One of the most overlooked parts of a wedding are group photos. I always tell my couples to give me a list of shots that they want with specific people or groups. And often, I get some very broad ones. So often you’re thinking about everything else of the day, you don’t realize the importance of specifically listing out all the variations you want. You might think, “well, we’ll definitely be taking that one anyways!”.
Treat this list as shots that you would be absolutely MORTIFIED and REGRET if you didn’t get these photos. Who would be on this list?
Imagine this. The ceremony has just finished, everyone is standing up and cheering as the newlyweds exit the aisle. Everyone trails after, emotions are high, everyone is wearing their finest clothes. Guests crowd the couple (and often their immediate family members) right after the ceremony. They want to chat and say congratulations, and offer their best wishes. And in the corner of all this chaos is someone calling out names, trying to organize a good spot for photos.
You may have “bride’s family” on this shot list, but would you want bride + mom, bride + dad, bride + grandma, bride and groom + bride’s mom? The variations go on! If you had a small guest list, this method is not an issue and budgeting 45 minutes to 1 hour should be ample time for this.
However, as COVID restrictions loosen and events are allowed to be at capacity, guest lists can easily be 100 to 200+ people. A LOT of these people will want to get a photo with you. Do you want to be standing in the same spot for 2+ hours just taking these group photos?
Here are some tips to help you have as stress-free group photo session:
1. Consider a non-traditional timeline
Traditionally, group photos happen after the ceremony, often right outside/next to where the ceremony takes place. As many couples now like doing first looks (and even wedding couple sessions before the ceremony), you may consider doing (at least some of) the group photos before the ceremony as well. An example of this could be doing the first look, bride & groom session, group photos, ceremony, then head right into reception! Another example is doing a first look, doing group photos with the immediate family, ceremony, remaining group photos, bride and groom session, then reception. The combinations are endless — consider what matters most to you, and the location and sunset time of your special day. Many couples enjoy the option of entering the reception dinner right after the ceremony where they can dine and party right after, instead of having the break in the middle. Others, however, enjoy the intimate time in the middle of the day where they can take a breather. There’s no right or wrong way to do this!
2. Organize a Group Photos List & Make Copies!
Close your eyes. Think about just finishing the ceremony and you’re super excited. You walk out of the main space and WOOOOOO. Who would you want to be there to give you a big hug? Start here.
Perhaps you’re starting with one of your families. Would you want everyone there? Extended members and all? Would you like to do family units? Couples? No kids? With kids? Would you like individual photos with particular people? Organize your list with the most important people first. If you had seniors, start with them, as you likely won’t want them standing around waiting for a long time. Organize your variations logistically; for example, if you start with the bride’s immediate family, maybe then do siblings only, then parents only, then mom and bride, then dad and bride, etc.
Print a couple copies of this list for your two helpers (see point #3), and email a copy to your photographer. This makes sure you’ll get all the groups you want, and relieves your brain on this busy day trying to remember your groups.
3. Find 2 loud and assertive helpers
You know who I’m talking about. They’re loud, extroverted, and can get everyone’s attention. They’re organized and seems to know everyone. These will be your superstars in managing group photos! They’re often siblings, best friends, groomsmen/bridesmaid. They can organize people to be “on deck” to wait for their turn. Please tell these people of their role beforehand! They can be prepared and also get to know everyone’s names better. This hopefully allows them to not be as distracted during this time; they can focus on getting people in line, and have those catch up conversations later in the night. Really tell these people that you’re counting on them, and that you’ll get them a drink later?
4. Inform the Guests of this List
In your invitations or wedding website, you may want to include a snippet about how and when group photos will happen. You may want to include the names of your two helpers who will be in charge of the organization, and to please listen to their instructions. You don’t want your guests to be swarming you (or running off). If there are guests that aren’t in this list, make a note that there will be a lot of time for photos and selfies during the reception.
5. Consult with Your Photographer
Before you finalize your wedding timeline, it would be helpful to talk to your photographer about the group photos. For example, if you wanted a photo with every guest there, would 1 hour be enough? What would be the largest group you would want? This changes the equipment that the photographer will have to bring or use, and they may have suggestions for the location for these photos.
6. Have a Second Shooter
Having a second shooter is a fantastic way to help alleviate the stress of getting photos with your guests. A second shooter can help call out names and organize the group on the list as well. They can also photograph your guests on the side without you, throughout the wedding day. You may also consider having one photographer follow you, and the other following your partner, and you’ll be able to get more photos with guests as the night goes on.
7. Have Water and Refreshments Nearby
Often, couples are often so busy right up to their ceremony, they forget to eat and drink. Have your family or the wedding party (or your wedding planner or day-of coordinator!) bring you water and refreshments. Take a sip in between groups so you’re not dehydrated (this is especially important for outdoor summer weddings). Not being hangry can help you get through these photos more easily, and won’t have you feel like you’re standing there for an eternity!
8. Have Fun and Don’t be Too Stressed!
At the end of the day, everyone is there to celebrate you and your union! Everyone is so excited and emotionally charged that they really just want a memento of the day. As a photographer, I always try to get my couples on track with their timeline as much as possible. Fitting in a couple more group photos isn’t the biggest deal, especially if you have extra flex time built into your day (that’s why #5 is so important!). People also often want to take a photo on their phones, and time-permitting, I often will step aside for the guest to take the photo too. To me, it’s all about everyone having a happy, celebratory day to have fun!