Your wedding may be your first time being responsible for a big event, and formal group wedding photos are one of those things most people feel obligated to do – while at the same time, they dread that part of the day… Standing in the hot sun for hours, flashing an endless fake smile while a parade of long-lost relatives lines up to pose with you, wondering if it will ever end… Hold up: It doesn’t have to be like that!
As a professional Montreal wedding photographer, I have photographed plenty of formal group portraits, so let me share some of the tips I give my clients on how to make formal group wedding photos natural, fun and even creative:
1- Have a plan
Some things to consider:
- Can you break up the group photos? How about doing some of the family shots during your “getting ready” time in the morning? Everyone will be fresher in the morning, and it will make the formal portrait session after the ceremony go faster. Maybe you can also do some of the larger group photos at the ceremony location. The steps at a church make photographing large groups much easier.
- Are you doing a First Look? This gives you more flexibility in your timeline for the day, and you won’t feel so rushed to do everything after the ceremony.
- What if it rains? If your plan was to do all your formal group portraits outside in the garden, have an INDOOR back-up plan for rain. It’s better to have your plan B lined up BEFORE your wedding day than to be standing in the rain, losing time, while you discuss options…
- Do you need a permit? Although most public parks and wedding venues don’t have any restrictions for taking wedding photos – some locations require a permit (Stewart Hall), reservations (Pointe du Moulin) or permission (Fritz Farm). Make sure you inquire before your wedding day and take care of any paperwork ahead of time so that you’re not disappointed.
- Is there a fee to get in? If so, make sure that someone in your bridal party has money to pay the entrance fee – and also call ahead to ask if there are additional fees for wedding photos. I recently visited Quinn Farm and was shocked to find that although their regular admission fee is $5 per person, they wanted to charge us (four people total) $150 to take photos there!!
2- Make a list
There is so much going on during your wedding day, THAT is not the time to decide if you want a photo with your great aunt Martha or with your twelve sorority sisters who flew in for the event. Do yourself (and your photographer) a favor and make a list BEFORE the big day. This will give you the opportunity to really think about which formal group portraits are important to you and your family – and to be sure you don’t leave anyone out because you winged it while itching to get to cocktail hour.
I typically meet with my clients about a month before the wedding to finalize the official Formal Portrait List. I provide a basic list as a starting point and then each couple can add, remove or modify based on their needs. I also ask for people’s names to be included (as opposed to “bride with her siblings”) so that on the wedding day I know exactly how many people will be in each shot and I can address those people more personally than, “Lady in the pink dress”.
3- Allocate time
Before you finalize your invitations (because once they’ve been sent out, it’s too late to make schedule changes), make sure you have allocated enough time for all your group photos AND for your couple’s photos… and don’t forget to calculate travel time if your ceremony, photo location and/or reception are not at the same place.
If your ceremony is from 3:00-4:00 PM and cocktail hour starts at 5:00 PM, 30 minutes away, that doesn’t leave you much time for photos. That’s fine if you only have a handful of group shots, but if (like many of my clients) your list has upwards of 20 groups – and you want to mingle with your guests during cocktail hour – you’re going to run out of time.
I use the following rough calculations to determine how much time I’ll need for group photos:
- Up to 9 people = 2-3 minutes per group
- 10-20 people = 4-5 minutes per group
- Photo of ALL guests = 15 minutes
- Couple’s photos = 1 hour MINIMUM (more time makes for more variety & creativity in the photos)
These are just ROUGH numbers and always depend on how cooperative your guests are… In some cases I’ve worked with fantastic bridal parties and families who enabled me to get all the group photos done in half the time – but I’ve also been at weddings where due to some of the points I’ll discuss next, we were not even able to complete the list.
4- Consider relationships
Every family has its own unique dynamic and as your photographer, I find it very helpful to be aware of anything that may affect the photos.
If mom & dad are divorced, I don’t need to know WHY, but if I know they’re not speaking, then when I am placing all the family members for your large group portrait, I’ll be sure not to position them side by side holding hands. Likewise, if you’re not crazy about your brother’s new girlfriend and decide that you don’t want her in the family formals, I can diplomatically get those shots done without offending anyone.
I don’t need to know all the details about your grandmother’s hangnail surgery either (seriously, DON’T tell me ‘cause I’m kinda squeamish!) but it would be helpful to know that she cannot stand for long periods. With this information I can plan to do any formals where she is included first – and have a chair handy for her if she needs to take a break.
5- Let people know
One of the biggest challenges with formal portraits at weddings is that guests wander off and are not available when we need them. If your ceremony and portraits are at two different locations, then traffic, the risk of getting lost or pit stops along the way also become a factor that could delay your portrait session.
Since you’ve created your list long before the wedding day, you know who you’ll need for the formal portraits and at what time. Simply let them know when and where they will be expected for portraits and most people will be eager to please.
6- Designate “People Wranglers”
Even with the most efficient plan, the best communication and the most well-intentioned guests, you cannot control the inevitable need for a potty break… or the call of cocktail hour and a cool beverage on a hot summer day. People will wander off, so be prepared for that.
Designate one person from each side of the family to be responsible for wrangling the guests who are needed for photos – and let them know about this very important job BEFORE the wedding. This task should be given to people who actually KNOW all the members of your family and who will be able to pull them away from the band, the bar or the buffet. Oh… and your wranglers should not be people who are IN the family formals.
7- Restrict Access
These days EVERYONE will have a camera at your wedding, whether it’s a super snazzy DSLR or an iPhone – and you can bet that you’ll have your own posse of paparazzi for most of the day! While it can be fun to have every moment of your day instantly memorialized on Instagram or Facebook, during the formals multiple cameras can be quite distracting.
If you don’t want your family looking in 10 different directions because they’re not sure whose camera to look at… If you prefer your face to have the flush of happiness as opposed to the green spots from uncle Bob’s pre-flash… If you’d like to get through the formals before the sun goes down and dinner is served… Let your guests know that you’ve hired a professional to take these photos and that you’d be happy to share the photos with them so that they can enjoy cocktail hour. It’ll be more fun for everyone that way. I promise 🙂
8- Have fun!
Formal group photos do not have to be dreary or boring. These are the photos of you and your family and your closest friends – the people who YOU chose to be on that list. So instead of standing in a line like a firing squad with a stiff smile and a dazed look in your eye – smile. Laugh. Enjoy the moment. Kiss your husband. Hug your mom. Giggle with your girlfriends. Let the connection you have with the people you love shine through in your photos – and you will treasure those moments for years to come.