start adding more combinations the time soon stands up and you’ll soon be grinning that wedding day smile through tightly gritted teeth.

Get ushing!

This brings me to another key point – the group session is one of the few times at the wedding that good ushers can make a really big difference to your day. Once you’ve finalised your list, you’ll need to send a copy to your photographer and to a couple of ushers, bridesmaids or guests who you feel would be good at herding the correct people in line at the right time.

During the session, the couple and I will pretty much stay in the same position – if either of us wander off trying to find stray guests, the whole thing can very quickly descend into chaos. So, it’s up to your nominated ushers to get out there and start ushing! Try and pick someone confident, with a loud voice and preferably that someone in your life who is least likely to hit the whiskey at 2pm and wander off obliviously into the distance. Get this right and, with a good, well thought-out list and ushers who are switched-on and helpful on the day, the entire session can be done with little or no stress and minimal impact to the natural flow of the rest of the wedding.

Elderly and young go first

Another good tip is if there are any elderly or very young people to be photographed, it’s a good idea to get these out of the way first. When there are young bridesmaids or page boys, it may be a good idea to do the bridal party images before the family session. My own grandfather was in his late eighties when we married, and we had some pictures taken with him outside of the church ) as we knew he would get tired very quickly (the rest of the groups were taken at the reception venue. These images aren’t the most artistic, but have a lasting emotional value that is hard to put into words – I’m so glad we had them taken.

Style

As I’m very time conscious during this part of the day, I tend to avoid going for the Annie Liebovitz ‘supermodel-shoot-for-Vogue’ style of perfectly arranged groups, with everyone artfully arranged in a balanced set of varying poses. There is a trend for this and I’m not knocking those that do it, but as documentary is the heart of my style I prefer to keep the group session simple.

So, I tend to opt for a basic line up, albeit one where I ensure everyone is visible and a kind of symmetry is created by the way people are positioned.

When it comes to choosing a background, there are a few points I keep in mind:

light – generally you want to avoid areas of high contrast and opt for a spot where the light is as soft and flattering as possible

 position of the sun – you and your guests don’t want to be squinting to prevent the mid-afternoon sun from burning your retinas, so I position groups with the sun behind or to one side of  them

 location – some venues have a obvious sweet-spot, where the view or architecture is irrestiable as a backdrop, so long as the light is on your side

 an uncluttered view – as much as possible, I avoid shooting towards overly complex views where it’s likely you’d end up with a lamp post or something similar growing out of your father’s head

 Should we have an everyone group?

As a final point, I’m often asked,”should we have an everyone group?” I’m in two minds about this: the problem with everyone groups is that unless you have a high vantage point to photograph from, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll actually be able to see everyone in it. When you have to arrange people according to height in a bid to try to see everyone, there comes a point where the ratio of time taken to benefit of the overall day tips against more moving of people, so it gets to a stage where the image needs to be taken to allow the day to move on. Hence these images works best where there is natural vantage point such as a terrace, balcony, or hotel window, from which I can look down on the group – this makes arranging people a lot quicker and helps to make sure that most faces can be seen. Even then, unless you’re having the image printed at poster size, actually spotting everyone in any detail is a little tricky. On the plus side though, the ‘everyone’ group does help create a sense of the size of your wedding – I’ve even worked for couples who have opted to have this group taken and this group only. This is one of those decisions that I leave to individual couples, but it is wise to remember it does take time to get everyone into position, so if time is tight it’s probably wise factor around 8-10 minutes to get this done.

Below you’ll find a gallery with a few examples of groups I’ve taken. I hope this helps with the planning of your wedding group photography – if you’ve any feedback or questions feel free to contact me!