How Not to Hate Group Shots

Do you want to know what the first question most of my seconds photographers ask me when we meet on a wedding day – “How many group shots are there?”  It’s like our wedding happiness depends on whether we have a huge list of formal shots to squeeze into the day. It’s not much of a secret that for most documentary wedding photographers, the group shots are the least exciting part of the day. And thankfully, I’m very lucky that most of the couples who hire me feel exactly the same way. They appreciate the value in those lovely, natural images, as opposed to hours and hours spent on images of people standing in a straight line. Most of my couples tell me the last thing they want on their wedding day is a whole heap of group shots (music to my ears!).

So why do most wedding photographers feel like this about group shots?

They take us away from the good stuff – you love documentary shots right? Those natural images of people laughing and enjoying themselves? I do too. I get this geeky little high whenever I nail a perfect documentary shot. Your love of real and authentic documentary images is probably a big factor in why you’re on my website, why you’re considering or have already booked me for your wedding day. But add too many group shots into the mix and you’re losing this. Whilst I’m corralling guests into location for a group shot, I can’t be shooting that kind of shot. The more group shots – the more beautiful natural shots I’m missing.

You’d rather be drinking gin. I remember that feeling well from my own wedding day. Standing in a line with lots of relatives I’ve not seen since I was a child. It was lovely to see them and everything, but I was never going to make a print of that image. I’d rather have been drinking gin. And whilst drinking gin, I would have had the chance to actually speak to those relatives and share some memories with them and my lovely, documentary style photographer, would have caught some beautiful pictures of that!

Most of those images will never see the light of day again. This is me being brutal. But real. You’ll get your gallery back, look at most of those group shots once, and they’ll never be seen again. I know this. You know this. Let’s not pretend any different. Now, back to the gin?

BUT… ah, there’s a but.

I truly do understand the value of some group shots. For lots of families, weddings are one of the few opportunities when everyone is together. Where three or four generations can stand side by side for a picture. So it’s important to me to balance the value of those family group shots, with the time limitations of a wedding day. To get those precious  images, that definitely have their part in the story of your relationship and your day, whilst still having the time to work my magic and capture all those real moments of laughter, emotion and occasional hilarity that I know you really want.

Over the past five years I’ve probably photographed somewhere in the region of 2000 group shots so happily I’ve got lots of hints and tips to pass on to help them run smoothly and most importantly, not allow them to overtake your wedding day.

1. Choose wisely. 

I ask my couples to choose a maximum of 6 – 8 group shots that they would like on a wedding day. That might not seem like a huge number but depending on the group shots you choose, the venue, the wedding day, the cooperation of guests – it can still take 20 – 30 minutes to complete. I really don’t want to be taking you away from your celebrations for much longer than that. Think about what shots are really important to you, think about which ones you would actually print off, which ones you would actually chose for your albums. Think about which shots you’d regret not having. Those shots make the list.

2. Don’t assume there are set group shots I do at every wedding. 

There are no ‘standard’ group shots anymore. I don’t know your family dynamics. I don’t know if you’re parents are still together or if you get on with your stepmum. I don’t know if you consider your sister’s boyfriend as part of the family. I don’t know who you mean when you say ‘immediate family only.’ There’s no set group shots – so if a shot is important to you, tell me about it on your wedding questionnaire.  Once they are on my list, I’ll do my upmost to get them done. I’d hate for you to be disappointed because you didn’t get a shot that you thought was important.

3. Give me enough time. 

This is a biggie! Planning time into your wedding day to get the group shots done is crucial. Sadly though it’s often overlooked. Planning a wedding timeline is really important – it allows your wedding suppliers to work together like a well oiled machine and it make sure you have time to fit in everything you want to do.

I usually ask my couples to leave around an hour and a half in between the end of their ceremony and the start of the wedding breakfast. I will always try and get all the group shots done during this time.  This is the perfect time of day for them – guests expect pictures during this time, people tend to be milling around and easier to get hold of and nobody has had the opportunity to drink too much! Honestly, trying to arrange group shots after the wedding meal is akin to herding drunk cats (i.e. a bloody nightmare). I don’t recommend it!

4. Recruit helpers. 

Groomsmen, siblings, friends. Get them on board to help. My biggest priority is getting your group shots done quickly and painlessly so you can get on with enjoying your day. That is made so much easier when I can have a bit of help getting people together. It always helps to have people on board to gather up those that are needed for group shots – particularly as I won’t know who everyone is. Recruit someone from each side of the family to help get people together and you’ll find that the group shots are done with before you know it!

5. Make people aware

If you’ve asked for group shots with certain people in them let them know about it before the day.  A quick email or telephone call to tell them how much you’re looking forward to seeing them on the wedding day and by the way we’ll be doing group shots around 2 p.m. and I’ll need you for one of those, so please don’t go and check into your hotel at that time, or you’ll come back to find a group of 20 grumpy people standing in a line waiting for you.

6.  Be realistic about your venue and have some flexibility. 

When you’re planning your group shots have a think about your venue and what it offers in terms of space. Most venues have lots of lovely spots which are suitable for group images. But don’t choose one that involves trekking the whole wedding party across a field for 10 minutes, perhaps save that location just for your couples portraits. If you’re venue has limited indoor space and the weather is bad, you’ll perhaps have to be more flexible about which group shots are possible – if there’s no indoor space big enough for a whole group shot, it might have to be crossed off the list on the day. As you’re photographer I’ll try and have a wet weather plan for every wedding and every venue I shoot at but having realistic expectations of what can be achieved at your venue is very important too.

I hope you’ve found this blog post helpful in your wedding planning. For more hints and tips and behind the scenes knowledge please visit my wedding planning blog.