Everything you always wanted to know about wedding day group shots but were afraid to ask…

Even though I’m a documentary-style wedding photographer and I love to keep everything relaxed and natural I do recommend making some wedding group shots. It’s often the only time you’ll have all of your favourite people together, and some members of your family will really look forward to having a family group shot on their mantlepiece.

That said, this part of your day has the unique potential to gobble up a vast chunk of your reception, and I really don’t want that for you!

So to help make your wedding group shots go as smoothly as possible and get you back to the party I’ve put together this set of handy tips. There’s a lot to take in here but trust me, it’s worth having a good plan for this part of your wedding photography.

Here’s the highlights:

  1. eight-ish groups works best for most couples, and can take about 15 minutes if we’re organised – but potentially much longer
  2. ask your best man/maid of honour/groomsmen/bridesmaids to gather everyone – it’s what they’re there for!
  3. avoid fiddly variations with minor differences – fewer photos with more people in them is simpler and often just as good
  4. accept that kids usually don’t like standing still, smiling, or even looking at the camera on cue
  5. an ‘everyone’ shot with more than a few dozen people can take about 10 minutes alone to organise
  6. remember to include another 15-20 minutes to make some portraits of just the two of you – and make a plan to sneak out of your wedding breakfast for one last portrait during sunset (the best light lasts about five minutes!)

The Basics

How long do wedding group shots take?

From the moment we start gathering people until the last group shot is done, expect to spend up to 2-4 minutes on average per group; the shot itself is quick, it’s gathering everyone and arranging them to look good that takes the time.

Larger groups (e.g. 10+) take longer to gather and arrange, and if you’d like a shot with everyone (e.g. 50+) it can easily take 10-15 minutes for that shot alone, including gathering everyone and getting me to a location where I can see everyone.

But we can absolutely get ahead of the clock if you work with me in advance and follow the tips below.

How to make wedding group shots look good

After we’ve gathered everyone I’ll spend time making sure everyone looks good and has something to do with their hands!

So for example, with the men I’ll ask them to tuck their shirts in, and take phones and wallets out of trouser pockets. Then they tend to look best with hands in pockets, or with one arm around the waist of their partner. And for the ladies I recommend putting any handbags down.

TOP TIP: avoid putting an arm around both people either side of you as it stretches shirts and jackets and looks messy; put down those glasses and bottles; and take off your sunglasses if possible (I’ll try to put the sun behind you)

If you have more than, say, ten people in a group we’ll need to make at least two rows so that it’s not one big line of people. So some people will have to be comfortable kneeling or sitting on the ground in front, or we’ll need to bring in some chairs.


My Six Big Tips For Wedding Group Shots

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Tip 1: around 6-8 group shots works best for most couples

Ultimately I’ll shoot whatever we have time for, of course.

But it’s a simple fact of How Time Works that fewer groups means more time at the party. And you might be surprised how tired you get standing there ‘smiling’ for the camera!

The magic number seems to be six to eight group shots; I recommend focusing on your immediate family and wedding party. Below I’ve listed the usual groups couples start with, for you to adapt as you like.

Every wedding is different, of course. In some cultures it’s normal to spend 40-60 minutes working through dozens of group shots, and everyone knows how long it will take. So if that’s the case for your wedding, send me your list and we’ll go for it, no problem!

You might also be feeling the pressure to give each sub-group of your family and friends their own shot with you. It happens! If it’s really important to you just send the list and I’ll let you know how long it might take. But if you’re reluctant just ask me to tell you the story of the couple who started with 15, were pressured to double it, and sent a final list of 40 the week before the wedding!

Spoiler alert: we didn’t finish them…

So what wedding group shots do I recommend?

Here’s the basic list I recommend as a starting point. With help, this list usually takes up to 15 minutes to shoot. In fact I’ve sometimes managed it in less than ten minutes! But if people go missing, drag their feet, or you don’t have help it could also take as long as 30 minutes.

Going in this order and posing people as I add them in lets everyone else see how to pose as they wait, which helps speed things up when it’s their turn. And starting small means we can get started while we wait for larger groups to join us.

  • Couple with 1st partner’s parents
  • Couple with 1st partner’s immediate family (i.e. parents, grandparents, siblings)
  • Couple with both immediate families
  • Couple with 2nd partner’s immediate family
  • Couple with 2nd partner’s parents
  • Couple with full wedding party (e.g. bridesmaids, groomsmen)
  • 1st partner with their wedding party
  • 2nd partner with their wedding party

What if you can’t get it down to eight groups?

You don’t have to match this list, it’s just a suggestion to get you started. So if you can’t do without, say, a dozen groups, no problem. Just send me the list and I’ll let you know how long it might take, and make any suggestions I can to speed it up.


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Tip 2: ask your wedding party to gather the guests  – don’t do it yourselves!

Firstly, it’s your wedding day so you shouldn’t be ‘working’. Plus, you’re in every photo so I don’t want you to disappear looking for people.

Instead, before the wedding day let everyone who’s going to be in the group shots know that they’ll be needed, and stress that it’s important that when they’re called they don’t take their time – you can blame me if you need to!

But here’s The Most Important Bit:

Recruit one or two (or more!) people to be your Group Shot Helpers a couple of weeks in advance, give them a copy of the list, and ask them to gather everyone for you when we give them the nod.

This is basically what your bridesmaids and groomsmen are for, but whoever it is make sure:

  • they can take charge with a big voice
  • ideally they know, or are known by, most of the guests
  • and MOST importantly, someone you can trust to take it seriously.

It sounds like a trivial job but if they don’t take charge on the day, or worse, just disappear into the crowd with a beer (it happens!) then we can end up waiting an awful long time to gather everyone.


Tip 3: avoid fiddly variations

With all of these examples below I’m not banning these shots by any means! If there’s a smaller group you really want, let’s do it. But if your list is spiralling out of control here’s how to try and bring it back down to earth.

Example 1: multiple groups with and without boyfriends/girlfriends

This can be a delicate issue. To be blunt, you may be wondering if certain partners will still be on the scene in years to come, so should they be in your wedding day group shots?

The ‘obvious’ solution is to take two versions of every photo, one with them, and one without. But the time swapping can add up, and it’s a bit tactless; did you read about the wedding photographer that shouted “Boyfriends step out for the safety shot!”, cringe…

If you’re not sure how to handle it, the most tactful solution is: married/engaged/long-term partners only, which you can easily justify as ‘immediate family only’ if anyone asks.

Example 2: each group with both of you, then one of you, then the other.

Usually, there’s only four shots it’s worth doing with only one of you:

  • each partner alone with their wedding party (i.e. bridesmaids / groomsmen)
  • and sometimes each partner alone with their parents, which aren’t on my recommended list but they’re easy to add.

Beyond those four it’s much simpler if you’re both in every shot – especially if there’s a long wedding dress to manage.

Example 3: lots of sub-groups after each big group

For example, doing the big family groups and then:

  • couple with the siblings,
  • couple with the grandparents,
  • couple with the aunts & uncles,
  • couple with the cousins, etc…

Or doing a big friends group and then:

  • couple with the the school friends,
  • couple with the uni friends,
  • couple with the housemates,
  • couple with the rugby team,
  • couple with the work-mates, etc.

This one’s simple to solve: just stick with the main ‘big’ group shots, so you’ve definitely got all these people.

Of course if we whizz through everything and you’re happy to keep going then we can get some extras at the end if there’s time – but by this point you might be a bit fed up of standing there ‘smiling’ and not enjoying a glass of bubbly and some canapes!


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Tip 4: accept that most kids don’t want to be in a group shot

You can lead a child to the group shots, but you can’t make ’em smile – or even look at the camera – and if we wait for them we could be there all day!

Don’t get me wrong, I love it when there’s kids at weddings. They’re at their best when they’re stealing the spotlight during the ceremony and speeches – which they will totally do by the way, and I will be there for it.

But experience tells me that most of them DO NOT enjoy having to stand still for photos – in fact most people don’t, but anyone under the age of 16 will not be shy about telling us all that!

If it’s going to be a problem get someone the children know to stand next to me calling their name and pulling silly faces. Bonus points for me if I manage to capture those silly faces on camera…


Tip 5: if you want a shot with ALL your guests allow for at least 10 minutes, depending on where and when

Group shots with the entire guest list can look great, especially at grand venues where I can get up above everyone (e.g. on a balcony or even out a window). But they take the longest to arrange, so the best time is when we have everyone’s attention already, such as right after confetti.

So a successful ‘everyone’ shot depends on the venue, the weather, and how many guests are involved. If you want to go for it let me and the venue know, and we’ll work out a plan.


Tip 6: remember to add 20-ish minutes for some relaxed portraits of you both – and don’t forget sunset too!

At some point before your wedding breakfast we’ll sneak away to make some really nice, relaxed, creative portraits of the two of you.

We’d usually do these after your group shots and before you sit down for your wedding breakfast, but sometimes it makes sense to do them after confetti and before your entrance to the reception drinks. I’ve even done them before the ceremony itself!

Whatever we do, I try to only spend about 20 minutes on them so you don’t get too tired of it.

If you have a special location in mind that involves a bit of travel, bear in mind the extra time it’ll take. For scenic locations it can be well worth the travel time, but it’s entirely your decision. If you’re happy, I’m happy.

And finally, a gorgeous golden sunset can be the perfect background for one last special photo together.

But it usually only lasts a couple of minutes and tends to fall right at the end of your wedding breakfast. So, if you fancy a sunset shot (and I highly recommend it!) be ready to sneak away with me between courses or speeches.


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And that’s it!

With just a few groups and some good planning we can be done with your wedding day group shots in about 15 minutes, and your own creative portraits 20 minutes later.

But all of this rests on having everyone we need with us for the full session, and neither of you disappearing to go and find people who are missing.

So let everyone in your group shots know they’ll be needed, and make sure your whoever you nominate to help us have a copy of the list and are ready to round everyone up.

And we’ll be done in no time!