Family Group Photos at Weddings

Do you dread shooting the family group photos at weddings? Let’s face it, it is never going to be anyone’s favourite part of the day, not even the couple’s but there are ways of doing them that can work well for everyone involved.

I occasionally meet photographers who just refuse to do them at all but my thinking is, they can be done quickly and efficiently and can be a great record of the families at this point in time. Yes they are probably never the photos that they couple are excited to see as soon as they return from honeymoon but I know they are the photographs that I find most fascinating from looking at my parent’s wedding images. My Uncle was a nine year old page boy and my Aunts were teenage bridesmaids so I think it would be a huge shame to skip these photographs on the day.

Tip #1 Keep the List Small ~ I  discourage my clients from having dozens of different combinations. One of the Farmers this week, has posted in the Facebook group about a client asking for 22 different groups shots at a wedding with only 24 guests! I spoke at an event for Hasselblad along with Hugo Bernard, the Royal Wedding photographer and he explained that he only ever does three combinations at a wedding of ‘Formal’ shots. He does the couple with their immediate family on both sides in one group, the bridal party in another, then a posed image of the Bride and Groom. And that is it even if you are the future King of England! However the norm for me is usually somewhere in between these two especially in this day and age where a lot of families are disjointed. If a couple sends over a really large list, I point out that they need to allow around five minutes per shot so they can see that the time can very quickly be taken up with them.

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Tip #2 Do The List With Them ~ You are the expert at this, not the couple. This is usually their first time organising a wedding so they may be unsure how long things can take or make a long list just because they feel they are expected to. As much as possible, I try to do the list with them. I say it is best to start with the largest family group on one side, say the Bride’s.. then do smaller combinations of the same side and then move onto to the smallest combinations on the groom’s side and build out again to the largest. This saves a lot of time as nobody should be coming in and out of shots… I’ve found guests have a tendency to wander off! So your list might go something like this…

  • All Bride’s Family
  • All Bride’s Immediate Family
  • Bride’s Parents
  • Both Sets of Parents
  • Groom’s Parents
  • All Groom’s Immediate Family
  • All Groom’s Family
  • All Guests

Tip #3 Enlist Some Help ~ I always ask the couple to nominate at least one person to help us get people into the shots. Could be the ushers, bridesmaids, MC or key family members, but I ask that it is someone who is confident enough to shout. Going around politely asking dozens of people to come and get in a photo takes ages and us Brits are shy at coming forward. Having said that, this often fails on the day as my nominated person or persons can get distracted. As a wedding photographer, you have to be confident enough to take charge when it is needed. It is not my favourite thing to do but I will shout out names of who is needed in a photo if it means getting them done quicker.

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Tip #4 Do Them Near to Where the Drinks are Being Served ~ This is not time for super creative photography and again for the sake of getting them done quickly, I will find somewhere as near as possible to where the drinks are. This is where everyone will be hanging out at this part of the day. Open shade is great if you have it… you want people to take off their sunglasses and not be squinting but if needs be, I will shoot with the sun behind the group. Just make sure you have a lens hood on to avoid flare and sun spots. If you are at a winter wedding or the drinks are served indoors and guests are staying there, then you will most likely need to break out your flash gun to get enough depth of field. I recommend an f-stop of at least 5.6 for groups otherwise your line of focus may not be deep enough.

Tip #5 Shoot on a Zoom ~ On a lot of wedding days, this is the only time I break out my 24-70mm. It means I can shoot a wide full length shot of the group and then zoom in for a closer crop without physically moving. This saves time and gives them more than one option with the shot. Sometimes where we end up shooting the groups can be a tight space so a lens that shoots wide is invaluable.

Tip #6 Set up a Tripod ~ If you have a tripod with you, this can be a good time to use it. First of all it sets you apart from all the other photographers who will inevitably decide to take their own version of this from over your shoulder. Secondly, you can set it so the horizon is straight. It is easy to stop concentrating on the technical stuff with all the chaos of just getting folk into the shot and getting their attention. My camera, the amazing Canon 5D Mark III even has a built in spirit level and I keep the viewfinder grid on. The one thing I used to have to do the most was straighten my images in post production so shooting this way saves me time later on.

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Tip #7 Talk! ~ When I shoot the couple, I am pretty quiet, I will give them direction but then step back and let them focus on each other. When I shoot groups, I talk to them the whole time. If you don’t they all talk to each other which looks rubbish or they look to all the Uncle Bob’s behind you with their cameras. I probably don’t say anything too deep and meaningful and I am not afraid to make a dick of myself if it means I get a lovely natural moment of laughter.

Tip #8 Have Fun With Them ~ For a lot of the people at a wedding, it will be their only contact with you for the entire day. You do these shots well and people have fun, they will remember you in positive terms. I have heard so many times about how somebody went to a wedding and the group photos dragged on or the photographer was a bossy pain in the ass. I very rarely shoot a wedding that doesn’t lead to referrals from the couple’s friends or family so bear in mind that every wedding is a potential room full of new clients.

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