Jennifer's Wedding Photography Advice: Great Group Shots

What I’m going to share with you in this blog post and others to come on the same topic is 100% my opinion. My opinion- from a photographer’s perspective- on how to plan your wedding so your photographer has their best chance to make great photos. It doesn’t always work out- things happen in the real world that we wish we could control- like why does every hotel have to have a big, red EXIT sign in every doorway- I mean, please. And rain. Why does it EVER have to rain? (My obsession with wedding-day weather is probably as bad as yours). And then there’s Uncle Bob- who is supposed to be at the church for the group photos, but instead got onto the shuttle with the rest of the guests and is now on his way to the reception. Yes, things like this that are completely out of our control- but there are some things you can plan for, right? Now, I realize the whole wedding world does not revolve around the photographer, but hey, I can hope for the best, right?

Group Photos: How to get the best

In an ideal photographer’s world, this is what would happen: The bride and groom would compile a list of their most-important group shots with specific family names and deliver it to me about a month before the wedding. On the day of the wedding, all the people needed for the groups shots would be thinking in their minds- during the ceremony, of course- “I need to stay at the church afterward because the bride and groom told me last night at the rehearsal dinner they want some photos of me with them at the church.” After the ceremony ended, they would quietly sit (not stand, because they might be in the way of the other photos) in the front of the church and wait for instructions.

As we all know, guests are not this well-behaved. So, what I propose is some “crowd management.”

Plan to do all the family posed shots right after the ceremony. They are most willing to listen to instructions during this time and are all congregated in one area. Trust me, the hardest part about getting group shots is having all the people there. Honestly, if the guests are well-behaved and ready to go, I can knock out group photos in 15 minutes, easy.

The next best plan is to do the photos beforehand, but this involves the couple seeing each other before the ceremony. Many couples choose to do it this way in order to get all the photos out of the way before the ceremony. This is only slightly trickier because it means that all the family members have to be ready and available BEFORE the ceremony. Again, the trick is making sure they will be there for the photos. (This is actually what I did for my own wedding because I knew it would work with my family) This is also a great option- and may be the only option- if your ceremony is going into the evening hours and we won’t have any sunlight after the ceremony. In the end, it’s your choice. I can do them either way- again it’s just having everyone there I need.

Worst plan: Photos of family at the reception or cocktail hour. No photographer can compete with an open bar. Guests have been waiting for drinks and are completely impossible to round up during either cocktail hour or dinner. They are very difficult to find- Uncle Bob is at the Bar, Aunt Cindy is in the bathroom- all the cousins are in different corners of the reception room. We will spend too much time running all over the reception gathering guests and the worst part- I won’t be able to do it for you. I don’t know what everyone looks like and I am completely worthless at this point. Exception: College friends, high school friends, and work colleagues tend to congregate in the same general area and because they usually only know each other, they stay together in packs and thus are easier to get together for group shots. Plan to do those at the reception.

The posed family shots can be done very quickly- I basically line them up, shoot them and let them go (wow, in the wrong context that could sound really bad). We offer a standard list:

Bride and Groom and both sets of parents Bride and Groom and Bride’s Parents Bride and Groom and Bride’s Parents, siblings and grandparents Bride and Groom and Groom’s Parents, siblings and grandparents Bride and Groom and Groom’s Parents

It’s short, I know, but when you get right down to it, do you really need 20 different combinations of the above shots? Now, it’s important to take this list and customize it to your own family and I always encourage you to add to it, but keep it in moderation. You hired me because you liked my photojournalistic approach- not for my skills as a group shot photographer.

When it comes to the location of the group shots, what you think will make a nice background (a fireplace, a church altar, a monument, etc.) doesn’t always work. Often, the altar is backlit and cluttered and the fireplace has spotty lighting. What makes a nice group shot is open shade with a simple background. The light has waaay more to do with how good the photos look than anything else. If we’ve got bad light inside a church, even though the altar is lovely, the photos are not going to turn out as well as areas where there is good light. Often times, I take guests outside or in a quiet courtyard away from everyone else where it is shady and there are trees or simple architecture. Check out these samples from ideal settings:

group shot Group shot

Here’s a great example of images taken at the altar and ones taken outside the church:

group shot group shot