Wedding Photography: A Guide to Group Shots

October 4, 2023

What's the first thing you think of when it comes to group shots? Endless combinations of Aunts & Uncles, the canape tray just out of reach and your glass missing out on that all important top up? How about disappearing for up to an hour to get group shots of people you've only met a handful of times?

Guess what? It doesn't have to be like that.

Immediate Family & Wedding Party

As a wedding photographer, I recommend the formal group shots be centred around your immediate family - that's parents, grandparents, siblings & their families - and the wedding party - that's bridesmaids & groomsmen. These are the most important people to you on your wedding day, so they should be on the essential shot list.

Of course, every family is different and you may have an Uncle who is as close to you as your dad, or maybe your parents are separated and so there are two lots of parent shots to go through.

What you may think is a "complicated family", I call an average Saturday.

"Complicated Families"

A handful of times a year I'll have couples who tell me that their parents are divorced and will refuse to speak to each other. And whilst they may never sit down for a Sunday lunch together, usually parents are pretty good at being able to keep it civil for the sake of their child's big day - and more often than not I find them chatting away to each other during the drinks reception, laughing and joking.

That said, when it comes to group shots some couples prefer to keep them separate - and that can be for a variety of reasons. Whatever they are, we can absolutely do multiple sets of parent shots - and this serves to also include any partners your parents may have.

But it's not just divorced families that I see. Sometimes grandparents raised the bride or groom, but the parents are also still present; or a friend is as close as any sibling.

Your family is yours - so whoever you count as immediate family, I do too.

When to Schedule Group Shots?

Your drinks reception or cocktail hour is the best time for these formal group shots with your immediate family & wedding party. That's because it's the first time after the ceremony where everyone is one place.  

After years of experience, I find the best time to start group shots is within the first 30 minutes of your drinks reception. Any later than that and we start to lose people to prosecco and they may wander off to the restroom or take a stroll around your venue.

I'll rarely start immediately unless it's at the request of my couple or works out to be more practical or efficient for the venue or planned activities as I want everyone to relax and enjoy the party and not feel they are part of a tight schedule of events.

At some point during the first 30 minutes, I'll approach you and ask if you'd like another few minutes while I start gathering your relatives together. That's right - if you want another five or ten to chat and go around greeting your guests, then absolutely do so! And even better, I'll be rounding up the family and friends for you.

How long & Where?

Group shots tend to be photos you want, but don't necessarily want to spend too long taking. I recommend setting aside 20 minutes for 15-20 long shot list including combinations of immediate family on each side, cross family photos and the wedding party.

Remember, the more group shots you want the longer it will take to complete them all. You'll have limited time during your drinks reception, so consider how long you want to devote to just group shots versus your couples portraits and simply enjoying the party.

It's also an idea to set aside any group shots you'd like with school / uni friends / work colleagues or other friendship groups to later on in the day. The evening reception between the meal and the first dance is always a great time to get those less informal, in-situ group shots like these. Family & wedding party shots suit the more formal style used for group shots during the reception, while other guests are more suited to a relaxed, informal style.

As to where, leave that to me. If we are outside on a sunny day, somewhere in the shade of the trees always makes for a lovely composition, or perhaps in the courtyard of your castle, and if it's raining then a sweeping staircase is perfect.

I'll always choose somewhere that's close to your drinks reception, so that guests aren't hiking halfway across your venue's grounds and we can quickly grab the people that we need. Ideally the family formals will be far enough away from the drinks reception that you won't feel that everyone is watching you.      

Pro Tips to Consider

These are my top tips to consider when you are planning your day and the group shots you'd like:

#1. As part of morning prep, I always plan for informal pre-ceremony shots with your wedding party. That means a bride with her bridesmaids and, separately, a groom with his groomsmen. So your formal shots are about you two together with your wedding party. Factor this time in when you are planning with your Hair & Make Up and / or transportation as you'll want to leave enough time for these before your ceremony.

#2. An entire wedding party group shot is always a great idea to make everyone feel included. This means relatives are less likely to badger you about why you didn't include them in the formal photos.

#3. If you do want an entire wedding party group shot, the best time to do this is immediately after the wedding ceremony.

#4. As part of my exclusive Client Zone, you'll be able to submit your Group Shot List online. This makes things so much simpler for my couples - and can be a great aide in finalising those combinations with family members.

#5. Drinks receptions are ideally a minimum of 1.5hrs to allow you time for group shots, mingling and couples portraits. Anything less can make you feel rushed and may impact group shots we can take if you've requested an extensive list

#6. Travelling between your ceremony and reception venues? Get your group shots ticked off before you leave your ceremony venue if possible. Once your guests arrive at the reception venue, many will wander off and will make your group shots more stressful than fun    

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