The very first public speaking that I did was a talk for Hasselblad when I won a British Journal Of Photography award (which I will never get over btw). The other speaker at the event was Hugo Burnand, I was basically his warm-up man.

If the name is not familiar to you, his wedding photographs definitely will be as he shot some of the Royal Weddings including William and Kate’s. His role was solely to photograph the formal photos – The group shots and the formal portraits. Can you imagine the pressure?! He is a very engaging speaker and it was fascinating to get some insight into how the royal photos are achieved.

You might think that there would be a fair few groups to get through but he said that at all the weddings that he shoots he does the same combinations and nobody needs any more.

The couple
The couple + bridal party
The couple + all immediate family on both sides

Optional additional shots might be –

The couple + children in the wedding party
The couple with all family members

So 2-4 group shots. He doesn’t do a picture with all guests or any other combinations. He doesn’t do individual family sides. Isn’t that incredible to think about?

Here we all are in peak season, going to wedding after wedding and shooting all these group photos. They can be such a battle on the day and I’m sure this is unique to Brits. When I shoot weddings for couples from other countries, the groups are usually much easier to get through. People just line up, look at the camera, smile and move out.

Shooting Brits is like herding a bunch of tipsy kittens, none of whom want to be the first one in and 50% cannot take simple instruction. I swear, my idea for Dragon’s Den is to train sheepdogs for wedding photographers to rent out on a Saturday just to help with group photos. They could round up stray relatives and herd them into the shot.

Here’s the thing with group photos – NOBODY is excited about doing them on the wedding day. Not the couple, not the people in them, and not you BUT these are the photos that over time grow in significance. Think about your own family wedding photos. I know the groups are the only photos that my kids want to look at in our album. So I don’t mind shooting them if folk get in them, I can merrily shoot any number but corralling the people into them can really try my patience. One thing that does really help is something I picked up from Jo Donaldson. To get the contact details from the couple ahead of time for a person who would be good on the day to help.

This is never an usher – they seem to not get the ushing part! If this person can take care of getting the people needed, then you can concentrate on getting the photos done. It seems to make a big difference if you connect with this person ahead of the wedding and let them know what time you are likely to need their help. Then make sure they get a copy of The List. Ask the couple to think of someone who will be confident at shouting out the names (school teachers can be great at this) not someone who will politely go around asking people individually to move forward for the photo as this takes far too long. Annoying as they sometimes are, toastmasters can be a useful ally if there is one at the wedding. Those guys LOVE to shout.

Speaking of The List, always, always get one ahead of time. I once left it as the couple said they were not fussed about having any formal lineups and just wanted candid images. Cut to on the day and them asking for 25 different combinations which took so long to do that dinner was delayed – a surefire way to make yourself the most unpopular person at a wedding.

Have a conversation ahead of time with your couple where the list is decided on, the time to get them done is decided on and the human sheepdogs are decided on. Explain that it’s never taking group photos that takes time, it’s getting people into them and they need to help with that. Pass some responsibility onto them but emphasize that you want them to be as relaxed as possible during the day. This means giving you everyone’s names and giving you those helpers. The last thing you want is your bride and groom running around trying to find people, they should be standing still whilst guests line up around them.

The best time to do groups is straight after the ceremony. All guests are already gathered at this point which is much easier than trying to extract people from mingling. If they want a photo with all guests, do that first then you or your helper can announce that anyone not on the list – you can either read out names or say relatives and the wedding party – can go get a drink.

If you want to limit the number of groups that people ask for then consider sending them a form to fill out ahead of time with limited spaces for groups. This is easy to do if you use a CRM like Studio Ninja. However, I recommend always chatting this part of the day through with them. Sometimes people just don’t know what’s expected or they don’t factor in the amount of time that they can take. Remember you’ve been to way more weddings than them and you know what works and what doesn’t. And what really does not work is lots of combinations with similar people in them. If you get asked for these, find out what their reasoning is – sometimes families are complicated and you will need to accommodate that or sometimes it’s just because that’s what they think you are supposed to do.

Another tip is to get your couple to include the timing of group photos in the order of the day. This might be printed out or drawn up on a board somewhere prominent. Nobody can be annoyed at people who are not there for group photos if the only people who know what time they are being done is the couple and the photographer.

Finally, language can make a huge difference to this part of the day. There can be a weird assumption that it is us photographers who want all these group photos that people are being forced to be in. ‘What’s left on your list?’ or ‘The photographer wants us for group photos’. Actually, I don’t want any of these photos, I don’t print them out and put them in my downstairs loo. It’s the couple that wants them. Communicate this to everyone and you will find that they are more inclined to be co-operative. ‘The couple would love you to join them in a photo’ will get better results whether it’s from you or your guest helper.

If all of this seems like too much for you to communicate with every couple that you work with, consider writing an advice blog post that you can refer them to. This could be valuable information for when they are planning their timeline and it will save you both time and stress.

Here’s the big thing about group photos – if you don’t deliver them, it can lead to negative situations. There’s often an imbalance between expectation and reality. It sounds like a very simple task, getting people together in a group photo but in reality, it’s challenging to command a group of strangers and get them to be in half-decent light. Most couples are not going to be happy with the Royal Wedding approach and after two decades of shooting groups of British people who hate being photographed my advice is this:

Get A List
Get Help
Get Them Done Straight After The Ceremony.