Listen, I know how you feel.. you just want a laid back, fun wedding. The idea of group photos fills you with dread, so do you even need them at all? Can you get away without planning any? Let me pitch it from the photographers point of view…
Often the first thing people say to me when we meet is, “I hate having my photograph taken” and multiply that with twenty family members who feel the same and it can be a little disheartening to hear. Luckily I am used to it but I don’t burst into the dentist’s surgery wailing “I hate coming to the dentist!” so please spare a thought for us wedding photographers who constantly have to somehow get around this issue.
And you know what? I will confess that they are my least favourite part of shooting a wedding. A lot of wedding photographers are the shy and retiring type, happiest when they are in the background so it’s hard to suddenly take charge of a large group and draw attention to yourself. It is true that it would be easier to herd kittens than it is to corral tipsy wedding guests into one place. In fact I’ve decided that I’m going to invest in a pack of sheepdogs that I’m going to specially train at the fine art of rounding up giddy Aunts and frisky Uncles. I will then sell these fine samples of canine escorts to other wedding photographers throughout the land. Expect to see me on Dragon’s Den with them very soon!
In the meantime what can we do about this very British of dilemmas? What can we do together to make the whole thing easier, quicker and actually quite fun for everyone involved?
FIRST UP, DO HAVE GROUP PHOTOS
Yes, I know you would rather be getting on with the party and the thought of standing around forcing a fake smile for ages while various long lost relatives are wheeled in around you might fill you with dread… Or maybe you just can’t face putting divorced parents within any kind of proximity to each other, but trust me on this – in years to come it won’t be those table detail photos that gain more significance to you, it will be the groups shots. I look back on mine and see much loved faces of those that are no longer with us and very sadly missed; I see the pudgy little freckled face of my 8 year old nephew who is now off to university. The group shots are are an absolute marvel to my kids and they love looking at them way more than any other photo in our album.
MAKE A LIST
I get a lot of super laid back clients and they sometimes feel that making a list isn’t needed. “We can just pull a few people together on the day”, they say. Well the reality is that you will probably be far too busy to do this and so it will be up to the photographer to pull these people together. But we don’t know who anyone is so it can be really easy to overlook someone who actually really matters to you. Your slightly drunk and overly confident workmate might fling themselves in front of the camera more times than Kim Kardashian, while your Nanna sits quietly in the corner. Making a list with your photographer beforehand means nobody will be missed and then we have a really good sense of who is who at your wedding.
KEEP IT SHORT
I once met Hugo Burnard, the photographer who shot the weddings of Will and Kate and Charles and Camilla. I thought that royals would have nothing but formal lineups but he said the opposite was true. Hugo does in fact only shoot two group images and he says nobody needs anymore. The first shot is all immediate family on both sides, the second is all the bridal party. That is it! While that might be a little extreme, he does have a point, how many do any of us really need?
My advice is to allow five minutes per shot (it’s not taking the images that sucks time, it’s getting folk into the shots in the first place!) and don’t have lots of the same people coming in and out of photos. A good idea is start with one family and do the biggest lineup first and then take people out as they are no longer needed. Then do exactly the same in reverse with the other side of the family.
It will look something like this:
All the bride’s family
Bride’s immediate family
Both sets of parents
Groom’s immediate family
All the groom’s family
You can also add in any shots with your friends that you want, and of course there will also be photos of you with your bridesmaids and the groom with his groomsmen too.
Now, if you’re allowing those five minutes per shot, it doesn’t take a maths genius to see that these soon add up very quickly and we haven’t even factored in any divorced/ step-family situations. If this list terrifies you and you want to keep things simple then you could just follow the Royals’ lead and just do one shot of all immediate family on both sides and then maybe both sets of parents.
ASSIGN AN OFFICIAL HELPER
So, you know those friends that offer to help with any jobs that need doing at the wedding? Make use of them. It could be an usher, although they are not always the most forthcoming or practical (especially after a few beers!) The best kind of person to ask is someone with a bit of confidence and some knowledge of who is who. Make sure there is a printed copy of that list on the day for them to work from and my advice is ask them to just shout out the people needed. Better still, if you have a wedding coordinator or an MC then get them to do this. People honestly never mind and it can all be done in good humour, but if your official helper goes off to collect people one by one, it will not only take forever but chances are they will get waylaid in conversation, the canapes, the booze or all of the above.
DEDICATE TIME TO THE GROUPS
Set aside a decent amount of time to accommodate the group photos. My advice is get them over and done with as soon as the drinks reception starts. Then you can relax and mingle. If you don’t do them then, often guests will start doing their own versions, you will totally lose people who are meant to be in the shots or you risk running out of time to do them at all.
Also set aside that time in your mind as well. Every single person there is going to want to have a chat or take a selfie with you and that part of the day between the ceremony and your food absolutely whizzes by. All the guests will be there well into the night but your photographer or the daylight will not. I like to do them wherever the drinks are served, that way folks don’t feel like they are missing out on anything and it gives them something to do with their hands. I do however try to get them done before any canapes come out as that is NEVER a good look!
LEAVE THE FRIENDS SHOTS UNTIL LATER
I prefer to do these on a much more informal basis. People often form natural groups anyway at these bashes and everyone relaxes as the drinks flow. You will get serious face-ache if you do group after group all at the same time. Make a point though of telling your photographer of any photos you want with particular people though as we are not mind readers and we want you to be happy at the end of the process.
Follow these really simple tips for your wedding and the group photos don’t have to be a drag. Trust me, you won’t regret having some done and although I’m sure you won’t be buzzed about this part of your day, it really doesn’t have to be painful for you, your guests or your photographer. Situations change, families shift and years from now you will see that these images are a social document of the people who are important to you right now.
Please note a version of this article first appeared in Rock n Roll Bride Magazine…