I thought we would start today with a discussion on “group” images for W-day. For starters you wouldn’t believe the amount of emails we receive regarding them i.e. how to make them non line-up or awkward. I was your classic no-group-shot-please bride as it happens – as in, please please don’t make us all stand together and say cheese. I had spent such a long time at other weddings doing exactly that and the experience had put me off forever.
Instead I wanted natural in-the-moment images of everyone having a great time. All well and good of course until you realise this was maybe a mistake, and actually there was certain people that due to being at the bar, powdering their nose in the ladies or dancing bare foot on the lawn were missed. And with the photographer not being advised who, what and when at least in some capacity (or in my case – just completely ignoring every request from said photographer in the hope it would all “be alright on the night” as it were) then you may have some small niggling regrets.
I wouldn’t want any of you gorgeous lot to miss out on any amazing images of your entire wedding party, at the same time I don’t expect everyone to jump up and down at the prospect of spending hours posing in front of a camera on W-day either. So I actually called my own big day moment-capturer Jordan Banks of Source Images to give his expert advice on how to achieve some (genuinely lovely) everyone-together type imagery.
Jordan Banks: I often read articles about wedding photographers; what they should and shouldn’t do and what should be asked of them on the day. Sometimes these articles contain useful information but more often than not it’s a lot of uninformed and outdated twaddle to fill column space in ‘specialist’ magazines. Photography, especially wedding photography, has come a long way in the last decade and what was true in the late nineties is not necessarily true now.
Having discussed and moaned about this with Charlotte on more than one occasion it was suggested that it may be an area of interest where a working photographer could talk candidly about what you should really be thinking about at any stage of the relationship with your chosen photographer. I think you would all agree that photography is a fairly important aspect of your big day although not one that you want to necessarily dictate your day.
To start we are going to be discussing the topic of group shots – you know the ones, everyone in a line staring reluctantly at the camera smiling, looking a little awkward or clinging on to their drink………
Well it doesn’t have to be that way!
One of the few things that bored me about my job was taking and editing line-ups; they were always lacking in emotion and creativity and generally didn’t interest me. At first I thought I was alone which of course I wasn’t. Slowly but surely I realised my peers and clients all felt the same way; something had to be done.
I recognised the need to approach these images differently and started viewing my surroundings from a fresh perspective. How could I use each location to its best effect without producing yet another set of clichéd, generic images? It turned out this was easier and far more achievable than I had first imagined. It was as simple as approaching the group in front of me as individuals and capturing that personality. I started to seat and stagger the groups to give the images more depth, getting them to interact amongst themselves thus stimulating emotion and character; props were introduced to create some fun – all simple things yet very effective.
So where does the above begin? Usually in our studio with the couple asking questions….
Should we have group shots?
If so, how many?
Who do we include?
Where can we take them?
These are all reasonable and logical questions that we as photographers are commonly asked and whilst there is no right or wrong answer, it is something that if discussed and thoughtfully executed can produce some of your most memorable images. A group shot that reflects each individual personality will be something treasured forever by all included – yes, it is possible; group shots don’t have to be boring.
My personal approach is to produce a set of images that captures the story of the ‘big’ day. For want of a better word I would describe my style as photo journalistic. To some this may be interpreted as ‘you can’t take group shots’ but I’ve never been one to pigeon hole myself and besides, I don’t have the balls or guts to tell a proud Mum that she can’t have her ‘minds eye’ images of her with her beautiful daughter and family……. nor should I! All weddings are as individual as the couples themselves and in my opinion, should be approached accordingly.
Some couples will prefer the more ‘classic’ images and others, more natural and fun; that is exactly why prior to any wedding, I spend time with the couple reviewing and absorbing their ideas/plan/theme for the day. One of the many things we always discuss is the group shots. If the couple decides that this is what they want, I would normally suggest keeping to a minimum (4-8 combinations) so that the whole reception doesn’t feel like one large photo shoot – no-one wants that. This will also allow me to spend a little more time making each shot on the couples list that bit more creative and special; something as simple as a change of location will often result in a set of far more meaningful images of and for everyone involved.
When discussing the couples ‘wish’ list, I will put it together in order of the most essential combinations, firstly so that if ‘shooting’ does take longer than planned and you want to call it a day (it does happen and more regularly than you might imagine) and just get on with having fun, you will have the most important images captured. That way no one is going to be upset that they were missed. To keep things moving and speed things up a little, I find it effective to enlist a friend/usher/family member who knows the majority of guests, thus enabling the relevant people to be found quickly and without having to go around shouting names. No one likes an intrusive photographer and I actually just don’t have the voice for it. With guests identified and located, I am then able to focus on the location and feasibility of each shot e.g. some ‘whole party’ group shots aren’t always easy to achieve so it is worth weighing up the time spent trying to gather everyone together in the same place against the quality of the final image. I ask the question, is it really worth spending 15 minutes of your reception for an ‘average’ shot of everyone as against 15 minutes for substantially more shots of you and your guests enjoying the day? Having said that, there are some locations that do lend themselves so perfectly to certain shots that it immediately makes them worth suggesting- location research is always advantageous.
In the end, whatever a couple decides is fine with me, they are after all the client. If they want more or less combinations than I have suggested, that’s not a problem. At least I can be confident that I have made them aware of the reality of the situation and possible limitations. They have employed me as a professional and from there; they are able to make an informed decision.
Once we have established a ‘wish’ list that everyone is happy with, I can concentrate on the ‘feel’ you are seeking and what can be done to achieve it. This is where a good and creative photographer will be worth their fee, as it will be mainly up to them and the flexibility of the venue, to achieve the desired end result. Never be afraid to ask or make suggestions – remember group shots don’t need to be stiff and boring!!
For this post I invited another photographer to come and share their thoughts on the given subject so Shell de Mar please take centre stage!
Shell De Mar: “I have a two pronged approach to group shots, I do the safe/expected shots (look at the camera and smile!) to make sure the parents (and/or clients) are happy, and then I always suggest doing some fun/creative ones with the bridal party (or anyone else who’s up for it, really!). When I do something in my photography I try to put myself in my clients’ shoes – what would I like to see on my walls, and for me at least the answer is always the fun photos as they evoke memories of the day, and the creative ones because they just look cool on the wall! So those are what I try to shoot and create.”
If anyone has any questions about anything featured in this post please feel free to ask.
Until next time,
P.s – Charlotte again *waves*, feel free to tell us your scariest photographer-at-a-wedding stories in the comments box below – I have a few!