Wedding group portraits or formals as they’re also referenced may not appear to be a focus of this website, but it’s not due to their omission from my work on any given wedding day. There’s usually on average ninety minutes allowed during your wedding day for the drinks reception; the time between end of ceremony and commencement of the wedding banquet. In photographic terms this is the most opportune time for group portraits; your guests are smartly dressed, the banquet meal hasn’t been introduced accidentally to any clothing and so on. The following thoughts outline how I approach this part of a wedding.
As a documentary wedding photographer I’m a little baffled by the concept that you should wish to spend ALL your drinks reception on your one special day, posing for formal photographs. Perhaps it’s a traditional notion that has allotted these precious seconds to the ‘man with a camera.’ There certainly is not, or nor has there ever been a ruling within a wedding etiquette book so far as I know that awards this time to me, yet there is one facet of wedding photography mentioned more than any other when I meet with prospective clients; the length of time group portraits take.
“We went to a wedding recently where the photographer made us stand in lines for over an hour and then took the bride and groom away for another hour. He made the meal late, we missed the canapés and he did all this in sub zero temperatures.”
That may seem extreme for the sake of ‘making my point,’ but this is not an uncommon conversation. Incidentally, being made to stand in the midday sun for over an hour, can be equally as uncomfortable for guests.
Now whilst I’ve sometimes been on the receiving end of a list written by committee that is seemingly endless, it doesn’t happen very often, and the excuse that this is a dictate that cannot be negotiated into a far more palatable length for everyone involved is where I ask couples to lean on me for my experience of having witnessed over 500 weddings. I’ll always photograph what I am tasked to achieve in terms of group shots, time and logistics allowing of course and I equally feel comfortable to advise when it comes to the time it will realistically take from the day.
It feels awkward if half way through your shot list, people start to exhale air in frustration and show signs of being bored.
“How long will that blessed wedding photographer martial us around for?”
Personally I try to put a ceiling of 20 to 30 minutes on this part of the day. It’s not a photo shoot, it’s a wedding, and there are many photographers who would do well to remember this. It’s certainly a lesson I learned early on in my career. I feel my job is to borrow the bride, groom, select friends and family for a brief period of the day to shoot a pre agreed shortlist of legacy captures. Sometimes, this list is exceptionally short and uncomplicated, though I thought it may be handy to introduce you to my own working list compiled from having real insight into a wedding day’s timings.
Typically my group list follows this kind format, although it does of course change with different circumstances.
The big shot of everyone, if of course the numbers and site logistics support this. By capturing everyone with family forward, you negate the need to do 101 different extended family and friends combinations. Second cousins removed, Godparents, an Uncle you haven’t seen for five years; they’re all involved in this photograph and it removes the idea that politics should dictate they have their own picture. Of course this doesn’t account for special relationships and there will always be an exception to this case. If a Godparent or other family figure has been an incredibly important part of your life, should they have, like parents, their own portrait with you? The answer would clearly be yes. So this list is certainly adaptable.
Close family and remove. By this I mean parents, grandparents, siblings, their family. After this remove all but parents. Family pictures professionally and briskly covered.
Bridal party; ushers, best man and bridesmaids. If there are young flower girls and page boys, add them in to start with too, then remove so you’re left with sometimes easier to photograph adults. I know because we have little people in our family, that sometimes children are somewhat overawed by the whole wedding experience. So if it helps initially to have their parents in this photograph, then perfect. Better to have this than simply grumpy faces or red eyes.
Finally I’m left with just two people, the main cast members of the day; bride and groom and there are of course examples of these pictures within the website gallery.
I try to encourage pictures of friends to be record captures in a more reportage style. After all usually that’s what I’m being hired for.
In terms of colour versus monochrome, for group shots unless a particular style or light dictate otherwise, I favour colour. These pictures show a fashion of the day in terms of style and colour and I think that’s an important facet of group portraits. I favour a reportage or documentary style of coverage and that’s apparent through the showcased photographs within this site, but don’t get me wrong, group shots are not some form of photographic neuralgia that I want to see as ‘done and dusted’ minus care or attention, rather a short list of important legacy pictures that can be captured with minimum fuss so that guests can go back to being what their expected brief charged them with; relaxing and drinking in the atmosphere of a day.