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

Even though I’m a documentary-style wedding photographer and I’m always banging on about keeping 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 there’s always someone who’s looking forward to having a family group shot on their mantlepiece!

That said, this part of your day has the unique potential to devolve into tedious chaos and gobble up a vast chunk of your ‘celebrating with your guests’ time. And I really don’t want that for you!

Of course, in some cultures it’s totally normal, and even expected, to spend all of your reception drinks posing for dozens of family and friends group shots. If that’s the case, no worries, I’m up for it. Send me your list and let’s go for it!

Either way, to help get you through your wedding day group shots and back to the party as quick as possible I’ve got a list of recommended groups, and some handy tips. There’s a lot to take in but trust me, it’s worth getting this bit right.

Here’s a quick summary:

  1. around 6-8 groups works best for most couples, and can take 15 minutes if we’re organised, but potentially much longer if people go missing, or there’s nobody to help you gather them
  2. ask your wedding party to gather the guests, so you don’t have to ‘work’ on your wedding day!
  3. avoid fiddly variations with minor differences – fewer photos with more people in them is quicker 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. if you want an ‘everyone’ shot expect it to take 10 minutes alone
  6. include another 15-20 minutes to make some portraits of just the two of you, and plan to sneak out of your wedding breakfast for one last portrait during sunset (the best light lasts about five minutes, so we have to be quick!)

How long do wedding group shots take?

As a general rule expect to spend up to 2-4 minutes on average per group, starting from when we start gathering everyone (because that’s what takes the most time) but I’ll also spend time making everyone look good before I take the shot.

Larger groups (e.g. 10+) tend to take a bit 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 with a bit of planning and help from your nominated Group Shots Helpers my recommended list of groups can be done in about 10 minutes. Even a longer list of 10 groups can be done in 15-20 minutes if your ‘Group Shot Helpers’ are on the ball.

And so, here’s my top tips for quick and easy wedding group shots!

How to make wedding group shots look good

The thing I’ll spend most time on for each shot is making sure everyone looks neat and tidy, 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. It’s best to not put an arm around both people standing either side of you because that stretches shirts and jackets and looks a bit messy.

For the ladies I recommend putting any handbags down, and ideally taking off any eye-catching hats if possible. Also if anyone has a bouquet to hold, don’t forget to bring it with you!

Finally, it’s best to leave out glasses and bottles, and I’ll try to put the sun behind you so you don’t need sunglasses.

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 for people to sit on – but bear in mind if we’re on grass the venue may not permit chairs on the grass as it can leave dents, so best to ask in advance.

 

 

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

I really don’t like to take control of your wedding day, so when it comes to your group shots I’ll shoot whatever you want and we have time for, of course. If a group shot is important to you I won’t refuse to shoot it! But it’s a simple fact of ‘how time works’ that fewer groups means more time at the party. And I bet you’d rather be celebrating than standing ‘smiling’ at the camera for hours!

So in my experience the magic number of group shots is around six to eight, depending on your circumstances, with a couple of quick extras I can slip in if you let me know they’re important to you. I recommend focusing on your immediate family and wedding party, and to get you started I’ve listed the main groups I recommend at the bottom of this post.

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

But you may also be feeling the pressure to shoot well over a dozen group shots with every possible permutation of your extended family. If that’s the case and you don’t want to disappoint people then like I always say: I’ll shoot whatever YOU want. If they’re important to YOU then let’s do them.

Either way, if we work out the groups you want in advance I can let you know how long I expect it to take, and you’ll be able to give that list to some wedding guests so they can help you gather everyone (see below)

So, what wedding group shots should you have?

If you’re not sure where to start here’s the core list I recommend, in the order I’d usually do them.

With help, this list usually takes up to 15 minutes to shoot. In fact I’ve done this list in less than ten minutes when the Helpers have been on form! But without help, or if people go missing, 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 stragglers 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

Like I say, I’ll always shoot whatever groups you want me to. So if there’s other groups that are important to you that’s fine. Just remember: more groups = more time not at the party (and if the sun is shining, the hotter and shinier you’ll get!) 

 

 

 

 

Tip 2: ask your wedding party to gather the guests so you don’t have to do it yourselves

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 then give your bridesmaids (or whoever you like) a copy of the portraits list and ask them to gather everyone for you when we give them the nod.

Make sure it’s someone with a nice loud voice, ideally someone who knows most of the guests, and MOST important, someone you can trust to take this role seriously. It sounds like a dead easy job, but if they don’t take charge on the day then we can end up waiting an awful long time to gather the people you need.

I’ll ask you for the names of the people you’ve selected to help, but I’ll always ask you to send them the list and let them know they’ll be needed, so don’t forget! 

 

Tip 3: avoid fiddly variations

For example, with and without partners (‘couple with all family plus partners; couple with all family without partners; etc).

This can be a delicate issue. To be blunt, you may be wondering if certain partners will still be on the scene in 10 years time, so do you really want them in your wedding day group shots? But taking two versions of every photo, with and without them, is pretty unsubtle, and depending how many people we need to bring in and out the time can add up. So the most common approach is: if they aren’t engaged or married to someone in your family then they aren’t in the photo.

Another variation I sometimes see is 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 maybe each partner alone with their parents (this isn’t on my recommended list but if you ask for it we can do it, no worries).

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

Finally, sometimes couples feel that they “should” get lots of sub-groups after each big group.

For example, doing the big family groups and then just the siblings, just the grandparents, just the aunts & uncles, etc. Or doing the big friends group and then breaking it down to just the school friends, just the uni friends, just the house-mates, just 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!

 

family portrait in Fulham Palace courtyard wedding reception

 

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

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.

But experience tells me that most of them DO NOT enjoy having to stand still for photos.

So bear in mind you can lead a child to the group shots, but you can’t make ’em smile – or even look at the camera!

 

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

The best time to do it is when we have everyone’s attention already, such as immediately after confetti as everyone’s together and the party hasn’t quite started yet. Also, they typically look best when I can get some height over everyone, or if we can arrange them in layers of height such as on some wide steps outside a venue.

So a successful ‘everyone’ shot depends on the venue, the weather, and how many guests are involved, and I’m happy to plan it out with you.

 

Tip 6: include about 20 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 depending on your venue and timings sometimes it makes sense to do them after confetti and before you make your big entrance at your reception drinks. Either way, I’ll try to get you back to the party within 20 minutes.

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.

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 be ready to sneak away with me between courses, or speeches!

 

 

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!