Lets face it. If you put yourself in your guests shoes, group photography is usually the part of a wedding day that can be one of the dullest. The words long-winded, boring and unnecessarily drawn out, depending on the size of the guest list, spring to mind.
Now I know you’ve ended up rolling your eyes during these photography sessions especially if it’s cold, you’re hot, your feet hurt, you’re hungry, the photographer is bossy, or you’ve been patiently standing around waiting for ages for the group shot and then Grandma decides to go walkabout and someone has to find her before you can crack on. Yup?
For the wedding couple you don’t tend to notice the time on your wedding day, nor should you, but it’s at this moment you might start to feel conscious of it, especially if it is drawn out or you want to make sure lots of shots are captured. It can temporarily detract from enjoying what the day is about, being present and being with your friends and family not worrying about searching for x,y or z and getting the perfectly posed shot.
Why do we spend such a significant amount of our day worrying over formal photographs if we’re not sure we even want them in the first place?
Do we even really need to have them? Or is this just another age-old tradition we’re repeating because we feel we HAVE to, because that’s the way it has always been done?
Do we have to have them? The answer is no.
Ultimately we want our memories captured and guests want to have a shot with the happy couple so we can look back with great fondest of the day and see all our friends and family there. If you don’t want formal photographs you don’t have to have them and if you want group shots there are other ways of doing them that are less time-consuming, more creative, more natural and ultimately more enjoyable for you and your guests, AND your photographer.
A little History
Formal Photography Example
There is a historical traditional influence and an expectation that wedding photography needs to incorporate group shots. Weddings have significantly evolved and so has photography, so this is no longer the case.
Traditionally a wedding photographer would attend to take the formal photographs and nothing else. Wedding pictures were used for evidence only; records and artefacts for proof of who was in attendance with a maximum of three hours coverage.
Now photographers are booked to provide photographs telling the story of the entire day including;
The Cutting of the Cake
Other Wedding Traditions
The First Dance
Evening and party and more!
Over the last 15-20 years, there has been much more movement towards reportage (documentary) style photography. Reportage photography was originally a speciality and used in other industries and is now much more accessible due to the advance in technology.
Around the 1960’s and 80’s documentary and the influence of storytelling started to move into wedding photography.
The introduction of digital photography also changed accessibility. Powerful photography kit enabled photographers to be able to shoot much more images without the restriction of film rolls. Meaning coverage would be more extensive
You also need several hours to be able to shoot 2000 images, so it’s not uncommon for wedding photography to include 8 hours coverage or much more.
So in terms of group photography the purpose of having formal shots has evolved. They are no longer needed as “evidence” because photographers are generally hired to capture an entire wedding day and not just formal photography.
Informal group photography example
Couples are often in conflict with whether to have group photography or not.
Parents generally still want tradition…. which is in conflict with what the essence of what reportage / documentary photography is.
Reportage captures moments as they unfold, group shots disrupts the storytelling, they detract from capturing the essence of the day and they are also time-consuming.
I don’t think couples are aware of how long group shots actually take to formulate.
Group photography takes time.
On average it takes 3-5 minutes per group picture and that should include gathering and shooting people. So for 10 group shots that’s already up to 50 minutes.
Your photographer will be pressured with time to ensure your portrait and detail shots are also captured during this time and that it does not cause a knock on effect with your venue and the timings of the day.
Photographing groups is not just a point and shoot exercise. Group photography is an art form and it takes time and should not be rushed. We need to consider; is everyone lit correctly, are they in focus, is the frame right, is someone blinking, are they in a comfortable position that balances the group?
If you really want to implement traditional group shots then you need to dedicate adequate time for them and here are some helpful tips to think about.
1. Be strict and have no more than 10 group shot lists.
2. Avoid giving your photographer a never-ending list of shots and people to fetch. While their head is in your list, they are going to miss capturing real moments as they unfold.
3. Make use of your wedding party and ask your ushers, bridal parties or reliable family members who know who everyone is to fetch those required for group shops in good time. Ideally they should get to people into position, so your photographer is not wasting time searching for everyone, it is not their responsibility to do so. And Ps. I’m definitely NOT shouting at strangers! (Nu Bride: lol!)
4. People on the list also need to be aware they are on the list in advance and readily available, or close so they do not wonder off.
5. Be flexible with your photographer
How do you make sure everyone is captured if you don’t have formal group shots?
1. You have to trust that your photographer will do their job and that they will capture everyone in some capacity. It may not be in one big group shot but they will be captured.
2. Informal groups shots are great way of capturing your guests without disrupting the flow of your day.
3. Informal group shots naturally lend themselves to reportage style photography. There is less pressure on your guests and photographer, they take less time to execute and if you capture them in the evening when everyone has warmed up a little they are likely to be more / more fun. These could be captured as part of a group of friends having a good time on the dance floor, they could be captured around the tables before or after people have eaten are enjoying the day. Or simply with groups interacting during the drinks reception. They don’t have to be set up.
Truly think about the reason WHY you want to incorporate group shots. Is it out of obligation, something you ‘think’ you should do, or do you really want them?
Coordinating group shots can be the most stressful time for both couples and photographers. Couples can often become anxious because things are taking too long. Becoming irritated with time it takes and guests can also start getting restless during this point.
Your venue will also be conscious of time, to ensure food is served on time, so there is pressure on everyone. Pressure on time can impact on quality. Group shots can of course eat into the time you have for couple shots. It can also impact on overall experience becoming about the photographs, rather than the moment, the experience.
Deciding Wether to Have Group Shots or Not
1. Be realistic about what can be achieved with the timings you have and this will influence your decision.
2. Really ask yourself why you are dong it? Is it out of obligation / tradition, something you really want? Are you going to use / appreciate the images in the future?
3. If you are booking a reportage photographer, then you are making an active choice to have your wedding captured in a certain way and traditional group shots are in conflict with this.
Now there’s some helpful food for thought! Thank you John Nassari for your words of wisdom!
Photography: John Nassari