10 Ways to Simplify Wedding Group Shots

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We’ve probably all been at weddings where the photographer takes ages and ages doing group after group, and it all gets really boring – but it doesn’t have to be like that if you plan ahead. My plan is to do the group shots in less than 10 minutes.

Many brides have said to me:

“I don’t want any groups or posed photos – I just want you to stay in the background and shoot what’s happening”.

My answer is:

“What about a shot with your mother?”

“…Oh yes, we want that!  And my Dad, and brothers and sisters, and would love one of Granny and me”!

So, in fact they do usually want those sort of shots, but if you try to take them randomly throughout the wedding, the chances of the correct people happening to be in the right place at the right time, are pretty much zero! Not to mention you often miss the wonderful candid moments that are going on, when you are constantly trying to do group shots.

In my experience I think it’s better to organise a few, quick groups, so they get the family shots they want, but with the minimum of fuss.

BEFORE THE WEDDING DAY

1. Plan who will be on the groups – explain to the couple that it will get very boring for them if they have masses of group photos, and they should limit those to just a few – I suggest parents, siblings and grandparents.

If you involve all the aunts, uncles and cousins it will go on forever – and the best way is to do one big group shot of everyone at some stage, and reassure the bride and groom that you will get lots of candid shots of people too – although, remember you don’t want to set yourself up to fail – it is very unlikely you will get a shot of every person at the wedding. Often the bride and groom think they need to get everyone on a shot, and if you say you’ll do one big group, they breathe a sigh of relief!

2. I usually write out the family groups as below, and take 3 copies of this list with me (one to give to the usher, one for my assistant and one for myself).

This is quite an easy family arrangement for group shots - they are not all as straightforward as this!

This is quite an easy family arrangement for group shots – they are not all as straightforward as this!

NOTE: It can get very difficult when all the parents and grandparents are divorced, and the couple has various extra half brothers and sisters, etc! Even more need to make a list and get prepared! If you work it all out before hand, it will save loads of time and embarrassment on the actual day. I’ve done weddings where some of the parents refuse to be in the same group as their ex-partner, for example – and if you know this before the wedding you can shoot separate groups – it’s very embarrassing if you have to deal with it for the first time during the wedding!

(I was once asked to leave a gap between the bride’s Dad and his new wife, so they could cut her off the photo later!).

3. Plan where you are actually going to do the group shots – at the church, or at the reception? Or some at both.

Tip: I find the best time to do the family groups is at the church, simply because everyone is there – once you get to the reception it’s amazing how many guests go missing! And it’s much harder to get them all together again. If it’s a civil ceremony, then do them at the drinks reception after the ceremony. I usually do group shots of friends later on in the day, when they can be a little more relaxed, and less formal.

Knowing in advance where you will position the groups really saves you time.

4. Have a back up plan if it rains – where will you take the photos? Is there a conservatory at the reception? Or a porch undercover? I often use the front door of the hotel if it’s raining, because the light is usually good under the top shade of the porch.

5. If you are doing a big group shot of everyone, you need to plan where you will be able to stand all those people and be able to see them. Staircases work really well. Or if on a lawn, you can shoot from a window down onto the group. Remember to check out where you will do it if it is raining. I never promise the bride and groom that I will be able to do the big shot if it’s raining – I always say I will try, but can’t guarantee it, so I don’t set myself up to fail. Sometimes there just isn’t enough space to do one big shot of 100 people inside on a rainy day. Try taking a wide shot of everyone at their seats in the reception – that often works. Or go round each table and take several shots, just so you have as many people as possible.

A boat trip on Windermere lake provided the perfect place to get everyone together for a big group shot.

A boat trip on Windermere lake provided the perfect place to get everyone together for a big group shot.

6. Tell the bride and groom you will need an usher or best man to help you find the people for the groups, because they usually know who the people are – that way, you won’t have to stand there shouting for people you don’t know!

7. Ask them to inform the main people (before the wedding) that they will be in the groups and can they stand near the photographer when they are taking the shots. It’s looking for the people that takes the time when you’re doing groups – and people get fed up hanging around. Planning like this speeds everything up considerably.

ON THE DAY

8. Position the bride and groom in a place where you have enough space to add more people but keep the light flattering. Under a large tree works well, or with the sun behind them if there is no shade. (It helps if you check out this place before the wedding, so you know exactly where you’re going on the day).

9. Add the bride’s parents, then siblings, then grandparents. Check with the bride and groom – because sometimes they are happy to put all these people on one shot (bride’s family, then groom’s family) which makes it even quicker! But some people want three separate shots as you build them up.

10. Ask the bride and groom to stay but everyone else to leave, and then add the groom’s parents, siblings and then grandparents.

There's so much going on at a wedding, it's great if you organise the group shots to be as simple and quick as possible, so you can spend most of your time shooting the story of the day.

There’s so much going on at a wedding, it’s great if you organise the group shots to be as simple and quick as possible, so you can spend most of your time shooting the story of the day.

Checklist – Important people you usually need, and where I find it’s easiest to take the shots:

AT HOME

  • Bride with her mother (and siblings if there)
  • Bridesmaids/pages

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BEFORE CEREMONY AT HOTEL OR CHURCH

  • Groom, best man and ushers
  • Groom’s parents (and siblings if there)
  • Bridesmaids and bride’s mother when they arrive
  • Father of the bride walking in with the bride

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AFTER CEREMONY

Bride and groom with:

  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Grandparents
  • One big group shot of everyone

LATER ON AT DRINKS RECEPTION OR AFTER MEAL

  • Friends of bride and groom
  • Bridesmaids, pages, best man and ushers

Tip: if there are very young bridesmaids/pages, it can sometimes work better to do this shot just after the ceremony, before they are too tired to cooperate later!

All the above are just ideas to help you plan to make your group shots simpler and quicker – you can of course do whatever you like!

If you are organised and plan everything you should be able to do the family group shots in under ten minutes, which gives you loads of time to concentrate on getting the candid shots and the complete story of the day.

Hope this helps!
Annabel x


For more help with weddings check out my wedding book – I am not trying to flog you a book, I don’t make a penny from this! It was written for Rotovision around 2001, and was all shot on film in those days, however the ethos of shooting a wedding is just the same, and the book contains lots of helpful tips and ideas, plus shows you how to plan your time to get the best photos you can, in whatever circumstances.