Collaborating With Your Photographer, 106: Getting Great Group Photos (Without Losing Your Mind!)

10 | 17 | 2009


Nobody wants to spend their entire wedding day, standing around, lining up for photos.  This is why group photos, generally, have a bad rap.  But they are an important part of family history, and of your history.  And done right, they will take up little of your lovely wedding day.  There are two parts to non-insanity-inducing group photos—planning them properly with your photographer, and helping your photographer execute them properly.

♥ Planning Ahead ♥

I. Make a List. Be Reasonable.

Stick to essential group combinations!

Include everybody’s names so the photographer’s assistant (rather than you!) can call people into each shot.  Your photographer probably has a starter list.  Mine is very simple: bride + groom with immediate family, parents, and grandparents on each side.  Siblings, if applicable.  Extended family, if desired and feasible.

*Keep in mind that, for the most part, nobody really cares who else is in the photo besides you and your beloved.  So zillions of permutations of each group really aren’t necessary.

group-photos-6 group-photos-7

Why the Big Fat Group Photos Take Longer:

Brides and grooms (or their parents!) sometimes suggest gigantic group photographs thinking they won’t take any longer than photographs of three or four people.  The truth is that while the actual shooting of those group photographs doesn’t take any more time, the wrangling of big groups of people takes much, much longer.  Even once we’ve rounded up all the right people (and found whichever straying uncle or brother is at the bar or in the bathroom), we need to arrange them, making sure we can see each person’s face.  It just takes longer. Much longer.

Why You Should Notify Your Photographer of Any Sensitive Family Situations (deaths, divorces, etc.):

We want to address your friends and family properly during the photographs.  And we want to arrange them properly.  At one of the first weddings I ever photographed, I was trying to arrange a photograph with the parents of the groom next to each other and they wouldn’t move in to the photograph.  When I made a little joking comment, I was told that they were divorced.  And it became very apparent to me at that point that the divorce was unfriendly.  I was mortified.  And I’m sure they were, too.  Luckily, it’s easy to avoid that sort of awkwardness with some very simple communication ahead of time.

As of Your Wedding Day, You and Your Spouse Are Each Other’s Family.

It borders on absurd to make this point but I’m doing so because I often get requests for photos without one of the spouses—bride with bride’s immediate family (without groom).  And vice versa. Nobody orders that photo.  Nobody wants it afterwards.  And were someone in your family to order the photo and hang it on the mantel, sans the spouse, wouldn’t you feel weird about it?

Bride + mom or bride + dad or groom + either one of his parents are totally fine.  It’s just the groups that are awfully strange.


Don’t Forget Your Siblings!

My favorite photograph at my twin sister, Meghan’s wedding, aside from the one where she’s flipping me/the camera off, is the one of her and her husband and Matt (then my boyfriend) and me.  It’s the first photograph of the four of us.  Matt and I are looking a little rough (I was wearing pants(!), which I never wear to weddings anymore, and I had altitude sickness).  But we are happy and we are together.  Which is kind of the whole point, as I see it.


II.  If You Want Something Funky or Fun, You’ll Need More Time.

Most brides and grooms want to speed through the group photographs—line-em-up-and-move-em-out style.  Others want something more stylized—the bridal party in an unusual location, the family organized on multiple levels, some seated some standing, near a unique couch, for instance.  These photographs can be so visually interesting, but they do take longer to set up (which is a deterrent for many folks).  If you’re hoping for something other than the lineup, so to speak, tell your photographer, so both of you can plan for it.


III. Make Call Times.  Lie if Necessary.

I can’t believe I almost forgot this all-important tip!  You don’t need people waiting longer than necessary, but you do want them to be there when you need them for photographs.  You can almost always get away with separate call times for the bridal party and the family.  If your family and friends tend to be late, buffer the call time.  If they miss it, you may not get a chance for photographs with them later on.

♥ On Your Wedding Day ♥

IV. Let Your Photographer Choose a Spot With Open Shade.  Period.

This is really a non-negotiable for me.  Maybe you will luck out and it’ll be overcast or (better yet) foggy.  But if not, no view or nifty background is ever worth a bad exposure.  Technically speaking—and, friends, your grandmothers will agree—the priority is to see everybody’s faces and especially their eyes.  A big, bright sunny spot will give everybody what we photographers call raccoon eyes.  Dappled shade is just as bad.  And most views won’t even show anyway, unless it’s the same amount and kind of light on the faces of the people and on the background.


V. Be Sure You’re Looking On Camera During Formal Group Photos.

There’s a lot going on. I know.  And I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth reiterating.  Look on camera during the formal group photos. (You don’t have to look on camera during informal group photos, though).


I Heart Chaotic Group Photos. Don’t We All?


I think … I’ve said this before, too.  I’m sure it’s a throwback to the 8000 times my mom and grandmother had my siblings and cousins and me pose for them, on the brink of chaos (picture Meg and me posing primly, with our younger brother and sister in our laps, both crying their little heads off).  In fact, now that I think of it, my love of the chaotic group photo probably goes back as far as my Aunt Paula and Uncle Tom’s wedding.  Meghan and I were four, and we were the flower girls, and God bless the poor photographer.  Meghan kept running straight at him every time he tried taking a photo of the wedding party.  In the official photo, it looks just how I remember it: like she’s bull-running him!

I think we all expect those nice give-to-grandma group photos, but hope for something a little more spontaneous, humorous, and vibrant for ourselves.  So set yourself up for the right conditions: only the closest friends and family, beautiful light, and enough time.  Glasses of champagne, all around, don’t hurt either.

photographs: Gia Canali


2 Notes on “Collaborating With Your Photographer, 106: Getting Great Group Photos (Without Losing Your Mind!)

  1. Kelli

    I don’t usually post on people’s blogs, but I just wanted to say how thankful I am for the things you post about wedding photography! In the process of planning for my own wedding, I’ve looked at a lot of blogs and yours is the one I’m most excited about when I see you’ve posted something new. Your tips, hints and insight take away the stress of an important part of the wedding, and that makes my life better. Thank you.

  2. Gia Post author

    Thanks for reading–and for taking the time to comment, Kelli! We’ve been on an overly-long hiatus for the busiest part of wedding season, but we’re back and I’ll be posting regularly. I hope your wedding planning goes perfectly.

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