How to Reduce the Stress of Group Photos at Weddings


I am sure you understand how important the family photos are on a wedding day. For me, they used to be the most stressful part of the day, I would almost dread them. Logistically they can be challenging, gathering all the guests and particular family members, organizing them into the right groups, then getting the shots right. There is a lot to do and think about.

I have sure you’ve heard the age old story, about how the couple went to their friend’s wedding, and the photographer bossed them around, and spent ages doing countless group photos. None of us want to become that photographer, with the help of this short guide and bit of preparation, you can prevent that.

Group photos robert sail 4

After shooting over 100 weddings, I have I slowly figured out a sort of system, which helps me manage the process better. I have cut down the number of recommended family shots I do. This allows the couple to have time to relax during the reception, and gives me a little more time to shoot candid shots, or even spend a little bit more time with the bride and groom, creating something more creative.

Some of the points within the article my be more relevant to wedding photographers in Europe, who tend to shoot the group photos after the ceremony during the cocktail reception, but you may still find some of the points useful if you are based in the US, and shoot them before the ceremony.

Setting the scene – initial meeting with couple

When you are in the process of booking a new wedding couple, I would suggest having a short chat with them about the group photos. It is good to discuss how many family formals they envision you will take on their day. It is also worth mentioning that you limit the number of family formals you take, to provide them with the best possible experience on their wedding day.

Spending less time doing the family formals, will allow them to have more time relaxing during the cocktail reception with their friends and family. The last thing I would want a bride and groom to remember from their wedding day, was that we spent their whole cocktail hour standing around taking endless group photos.

Group photos robert sail 3

Email to couple with booking confirmation

To make the group photos as easy as possible on the wedding day, I would suggest that you email a recommended shot list over to the bride and groom beforehand, asking for them to fill in everyone’s names. This means that during the formal photographs you can call people by first name, which will make you much more amenable to the guests.

Here is my sample list that I normally work from, which covers most of the bases:

  • Bride and groom with bride’s family (please confirm which family members)
  • Bride and groom with bride’s parents
  • Bride and groom all parents
  • Bride and groom with groom’s parents
  • Bride and groom with groom’s family (please confirm which family members)
  • Bride and groom with bridesmaids
  • Bride and bridesmaids
  • Groom and best man/ushers
  • Bride and groom and best man/ushers

Group photos robert sail 1

If the couple email back a much larger list of shots to take, I will normally have a chat with them, discussing whether or not they are happy to spend potentially a large proportion of their reception doing group photos. In a lot of cases they will not want that, and will reduce their list slightly.

Re-oder the list – largest groups first

To make the process as easy as possible, I would recommend you shoot the largest group photos first. As chances are that the same guests/family members will also be in the smaller group photos.

Here is the re-ordered list, in the way I would shoot them after adding additional requested photos:

  • Bride and groom with everyone (additional shot requested)
  • Bride and groom and friends (additional shot requested)
  • Bride and groom with bride’s family
  • Bride and groom with bride’s parents
  • Bride and groom all parents
  • Bride and groom with groom’s parents
  • Bride and groom with groom’s family (please confirm which family members)
  • Bride and groom with bridesmaids
  • Bride and bridesmaids
  • Groom and best man/ushers
  • Bride and groom and best man/ushers

Group photos robert sail 2

Bring several copies of the list to the wedding day and hand these out to ushers or groomsmen. It is very important that you clarify with them, how important it is that they help you. With them helping you organize the group shots, this will give the bride and groom the most time possible to relax and enjoy their day.

Normally the ushers will help you, as they are often good friends, or related to the bride and groom. They can also help round guests up, preventing you from shouting, or raising your voice to get everyone’s attention. Thus it saves you from becoming that bossy photographer, which no one wants.

Work through the shot list methodically

Once the ushers have gathered the first grouping in the correct location, I will then get the bride and groom, working through all the group photos on the list.

It is just a case of crossing them off as you go, so you don’t miss a shoot. For photos with six people or more, I tend to shoot those full length, and for smaller groups I will also shoot those at ¾ length, providing the couple with a bit of variety. Using a clipboard can also go a long way to making you appear professional, and prevent you from misplacing your list when the pressure is on.

Group photos robert sail 5

Arranging the groups

Normally I will pose the bride and groom first, close in together, in the traditional V-style (turned slightly inward toward each other) pose. I will then pose the remaining family members in a single line, equal numbers on either side, getting the guests on either side of the bride and groom to turn in towards the centre.

I will also ask the guests and family members in the photo to put down any; drinks, cameras, handbags, scarves, coats, etc., and for men to button up the middle button on their jackets. This just helps to make the photo as uniform as possible, by removing any distractions.

After you have finished taking any of the group photos, always make sure to thank the guests and family members. I didn’t do this when I first started, as I was a little too distracted checking all my camera settings were correct. Definitely make sure you do this as it goes a long way to providing a good experience for the guests.

Group photos robert sail 6

Do you have any other tips that work for you when doing group photos at a wedding? Please share in the comments below.

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Rob Sail is a Nottingham based wedding photographer. Check out his portfolio or learn more about him here.

  • Heather

    When you are ordering your photo list, wouldn’t it be best to go by Aperture order required? Such as all F11 shots (whole family shots), all f8 shots (bridal and groom parties) and then f5.6 (bride with parents etc). Or do you constantly change your settings while you go?

  • Hello Heather, thank you for your comment, I hope you found the article useful. I tend to photograph all the larger photographs first and use a small aperture, like f/8 or f/11. I will then open it up a little bit for the smaller groups with only two to four people in. It all depends on the background really, if it is not so great I may open it up as much as possible and use a large focal length the try and get rid of it as much as possible.

  • Austin Havens

    For large groups, I will ask the group to “practice” fake laughs with their neighbor(s). This helps people relax and even the most shy “smiler” have a pleasent expression, if not a full smile because they are amused at what others are doing. After one or two practice laughs, I ask everyone to look at me and laugh at me. After a few seconds, I ask them to stop but keep their eyes on me. I will fire a series of shoots in quick sucession with better chances of catching a good exposure. People enjoy the little game and your get some good shots.
    PS. I learned this idea from an article on this website a few years ago.
    Austin Havens

  • Hello Austin,

    Thanks for the tip, I have not heard that one before, so will be sure to try it out in the next few weddings.

  • Hello Austin,

    Thanks for the tip, I have not heard that one before, so will be sure to try it out in the next few weddings.

  • nukunukoo

    The best grouping is ALWAYS to get the oldest/senior people FIRST before the biggest group whenever practical. Your clients will appreciate you for it, especially when they have to travel to the venue afterwards. Less stress on the grands and better photos as well!

  • HI Rob, get article. Wondered if you could share a bit of what settings you use for the various group shots? thanks Hayden

  • Ricardo

    I love to do groups at Weddings !

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