Today in our long-running wedding photography series I’d like to talk about group shots and the surprising impact they can have on your wedding day. Although personally I’m predominantly a documentary wedding photographer group shots do have a special place in my heart and I love looking back at some of the group shots from mine and Matt’s family’s weddings and finding out who all the people were – they can hold a real magic and it can almost create a family tree looking back through all the old family wedding group shots. I’m often asked to photograph groups and I find they can be a great challenge to make something really visually exciting with so many people. However I’m often surprised to receive incredibly long lists of groups that the couple want me to photograph and so this post is really to help you to try to get the balance right.
Group shots are one of the hardest things for a photographer to get right at a wedding. There’s rarely much time to get them spot on, you’re having to try to coordinate a lot of people at the same time and the sheer number of people to fit in the shot often means that your choice of location to take the shots is severely limited. A good photographer can of course work around all of this and set everything up for a great shot regardless, but what’s more difficult to control is whether the people in the picture actually want to be photographed.
It tends to be large groups that are the most difficult as keeping everyone’s attention and trying to get the perfect picture makes it a fairly time-consuming task at a time when everyone generally just wants to go and have a drink and relax. Getting everyone together is also often a challenge as there’s always one person who will have nipped off to the loo or has run up to get something from their hotel room and can’t be found, and as every second ticks away the guests are becoming more and more impatient as they stand in position, often out in the cold, waiting for that shot. The problem in often compounded by the fact that they may need to appear in more than one group shot and are therefore waiting even longer. It can lead to a viscous cycle as the longer they wait the less willing they are and therefore the longer the shot takes to get right. All in all the group shots can end up taking quite a long time out of your day.
So how can you avoid losing so much time to getting the group photos?
Well the first thing to consider is do you really want them? Lots of couples request group photos be taken but rarely choose them from amongst the final shots. If group shots are genuinely important to you then that’s fantastic and you should definitely get some, but if not then don’t feel it’s something you just have to have regardless.You should think about the style of the work you’ve seen from your photographer here as well – a documentary photographer is more likely to naturally pick up on natural groupings as they naturally occur than, say an editorial photographer and therefore posed group shots may not be necessary. It’s all about figuring out what you want from the photos! It’s also important to remember that if you only have one photographer then while they’re capturing group photos they’re not photographing anything else. If you’ve chosen them based on their candid pictures of the guests then spending a long time getting all the group shots is limiting their opportunity to get those more discrete photos.
If you do want group photos then how many different groups do you actually need? From experience the groups most couples actually like to have as a ‘portrait’ type photo are one of the bridal party, groomsmen and one of each of the families. When I got married I didn’t think I’d want any groups at all but actually I was really pleased we got the families together and I know our parents both have framed copies which is really lovely. It also afforded us a great chance for the whole family to be together for a few minutes separate from the rest of the guests and that might not have happened without the group shots. That said though remember these are YOUR wedding photos and don’t feel pressured to get certain shots just for other people, particularly when time is precious! Really consider how many groups are important to you and the time implications involved in getting them all.
If you’re one of those couples that just don’t want any group shots and fear standing around all day waiting for the groups to take place then make sure you’ve thought it through. Looking back on group shots from the past is always full of nostalgia and it’s quite fascinating looking at what everyone’s wearing, how tall they were, how they looked together as a group. Yes too many groups can slow down the pace, but if you get it right they can be some of the most interesting pictures to look back on a few years down the line.
Remember that if you have fewer group shots it affords you a little more time to get some really brilliant ones and really stamp some personality on them! The big group photo of absolutely everyone ends up with so many faces that it often turns more into a game of ‘Where’s Wally’ (or Where’s Waldo for our American readers!) than a meaningful picture, but with smaller groups you can create some really cool poses and amazing images!
Make sure you have worked out your groups in advance and provide your photographer with a list before the day. Talk to your photographer about the whole schedule and make sure they think there’s enough time to actually get all the shots you’re after – remember they’ve done this many times before and however much planning has gone into your wedding they probably understand how the day will flow better than you do.
Make sure that someone else has that list who broadly knows who everyone is and can do the job of getting everyone together at the right time and in the right groups. Traditionally this is the job of the ushers which generally works well, but remember that the ushers are probably needed in several of the shots and so someone else will have to do some of the work of getting people together as well.
Give your guests a rough schedule of the day. This doesn’t have to be precise in every detail and of course is likely to change and be adapted through the day, but it can be useful for the guests to know roughly what’s supposed to happen when and they will generally make sure they’re in the right place at the right time for that to happen.
As we’ve said, like most things on your wedding day it’s all about balance. Group shots can be a beautiful record of your day, and given enough time can make for fantastic photos, but they can also be time consuming and take you and your guests away a little from just relaxing and enjoying the most important day of your life. Give a little thought to what you really want from them and you can get the balance just right and get some fantastic shots you and your family will truly cherish.
“Family faces are magic mirrors. Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present and future. We make discoveries about ourselves.”
Gail Lumet Buckley
Images by York Place Studios