Group Shots And How To Make Them Awesome.

Morning lovelies.

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 Sometimes these articles contain useful information but more often than not it’s a lot of uninformed and outdated twaddle to fill column space in ‘specialist’ magazines.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,

Jordan

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!

Author: Charlotte O’Shea
Purveyor of short shorts. Make-up junkie. Hopes to grow old disgracefully.

43 thoughts on “Group Shots And How To Make Them Awesome.

  1. Excellent post…. Await more soon please. We haven’t booked our photographer yet but we found one we liked and had a chat on email and I said I’d like some fun group shots and I was a little disappointed with their response but may wait till we have a face to face meeting…. And just show them this post!

    Happy Friday xx

  2. @One Jolly Girl – Yes you must do that! – don’t ever let your photographer disappoint you pet.

    Anyway, worst experiences… I went to one wedding where the photographer actually shouted at people, as in an aggressive way, apparently this was because we kept “getting in the way”. Another one the photographer had some very peculiar methods for group shots involving strange leaning action to one side and asking everyone to say things like um…. “Big willies”.

    Charlotte xxx

  3. I am having a big wedding (200 guests to the day and another 50 on the night), how do I get a great group shot with so many people?! or is it a case of organising smaller groups?!

  4. Worst experience…My sister got married 4 years ago and had a very classic, ‘safe’ photographer. When he finally sent her a disc of the images for her to select her faves for an album, she found a number of pictures of a particular guest in a deep V neck dress with her breasts enhanced ‘post production’!!!

    Needless to say my sister has not recommended him for our big day!
    xXx

  5. I am concerned about this as my venue is quite small and most of our guests are our families as we are both one of four kids. I don’t want lots of formal group shots but do appreciate that they are important to our parents (who have requested a few) so we will do some. I personally agree with Shell De Mar my most treasured pictures I have on my walls at home are the captured ‘real’ moments, they are relaxed and I think that brings out the beauty in everyone rather than the uncomfortable model posing ! – which we all do when it’s a formal shot!

    The worst – has to be a wedding where a photographer did group shots involving thumbs up, waving, legs in the air. I think he thought it was the ‘fun shots’ but it was really uncomfortable for everyone and the results were not good I don’t think the couple has any of them on their walls! xx

  6. Hi guys – I knew this post was going to spur some discussion – I think it’s a topic close to all of our hearts.

    @Maddi – It’s an interesting thing with “fun shots” as clearly that shot by Shell De Mar of the sack race… and a few of the earlier one’s by Jordan (gardening, sunglasses etc…) are what you would describe as “fun shots” but the difference is, as Jordan describes perfectly – it’s about capturing the personality of the guests.

    If they are up for a sack race – then you’ll get a great shot out of it. If it’s really not their bag (or sack!) then you’ll end up with awkward looking people. The key is that no-one should feel uncomfortable or be asked to do anything that they would rather not!

  7. You want your images to reflect a great day, I don’t think anyone wants to sit and go through group shot after group shot years later. It’s your day, of course you want pictures of the family but don’t get talked into anything you don’t want. With any weddings I shoot I have talked to the couple beforehand about the groups. I always try for the relaxed approach, getting people to have a giggle, this is the best way for peoples personalities to shine through. My advice to bride & grooms, always keep the formal group shots to a minimum. Everyone will be in a shot, you’ll have formal and informal images of those people and you can then have enough time to get more fun and creative images.

  8. @One jolly girl – I’m with Charlotte on this one.

    It’s your big day and there are no second takes so I wouldn’t let the photographer dictate what you can and can’t do. It’s worth listening to their point of view but if in the end you disagree then something needs to be done.

    Glad you like the post.

    Jordan

  9. My favourite group shots are always when the guests are all gathered together and the photographer takes the shot from on high. I could look at those forever!

  10. @HelenHtobe – Hi Helen, without knowing the venue it is hard to give you an exact answer I’m afraid. Some venues lend themselves to whole party group shots quite obviously and some just don’t.

    What I can say is that to get 200+ people in any setting is going to take a good few minutes, fine as long as you are happy to spend the time your photographer will need to set it up. Another thing to think about is that with such are large amount of people is that everyone is going to appear be very small. If you were to do a set of smaller more personal group shots they should display more personality and character.

    Hope that helps,
    Jordan

  11. When I was a bridesmaid for my friend, her tog found it hilarious that I didn’t really know how to hold my bouquet in photos and took the mickey (as opposed to giving me decent advice). Total jerk…

  12. Ahhh this post is amazing! Although, it does make me want to change photographers – I’m trying so hard to wipe away any doubts about ours. May show him this article, see what he says and go from there!

    Love these group shots, especially the ones of people laughing – such a lovely moment caught in time, as opposed to line-ups with forced smiles.

    Worst wedding photographer experience ever: one where for some unknown reason the bride had hired two photographers from different companies. Each photographer wanted to set up the group shots in their own way so it literally took twice as long – and finished up with the two of them having a massive arguement. Needless to say 4 hours later when they finally went and had some couples shots done, some of our post ceremony glow had faded and most were seeking solace in the bar. I’m surprised they didn’t call time on it, especially when their couple shots lasted another 90 minutes! Can you imagine the cheek twitch they’d have had from 5 1/2 hours of fake smiling?!

    Great post lovelies x

  13. Awesome post! Such a divergence from those terrible ‘posed’ group shots that seem to plague many a wedding album.

    @Debi – I actually cannot believe this. How awful?!?

    *goes off to hunt for sacks, eggs, spoons and plastic hoops*

    Worst photographer ever: Through work, I’ve seen a few, but as a guest … What seemed like a nice bloke to start with then turned into shouty bloke, then over-familiar bloke, then bloke who copped off with his ‘assistant’ on the dance floor later on after too many shandies. When I say assistant, I mean a teenage girl. He was married. He lived in the village where the wedding was taking place. He is probably now divorced.

    x

  14. @Ruthie_Ruth_ Glad you like the post. With you all planning on showing your photographers this I’m not sure I will be so popular with them though.

    I am sure whoever you have hired will do a great job and he will be more than happy to try and achieve the type and style of images you require. Whatever you do don’t hire a second photographer to work alongside him though

    Jordan

  15. A fantastic post, such an important topic too!

    Our photographers are a team of 2, very easy to get along with.

    I always think I look terrible in pictures, and have told them this, and am reasonably confident that they will manage to get good pictures out of me!

    I am never the centre of attention. I always engineer it so that I drift into the background, so to be the centre of attention for a day does take me way out of my comfort zone!

  16. Photographer at friends wedding, speaking to groom and all ushers:

    “Run at me. Run at me as if you were going to rape me.”

    And something about the groom making love to a tree.

    Photographs were actually seriously groovy bananas, despite these comments.

    No lies.

    xx

  17. @Adam – I completely agree I think it is all about what your guests are comfortable with I think that’s why meeting your photographer from the start and getting to know each other and talking about the type of wedding you are having should make this easier to achieve. Personally though seeing my nan in a sack race could be hilarious she is so tiny I don’t think she would see out the top! x

  18. I once went to a wedding where we were made to get up from our seats before dessert was served to go have a photo taken, I said I wanted to stay chatting and at my table and I was told off by the photographer (I was a peripheral guest so wasn’t really vital for a group shot)

    I hate group shots, fun or not, too much time and awkwardness and even though the photos can sometimes look great it’s always a bit too novelty or staged for me. They remind me of those holiday photos of people pushing over the tower of pisa or holding the eiffel tower, they look great for a while but a bit one-dimensional as the only story behind the photo is the photographer saying “do this” rather than something spontaneous and natural.

    Although it is the only way to make sure you get photos of everyone so it’s hard to get away from.

  19. Oh gawd!….
    These posts actually have just made me laugh our loud in work! Not so funny when it was actually happening I’m sure…Emily!
    Hope our photographer blends in a bit better than the ones in these horror stories!
    Eeek!

  20. I had the discussion with our wedding photographer, I even wrote a list of all the must-take photos of people and requested everything was done in an informal way with lots of fun.

    He didn’t follow my wishes. He kept trying to do formal shots which means I have some very unrelaxed photos of myself and it makes me quite unhappy so I never ordered the wedding album.

    Please people make sure you are 100% happy with your photographer and don’t make the mistake I made. Yep, he also did the whole group of wedding guests shot too.

    x

  21. All of y’alls comments are actually super helpful to read! I’m a wedding photographer in the US and I HATE formal family photos, but I know that if we don’t do them someone’s Gran is going to get upset. One thing that I’ve found that always helps to spice up the the boring posed shots is doing them outside of a typical church/altar location. And I 100% agree with Jordan’s advice about keeping it to 4-8 combinations. Great advice! I’m loving this post!

  22. So glad to hear that everyone has found this post both, useful and amusing. As my first attempt at writing about what I do I couldn’t have asked for a better response. Thanks all xxx

  23. @Teresa Really sorry to hear about this;-( Did you view examples of the type of images you wanted in sed photogrpahers portfolio before booking him/her?

  24. Yes we did and he had done some great pics and I pointed out the type I wanted. Unfortunately on the day this didn’t seem to happen, I don’t know what went wrong.
    Right outside our village church it is so picturesque, nice old red phone box and thatched cottages. Not a single one in any of the pics which is also something I asked for when he was taking pics of people arriving. Never mind x

  25. Do you think my photographer would find it rude if I forward her this link?
    We both said originally that all we wanted was us with our parents and siblings however last time I spoke to H2B about this he said “oh yes and blah and blah and us with blah and we must have blah and blah!”
    Hmm….
    So if I do have to have some then I want fun ones!!
    No nightmare stories to share just I went to two weddings in two weeks with the same photographer! I was the only guest in common and the weddings were 100 miles apart. What are the chances?! (the pics were okay, nothing out of the ordinary so wasn’t even that he had an outstanding reputation for amazing work!)
    Xx

  26. @Caroline I wouldn’t think it was rude if one of my clients forwarded me a link to try and help me get a better idea of what they were looking to achieve from their images.

    Be sure not to get carried away though as it is virtually impossible to produce interesting/fun images of every combination especially if you have lots of guests included. Try and decide what is most important to you both and go with that.

    Hope that helps and I will let you know if I get an angry email from the photographer

    Jordan

  27. Good post. I wish I could upload a “what not to do” group photo from when I was a bridesmaid but obviously I can’t and that’d upset my bride-friend…but the photographer was a dead ringer for Anchorman and in the group shot had the bridesmaids walking towards him with arms linked but I was next to a particularly short bridemaid AND walking on a bit of a hill so it the most awkward looking thing you have ever seen. The rest of his pics looked quite good though!

  28. Awesome group shots on here and great write up. I’ll forward to some of my newly engaged friends 🙂 Mine were pretty dire to say the least, no direction, shorter people stood behind tall people, people looking the wrong way, disaster! Needless to say none of those have been printed….! x

  29. Great post. Really nice to read insight from other photographer’s, and couldn’t agree more. Thanks Jordan & Shell! (& Charlotte).

  30. I have only recently started looking at wedding blogs in the run up to my wedding (end of May) to see if I could get any last minute ideas and to check I hadn’t missed anything! Until seeing this post I was just enjoying looking at all the real wedding pictures, but this post has really changed how I see my wedding photos! I was all for a big list of formal, posed photos which I thought you “had to have” but now I realise it will be so much nicer to look back on more informal shots, still getting the important people involved in them but less of just lining people up to say “cheese”! I am def going to show my photographer some of the examples you have and have scaled down my list of photos. Thank you for such a brilliant post! 🙂 x

  31. This is a very interesting post. It’s always great to hear everyone’s opinion.

    I’m a very ‘relaxed’ wedding photographer working in a documentary style and couples I work with tend to want the day to flow so I encourage 4 formal photographs – Bride & Grooms with Bride’s Mum and Dad, Bride & Grooms with Groom’s Mum and Dad, Bride & Grooms with Bride’s Family, Bride & Grooms with Groom’s Family. That’s it – everyone gets to stand in a line that wants to and the day can continue.

    I shoot more relaxed Bride and Bridesmaid/Groomsmen shots later when everyone has had a chance to mingle.

    It works for the couples I work with and means I can spend more time photographing the wedding day in an unposed and natural manner 🙂

  32. Thank you for a great post!
    As a Photographer there’s only one thing harder than shooting groups – Animals! But since groups are far more common at weddings and portrait sittings some great and practical advice and insight is a true goldmine.
    For anyone looking to shoot such an important event, this is one area that one absolutely should not overlook. Recalling my first wedding shoot, I got so into the swing of shooting the reportage style for which I’ve become known – passively working my feet off discreetly that when it came to the group shots, all of a sudden I found myself feeling like the conductor of the Philharmonic on his first day! Luckily all went well, and a lot was learned.

    If I can offer one tip – take the time to talk with the key guests before the group shots – while we must remain discreet, allowing the guests to become familiar with us, not only helps us remember their names, but also helps everyone to relax when it comes to the formals.

  33. I have a problem with the fact that I have all of my family at our wedding but my htb has. I parents and a very small family as in two aunties one uncle and a couple of cousin as his parents are deceased and his sister has fallen out with us! How do we go about getting photos with my family in and not making it look so one sided we have a lot of friend but again a lot of them are mine! There is no advice on this sort of situation that I can find oh an de he hates posing for photos but I love it!

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