As a Wedding Photographer I see one wedding matter that continually baffles Brides and Grooms to be. And really it's hardly surprising, because in truth it's a subject that varies from couple to couple and depends on a number of factors that aren't always obvious. When to do them, how many to do, and who should be in them? I am, of course, talking about the formal Group Shots. Straight forward you might think, but a part of your special day that can easily trip you up.
What makes the Group Shots difficult for people is that there are no definitive rules about organising this part of the day. It's all about personal choice! Let's face it, most of you haven't been married before so you're bound to need a little help. If you've been a wedding guest you will know that the group photos are a feature of the day. Now you're in the hot seat where do you start? Well, a good wedding photographer will offer guidance, and you need to think about the following things.
WHAT DO YOU WANT YOUR WEDDING DAY TO BE LIKE?
The first thing we have to remember is that your wedding day is just that, yours! Don't let other people (family, friends, or even a photographer) tell you how it must be. What YOU want YOUR wedding day to be like should dictate everything. When it comes to photography some couples love being in front of the camera, some don't. This alone can contribute to your Group Shot decisions! You will be in most, if not all of the pictures. So during the photography time you won't be chatting to guests, enjoying the party, or relaxing. And what of your guests? It's generally accepted that there will be photographs at weddings, but how quickly will they get bored? Won't they want to spend time with you? You have to decide.... what's it to be? Wedding or photo shoot, or something inbetween? 'Inbetween' is what most people go for. They want the formal pictures for their album, and they want their family and friends to have them too. There's no getting away from it, having some Group Shots is a necessity. However, I am often told "We don't want the photography to take over the day". Ultimately it's important to get the balance right. You will have to decide what works best for you.
HOW MUCH TIME DO WE HAVE?
A big factor is time. One thing is for certain, when the Group Shots can take place is fairly limited. Mostly they occur somewhere between the end of the ceremony and the start of the Wedding Breakfast (so this could be at the church/ceremony, or reception venue... or both). Usually this amounts to 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Sounds like plenty of time.... But before you rush off and compose a huge list be sure to deduct time for the following:
Guests congratulating you after the ceremony (Often underestimated - this will be 10 minutes+),
Confetti (There goes another 10 minutes),
Travelling (If applicable, ? minutes),
Mingling with the guests for drinks and canapés (It's your party, take part! Ask yourselves again WHAT DO YOU WANT YOUR WEDDING DAY TO BE LIKE?)
Wedding Couple Portraits (Portraits of you in all your finery are a must, even if it's only for 15 minutes don't miss this opportunity! You do need to consider how much time you want to put aside for this and again your WHAT DO YOU WANT YOUR WEDDING DAY TO BE LIKE thoughts will play a big part in this decision)
Receiving line (If applicable, on arrival at the venue or prior to the Wedding Breakfast easily 15/20 minutes)
Speeches (More and more now these occur before the Wedding Breakfast. If this is the case for you the speeches could eat into photography time as the venue will work to the time food needs to be delivered- typically 30mins).
Other requirements e.g. private time, detour drive in the wedding car, ice cream van arrival etc
Suddenly that 1 1/2 - 2 hour window doesn't look so big!!
My advice - as a couple spend 15/20 minutes with your photographer, do spend time with your guests, and then allocate some Group Shot time. But again, you will have to decide what works best for you.
HOW LONG DO GROUP SHOTS TAKE, AND HOW MANY SHOULD WE HAVE?
You need to allow 3-5 minutes per group. Straight away you can see that 10 Group Shots will take between 30 and 50 minutes! The exposure only takes a second, but getting people in front of the camera and properly ordered and posed takes the time. The bigger the group, the longer it will take. A group with the elderly, the infirm, and/or children is also likely to take longer.
I know many photographers who like to limit the formal groups to 6! And Hugo Bernard (Royal Wedding Photographer) only ever does 3 (the Bride & Groom, the Bride & Groom plus both immediate families, and everyone)!!! However, I don't think either approach is realistic. Our families and friendships are often complicated networks which deserve individual attention. Think about what you'd want in an album and who would want a print on their mantelpiece. The three areas to concentrate on are: Family (immediate & extended), Wedding Party (Bridesmaids & Groomsmen), and Friends. Try to avoid breaking groups down too much e.g. 1)Bride + Sister, 2) Bride + Brother, when there's nothing wrong with combining the two.
For all of you now begging for a comprehensive list of every conceivable group, I apologise. I am not going to oblige. Such a list simply will not help! There are no rules as to who should be in your Group Shots or how many you should have. It is a personal choice and only you know what and who matters!
Just remember, always have half an eye on WHAT DO YOU WANT YOUR WEDDING DAY TO BE LIKE and HOW MUCH TIME DO WE HAVE. From my experience, it really should be possible to cover all bases in 10 - 15 formal Group Shots. But yet again, you will have to decide what works best for you.
HOW WILL IT WORK ON THE DAY?
For this part of the day, more than any other, your photographer has to be organised. The old cliché of "Fail to prepare, prepare to fail" is never truer. Expect your photographer to request a list of the Group Shots that you want. Each photographer will have their own system, and I like to know exactly who is involved in each picture. So a sample group on one of my lists looks something like Bride & Groom + Brides Parents: Katie & Ryan + Jane & Colin. This way there is no confusion and (in a big group) nobody gets left out!
Having one of your Wedding Party rounding up people for each formal group is also crucial. The trick is to have someone who is happy to raise their voice (they don't need to know everyone). They use your list and get the next group together, ready to go. It's also nice to have a member of your Wedding Party involved as they are rightly regarded as one of your trusted assistants on the day. There is something more personal about using one of your friends or family in this way that guests relate to. Being told what to do by a hired hand (photographer) is always less appealing!
I know all this is somewhat tedious, and dare I say it, difficult and sometimes even controversial (particularly with family). Your best plan of action is to deal with it head on and at least a couple of weeks before the big day. As you've seen the Group Shots aren't just about photography. Your decisions will effect a large part of your wedding day. Don't leave it to chance or expect it to work out. If you don't carefully think about what you want your day to be like, or you don't allocated enough time, you may well regret it. Finally, do liaise with your photographer, they're the experts and will be as keen as you to make sure everything runs smoothly! Good luck with everything, and above all enjoy your day!!!