A Couple's Guide to Formal Group Photos at Weddings

It's a subject that usually comes up about 2 months before a wedding date, how do we choose which groups we would like for the formal photos after the ceremony?

Everybody loathes posing and formals, yet everyone wants them.  I know from speaking to many of my fellow photographers, it is the section of the wedding day that causes a little bit (well most) of the stress, usually because of the number of groups and the time allocated to get them done.  Remember that your photographer wants to create amazing images for you, ones that you will treasure, usually those images are the memorable moments, the parts of the day that just 'happen' and are not controlled or contrived.

If you have chosen your photographer because of their natural and relaxed style, because you love the moments they have captured at other weddings, the action shots, the candids, the reportage style or documentary style of photography that tells a story and gives you a 'fly on the wall' view of a wedding, then tying them up for 45 mins to an hour is perhaps going to affect the style of photography they are able to produce at your wedding and perhaps will lead to a little disappointment on your part.  But I will guarantee that if you feel the slightest bit disappointed then your photographer will be feeling it a hundred times over.  Restrictive lists of key shots will have a negative impact on the creative flow, instead of capturing what they naturally see on your wedding day they will be searching for what they have been asked to see.  I have in the past been asked to recreate shots that couples have found on Pinterest, firstly copying another photographer's work is not best practice for photographer's, concepts and ideas can inspire, trying to imitate or copy another person's work is an infringement of their copyright and from a professional point of view, most photographer's would rather create their own work than copy someone elses.  Secondly, conditions cannot be created, so even an attempt to copy an image is futile, because the lighting conditions may be dramatically different and the subjects may not react the same as the subjects in the original photo, therefore it is almost impossible to recreate and image and again it may have a negative impact on your photographer's natural vision.  So best to book a photographer whose work you love, who you get on well with and feel comfortable around, and who you have complete trust in telling your story in their own creative way.

Firstly I need to make it absolutely clear that I am by no means suggesting you abolish the formal group photos, I do feel that they are quite important as one 'chapter' of your wedding day story.  

Styal Lodge Helen Howard  Photography-1.jpg

My suggestion is that you have a careful plan agreed between yourselves and your photographer, so that the process of completing formal shots will be swift and painless (for both you, your guests and perhaps your photographer). Consider these important points:

Firstly, formal does not have to mean 'too formal' - I approach my formals in the same way as I approach any part of my photography.  People need to feel relaxed.  If that means they are having a laugh together and not looking straight at my camera, then to me that is fine, that fits with my style and it creates a photograph that I would be far more likely to put in a frame, than one where everyone is looking too rigid, straight faced and serious.

  • 6-10 formal groups is sufficient to capture immediate family and very close friends, including a shot of the entire group of people if the venue allows for a shot that will include everyone
  • Imagine that gathering the people for 10 groups may take 3 minutes per group, you need to allow half an hour for 10 groups shots.  If guests are waiting around for longer than 30 minutes to be called for photos, you can soon start to see signs of people getting fed up and you want them to remember the day for how lovely it was and not how fed up, bored or cold they were
  • Doing an excessive number of groups will impinge on your 'couples portraits' and will also mean that you have less mingling time with guests.  The golden rule: Everything in moderation.
  • Prompt  key family members that they will be needed for a few photos after the ceremony, you would be surprised how many people wander off to the loo or the bar, or even pop home to let the dogs out!  Yes it has happened before, the entire group of guests were all congregating for a group shot, I was dangling out of a second floor window preparing to take the shot, when all of a sudden it's announced that the groom's Mum has gone home to let the dogs out, so we had to wait half an hour and do it all again once she had returned.  Luckily people found it amusing and she did get some stick, but unfortunately it did mean we were pushed for time.
  • As a rule, between the end of the ceremony and when guests are called for the meal should be at least 1.5 hours to allow for groups, couples portraits and some mingling with guests, if you can allow longer then that's even better.
  • Your photographer will always try and seek out the best locations trying to vary backdrops, but if time or space is limited then often sticking to the same place for groups will be the best option.  This is not the most creative element of the day, however it is important documentation of the presence of some guests at your wedding, be it family or close friends

Finally, as a guide (could be adapted for your family as all families are quite variable)  This is a typical groups list:

Bride and Groom with Everyone

Bride and Groom with:

-Grandparents

-Mother/Father of the Bride

-Siblings of the Bride (and any partners/children)

-Mother/Father of the Groom

-Siblings of the Groom (and any partners/children)

-Bridesmaids/Best Man/Ushers/Flower Girls/Page Boys

-All the hens

-All the stags

Managing family politics in group photos is perhaps the biggest obstacle for couples, any issues you feel may arise are best highlighted and discussed with your photographer so they can be sensitive to any issues between family members.

Family Photograph at Chilford Hall
Group shot at Pendrell Hall
A family Photograph at St Chad's Church Lichfield
Bride and Groom with their children
Bridal Party and their partners
Dogs at weddings Pendrell Hall
Larger Family Groups
Styal Lodge Helen Howard  Photography-1.jpg

Last but not least, your photographer will want you to have the right combination of formals and candids, I don't know many who will refuse to do any formals, unless of course the couple request the entire coverage of their day to be unposed and informal.  It is best to therefore communicate with your photographer well in advance of your wedding day, to ensure that you both have the same plan.  

I was looking back at a formal family photo from my Grandparent's wedding day, in a time when all the photography was formal and posed.  I was completely grateful that photo existed, my grandmother looked young, radiant  and beautiful, my grandfather so handsome (I only knew him up to the age of one therefore photographs are my only memory of him).  The formality of that picture had as much, if not more relevance to me today than perhaps it did in those 'post war' days.  So I am not asking you to scrap your group lists, I am asking to you give them some careful thought and to make them count.