Wedding group photos – an essential guide

Most couples tell me they want a relaxed style of photography, to capture the day as it happens rather than standing around for hours posing for photos. I agree, the story of your day is much better told through natural photos, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any formal photos!

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I am sure you will spend hours fine tuning your guest list, deciding who you want to share your wedding day with, so you’ll want to ensure you have photos to remember them by. For many of us our families are spread around the country, or even around the world, so it’s rare to get everyone together in one place at the same time. This is the perfect opportunity for family photos, particularly as you will all be looking your best!

I often refer to these as the ‘mantelpiece’ shots. You may not want a ‘formal’ photo of you with your parents & siblings on display, but I guarantee your parents probably will. They are a lovely record of your family at a particular moment in time and will be an important part of your wedding album.

It may depend on your venue at what point in the day we take your photos. If you are getting married at a church and then moving somewhere else for the reception I would normally recommend waiting to take the photos at your reception venue once everyone has had a chance to have a drink and you have had chance to say hello to your guests!  There are exceptions to this, if for example the church offers a better setting for photos than the reception venue, or if rain is forecast and we’d rather get the photos done outside before it tips it down! The church may also be particularly important to one side of the family, so it can be nice to get some photos done there.

Allow yourselves enough time during your drinks reception for these photos. I always recommend allowing at least 90 minutes from the end of your ceremony until sitting down for your wedding breakfast, but DON’T PANIC!, I’m not suggesting you spend all that time having photos taken, this just allows you time to get the photos we need and gives you time to chat to your guests!  How long they take is entirely dependant on how many different set ups you want, but I would normally recommend spending 20-30 minutes on no more than 10 different set ups, presuming you’d rather be spending time with your guests? The photos below were taken in just 13 minutes and include 12 different setups.  Sound impossible?  Not if you put in the preparation before the wedding day and work efficiently on the day itself. I hope this article helps to explain how I do it!

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Around 4-6 weeks before a wedding I like to meet up with the couple, usually at their wedding venue, to run through a plan for the day. This meeting is crucial to ensure I know all the key timings (ceremony, wedding breakfast, cake cut, first dance etc), where everything is happening and the best place for photos. Just as importantly we also run though the list of the important family shots they want me to take. It’s never anyone’s favourite part of the day, but I do still manage to capture them as quickly as possible while keeping everyone smiling and happy. I’m often complimented by guests saying ‘that wasn’t at all painful, you were really quick and made us laugh’!

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It’s important for me to understand the family dynamics when discussing these photos with the couple. I don’t want to ask the bride’s parents to cuddle up for a photo and discover that they had a bitter divorce 12 months earlier. It’s also useful to know if a parent has remarried, and whether this new partner is an important part of the family or whether the couple would rather they were not in any of the key photos. I need to make sure I get the ‘mantelpiece’ shots that these parents will almost certainly want to put up in their home. The bride’s mum may well not want a photo of her ex-husband taking pride of place on the coffee table, but she will want a photo of her with her daughter on her wedding day. This inevitably does mean that the family photos can take a little longer, but I think it’s really important to ensure that everyone can receive photos that they cherish.

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I also ask for the names of all the key people and religiously learn them the night before the wedding. This helps to ensure I offer a really personal service and people really like the fact that I’ve bothered to learn their names.  It also makes it easier to arrange the groups, as I can call out ‘Sarah, just move left a bit’ rather than ‘You with the pink hat, move over’. When I am calling people forward for the photos there is never any confusion about whether they are needed for a specific photo – saying ‘for the next photo I need Sarah, Tom, Dave, Claire, Alison, Kate, Bob and Alexander’ is much more efficient than saying ‘the next photo is of the bride’s family’ – does this include second cousin William and his children or not?

While I am happy for you to suggest somewhere you’d like the photos taken, please trust me if I decide it’s not possible. Finding the best light is far more important than using the prettiest backdrop if it means everyone would be squinting into the sun. Children find this particularly hard and it’s just not worth forcing everyone to stand there in discomfort, and your photos would also look pretty awful if everyone has their eyes shut or hands in front of their faces!

As I’m getting each group together I also ask an usher, or someone else helpful, to ensure that the people for the next shot are standing by and ready, as this helps speed things along. They will have been given the same list I am working to, so know exactly who is needed for each shot. This helps avoid a situation where the entire bride’s family have lined up, but then realise that Auntie Doris has gone to the ladies room! It’s sometimes useful to nominate someone from each side of the family, as they will know who everyone is. Similarly if I need to do a photo of all the groom’s university friends I will find out who is the most organised and ask them to gather everyone together when they’re needed.

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To ensure the family shots don’t take too long I do have a guide list of photos I recommend, but these are usually tailored to perfectly suit each individual family.  Your family will have their own unique circumstances, but it’s usually a pretty good place to start thinking about what would work for you.  I hope it’s useful.

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This is the basic list I start with when I meet each couple before the wedding, and we then adapt the list to suit their circumstances:

‘Posed’ Family Group Shots:

  • Bride & Groom + their children (if they have any)
  • Bride & Groom + bride’s parents
  • Bride & Groom + bride’s parents & bride’s siblings (with their partners & kids?)
  • Bride & Groom + all bride’s family (including grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins)
  • B&G + bride’s parents + groom’s parents
  • B&G + groom’s parents
  • B&G + groom’s parents & groom’s siblings (with their partners & kids?)
  • B&G + all groom’s family (including grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins)
  • B&G + wedding party (best man, ushers, bridesmaids, flowergirls, pageboys)

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Think carefully about who you really need in each photo.  Can you combine any groups together in one shot? Do you really need a photo of the groom with the bridesmaids, the bride with the groomsmen, the bride & groom just with the bridesmaids, just with the groomsmen etc, or can you just have one photo with all of the wedding party together.  Will you want pages and pages of these photos in your album, or just the most important ones?

The following shots are sometimes requested. Obviously the more shots you ask for the longer the photos take, so it’s always up to the bride and groom whether these shots are really important to them or whether they’d rather spend more time chatting with their guests.  It doesn’t matter to me, I am happy to take whatever photos I am asked to!  I think my personal record was being given a list of 28 ‘must have’ combinations of family and friend groups. I cautioned them that this would mean a significant part of their drinks reception would be spent having their photos taken and that there would be limited time to spend with their guests, but this was important to them, so I just made sure I worked as quickly and efficiently as I could. Sometimes it’s good to save some of the more informal shots until later in the day. A photo of all the boys who went on the stag do can work really well if taken in a more informal setting at the bar with pints in hand!

Other Popular Shots:

  • B&G + bride’s friends
  • B&G + groom’s friends
  • B&G + all friends
  • B&G + grandparents (both sides)
  • Bride + hen party girls
  • Groom + stag party boys
  • B&G + School friends
  • B&G + Work friends
  • B&G + University friends
  • Everyone (not always possible at every venue, and can take quite a while to get everyone together)

Excuse me getting morbid a minute and appearing to contradict myself, but think about who you might feel sad about not having your photo taken with? I sometimes hear from brides that they were really pleased they had a photo taken with their granddad as he passed away shortly after their wedding and this photo had become even more precious.

Photos usually taken before the ceremony:

  • Bride + bridesmaids
  • Bride + Mum & Dad (also Bride + Mum & Bride + Dad)
  • Bride + siblings
  • Groom + groomsmen
  • Groom + parents
  • Groom + siblings

This list is obviously on top of the other ‘must have’ photos I take on the day, including a shot of the dress, flowers, cake, etc. I’ll post another guide to the shots I aim to take at every wedding in another article, so watch this space!

While I am taking the photos you may hear me asking other guests to stop taking photos at the same time as me. This is not because I want to ensure I am the only person with these shots, but to ensure I have everyone looking at my camera!  There is nothing more frustrating than looking through a series of photos and realising that the bridesmaid on the far left is looking away in every single shot, simply because her boyfriend was standing next to me with his iPhone. If time allows I am always happy to stand aside once I have taken my shots to allow other guests to capture the moment for themselves.

Whether you want all sensible photos or some silly ones too is up to you, I’d never ask you to do poses you don’t feel comfortable with!  The couple below specifically asked me to shoot the following series and they made a really nice spread in their album.

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My aim on every wedding is to get some gorgeous photos of you with your nearest and dearest as quickly as possible, to allow you the maximum amount of time to enjoy your wedding. I hope you have found this article useful, please leave a comment if you’ve enjoyed it or think of anything else I have missed!

  • A quick apology – this guide is clearly based on a wedding involving a bride and groom, but the same principles apply if there are 2 brides or 2 grooms, I was just trying to avoid overcomplicating things!

Photos above taken at the following venues:

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