Whether you love all the group photos taken at a wedding with friends and family or would prefer to spend more time smoozing with your guests the reality is that the only way to guarantee a photo with grandma is to plan to take one. These type of photos are the formal portraits at a wedding and I’m going to chat a little bit about how to do them quickly and efficiently so you can get on to the partying!
There’s been a trend in the last couple decades of couples wanting to have more of a photo-journalistic style of wedding coverage. A true photo-journalist should never stage a photo as they are there mainly to document the event. While this can often times capture some of the most emotional and memorable moments at a wedding, choosing a photographer who only offers this type of photography can often mean you miss getting photos with a lot of the people who are important to you that a traditional portrait photographer will take. You can have both styles of photography and the best wedding photographers will offer both!
I started out assisting my mother with weddings back in the nineties during the days of film when each wedding you photographed had a limited amount of film to shoot for each event. Photographers had to choose their frames very deliberately. In those days you took maybe 2-3 frames of each group shot and just hoped someone didn’t blink. You took one shot of the cake and maybe 2-3 of the cake cutting. Delivering 300-500 images back then was considered a lot! I’m thankful to have learned photography during that time period because not only does it make me appreciate the ability to take as many photos as I want at an event, but also it did teach me a lot of skills that I still use today to help with facilitating the formal portrait session quickly. Here are some tips for couples planning a wedding:
1.) First, if at all possible find a photographer that has a portfolio that includes group portraits and speaks about the importance of taking these types of photos at a wedding. This will ensure that you get a photographer that will be proactive in making sure the photos you want with others get completed and not missed.
2.) Ask the photographer to walk you through their process of doing group portraits. Each photographer will probably have a way of doing things that works the best for them. This way you can hear about any potential “red flags” they may state like “I really hate taking group photos, so I do the bare minimum” or “I’ll do group photos if you really want me to” or my favorite “Just grab me whenever you want a photo” That last statement is fine in conjunction with a well laid out plan for how and when you will be doing the bulk of the portrait photos and should be in addition to those photos not in lieu of a planned group formal photography time. The last thing you want to be doing on your wedding day is being in charge of grabbing all the people you want to take photos with, this is the photographer’s job.
3.) Most couples utilize the cocktail hour immediately following the ceremony for the time period to take these group photos. I am starting to hear more often that couples would prefer to enjoy some of that time-frame to meet and greet guests and are opting to do some if not all of the group formals before the wedding. If you are planning on doing this it’s imperative that everyone you’d like to be in these photos knows the time-frame that you will be starting the photos. I also suggest telling them a start time 30 minutes prior to the actual start time to make time for late comers (especially if you know you will have a few of these). Even if you plan to do all of the group photos before the ceremony leave some time directly following the ceremony to do just a few more in case someone doesn’t get the memo or you run out of time before the ceremony. If you don’t need the time it will just give you some extra moments with your new spouse and maybe some extra time for more relaxed photos of just the two of you which really are the most important photos you’ll want from the day!
4.) Utilize your wedding officiant or DJ/MC to make announcements for photos. Simply stated, if you plan to have the officiant tell the guests where they are supposed to go following the ceremony recessional, it’s a great idea to also have him/her mention that the couple has requested that immediate or all of the family of the couple should stay behind for a few moments for some family photos. This tells Uncle John that he can’t make a B-line to the bar just yet! And saves a lot of time looking for the family members needed for the group photos. Less time taking photos means more time to hang out with friends after wards. Family photos can be done as quickly as 15-20 minutes if everyone is present. The overtime comes when a photographer or another person has to go and look for someone who is missing.
5.) Start with the largest family first or with the side that has the most jobs to still do if they are helping out with the reception set-up or meal. Do the extended family photos first if you are doing them and whittle them down to smaller groupings and complete one side (if at all possible) before moving on to the other spouse’s family. If you have any specific groupings you’d like to have photographed give a list to your photographer. Every photographer should have a basic list of what they usually cover to show or tell you about (if you’ve been doing this for 20 years like me then your list can be in your head, but they should easily be able to tell you what their normal groupings are) and then you can decide if there are special groupings you want that are not on that list for instance: generation groupings, just cousins, just aunts and uncles, etc. This will ensure that the photographer knows what’s important to you.
6.) A loud boisterous photographer who is willing to direct people will get things done a lot quicker than a timid person waiting for groups to arrange themselves. If you get the feeling that your photographer is not going to be good at this, but still really like their work then utilizing a family member who can help with this is really recommended. A loud Aunt or Uncle who knows all the key family members and that wants to help is a great person for this role! You can also ask them to keep an eye on your dress and/or other things as the photos are being taken. A detail orientated photographer is great, but an extra pair of eyes is also helpful.
7.) Put the kibosh to others wanting to take photos while the photographer is doing formal portraits. I can’t stress this enough! I know the urge for the mother of the bride to want to take a duplicate photo of every photo the photographer is taking, I really do, but every time the photographer has to stop in the middle of their group arrangements to allow someone else to take photos it adds on to how long it takes to do the group photos. This also results in photos with people looking everywhere, but at the paid photographer’s camera. The couple is going to get a high quality large resolution digital images back from the photographer that they can share with everyone so why would they want a dark, crooked underexposed low quality cellphone picture of the exact same thing? The shocking answer is they won’t want them. Half the time they won’t even see those images as they will get forgotten about and never downloaded from the person’s phone. The best thing a couple can do is set expectations before the wedding by telling everyone that they think will want to take photos that it’s best to let the photographer do their job so that they can get through the photos quickly. This always sounds better coming from the couple rather than the photographer.
Sometimes there’s a real shutter bug in the family as well that likes to bring his/her DSLR which is great, but can also sometimes become an issue. For example if they are taking key members of the wedding party away to do photos of their own while the contracted photographer is trying to get their shots. This has happened to me on more than one occasion and it’s really not helpful and again makes the portrait session take longer. I think it’s great when another photographer comes up and introduces themselves to the photographer and asks permission to take photos. When this occasionally happens I can tell them exactly what they should and should not do. The most beneficial way to take additional photos is to get photos of things the contracted photographer can’t take. Examples of this would be photos of the guests at cocktail hour and dinner or even covering the rehearsal the day before. If someone in your family has expressed interest in taking photos at your wedding it’s imperative to chat with the photographer you have hired beforehand to discuss what this might look like. Most photographers have clauses in their contracts that won’t allow a second professional unless they are hired by them and this is to ensure another photographer is not impeding their job. Having an extra person covering stuff that contracted photographer can’t cover is a great way to utilize someone else with a camera.
8.) Overall, if you really feel like group portraits are not for you, at least consider doing photos with your immediate family with you and your new spouse in them immediately following the ceremony. A few frames of each side of the family should at least be enough to appease mom and dad. These can take as little as ten minutes. If you are worried about it turning into a long session tell the photographer up front that you only want “X” photos. This will let them take control of the situation should more group photo requests come up on the day and allow you an easy way to escape the multiple groupings if you don’t want to do them.