I hear it at so many weddings: ‘I’ll just keep the jacket on for the photos.’ It makes me laugh! As a documentary photographer, I see ‘the photos’ as being the whole day, and not just the group photographs.
Formal group photographs were once a necessity at weddings, when photographers only had film cameras available. A photographer would rock up in time for the end of a wedding ceremony, stay for an hour and photograph key groups, using perhaps only one or two rolls of film. Getting these group photos was therefore the only way to guarantee every important person at the wedding was included in a photograph. It was likely there would be no other photographs taken at the wedding, and certainly none that would be guaranteed to come out.
As time went on, film became cheaper and weddings changed. Photographers started to stay for more of the wedding to capture more of the fun. This meant that the number of group photographs was able to increase. I remember at a family member’s wedding in the 1990’s that the group photographs went on for a long time and seemed to include every possible combination of guests.
Now wedding photography has changed again. Photographers have so many different styles, each covering more of the wedding day. Are group photographs with everyone stood in lines still needed in 2023 when so many of the guests are captured throughout the day anyway?
For this reason, most of my clients consider carefully the question ‘do I need group photographs at my wedding?’. They usually choose to have a minimal number of group shots, preferring to have my attention on capturing natural and candid photographs on the day. Often the group photos are the ‘mum and grandma shots’ – the shots that important members of the family would really love to have framed and put up above the mantelpiece. I’d suggest these simple steps to try and ensure these images are captured quickly but beautifully.
1. Condense the number as much as possible
If you guesstimate, each group combination will take around 5 minutes. (This might seem a lot, but I’m allowing time here to find a missing granny!) Therefore, ten group photographs would be 50 minutes, which is the best part of an hour. An hour on your wedding day is a big part of those precious few hours you enjoy! Therefore, the fewer groups you can manage, the better. Try and aim for around 4–6 to keep things quick and simple.
2. Be realistic about small children
I love children at weddings! As a mum myself, I love watching children really enjoy being a part of the celebration. However, by the time the group photos are happening many small children are ready to nap/run around/snack/have a complete meltdown about wearing their wedding attire. It’s therefore a good idea to have a contingency plan, to save everyone else waiting around while your brother chases after little Jonny because he’s escaped again. If the children attending your wedding are pre-school children, the chances are that they will struggle with any formal photos – so keep the number they are part of to a minimum. Also, doing these shots first is really handy, as they are then free to run around. When I want to photograph my own children, I always have a Haribo or two in my pocket as a reward for a nice smile, which is worth suggesting to the children’s parents.
3. WARN YOUR KEY GUESTS
This is perhaps the most important part of planning. I find that if guests know that as soon as the canapes are finished they need to be next to the duck pond for photographs (for example), the more likely they are to not go missing (see point 1). Trust me, the most frustrating part of the group photos is trying to find people, so anything to make sure everyone is there and ready will make it easier. Make sure they know where to be and at what time. Make copies of the list available to all your key people – parents, best men and chief bridesmaids.
4. NATURALLY FORMAL
I take a natural formal approach to my group photographs. I am not someone who is looking for perfection here. Jackets may not all be done up with an identical number of buttons; on larger groups, there may be slightly more people on the left than the right. This imperfection to me makes the group photos perfect – it is real life, natural and unstaged, and represents the day as it was. I focus on taking lots of shots of each group and try my best to make all your groups laugh, to get some great happy shots for you to remember. Allowing the photographs to be naturally imperfect will save so much time on your day and still produce fantastic results.
5. THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT THE LARGE GROUP PHOTOGRAPH
Depending on the number of guests you have, a full group photo can range from a quick snap to a full-blown logistical operation involving multiple stewards and a microphone. If you are having a small wedding, a group photograph is a brilliant way to finish the group photos and can be easy to set up and take after the confetti.
A full group photograph at a larger wedding requires much more planning. The logistics of moving dozens of people, many of whom are wearing stilettos, can be very tricky and the final results can be varied. It can be very, very difficult to get everyone’s face visible when so many people are in one photograph and it can be difficult to differentiate Uncle Herbert from Uncle Paul. The logistics are further complicated if any of your guests have mobility issues. My advice is that if you are having a large wedding, really consider if the group photograph is REALLY important to you. If It isn’t a priority for you, then it’s probably best not to bother and enjoy the time with your guests instead. If it is really important to you, then have the location pre-planned and allow a good 20 minutes to half an hour for the photograph. You will need to prep a few guests to help round everyone up in the perfect location. I provide two shooters at all weddings which makes a full group photo a little easier to organise.
Your wedding day is all about celebrating your love for each other with all your friends and family. If you choose to have group photographs, then just make sure they are a small part of the day and don’t take it over.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog and considering ‘do I need group photographs?’. If you’d like to see more of my wedding planning tips, check out my blog on the best garden games.