Group wedding pictures

Your relatives are coming to the Twin Cities specifically for your wedding. Thus you wish to keep memories of this moment and you need to find a professional wedding photographer to make sure that your family portraits will be properly caught.
Do you prefer your formal pictures to be taken before or after your ritual? How can you improve these pictures? By the way, are they stipulated?

Are They Mandatory

You might consider that formals pictures are mandatory. On the contrary, some couples would prefer not having any group picture taken during their big day (and I totally respect that). They probably do their formal family pictures another day and prefer their photographer focusing on the cocktail hour and taking candid shots of their guests mingling.

To sum up, taking a group picture is absolutely not mandatory! That being said, guess what was the very first photography job in history? Taking group pictures! That’s why it became a tradition and you will probably have some family members or friends requiring such a picture! So, if you decide not to have any image taken, be prepared to answers to such solicitations. You should be consistent, and keep control. Because the worst thing you ever want is being implicated in a chaotic and unprepared family photo session that would last forever.

Different Kind of Style

I make a difference between two styles of group pictures: the traditional and the sophisticated one.

Traditional style

This style is very formal and simple. All the people are lined-up and standing. We can eventually seat people on chairs or use stairs to create several rows. It’s similar to the traditional football team player picture (even if this last is already quite elaborated and requires time). The goal is to have a clean picture where each face is well lightened. It’s the fastest to produce. In Europe it’s the most common style during the weddings. Indeed, the tradition requires each guest having at least one picture with the bride and the groom, so we try to go fast and furious.
For a formal picture, estimate between 3 and 5 min per group.

Sophisticated (Vanity Fair) style

The second style of group pictures for families implies some more sophisticated and personalized poses and thus provides unique memories. I also pay more attention to the lightening reproducing sculptural light, which is technically more complex. The result is an image looking similar to an old painting. Each person is asked to perform a specific pose, acting, or looking directly to the lens. We can use things of different heights to seat people at different levels. Thus the global composition of the image is more dynamic. The goal of such a picture is to create a living painting. Some would call it a Vanity Fair-style image.
We usually move furniture (asking for the help of the best-men), and set up several off-camera flashes.
Of course, it takes much longer than the formal shots! Thus the best is to reserve them for the bridal party and the close family members. The longest part in this job is to set up the stage. But once it’s done, we can take several similar groups faster. Usually groups of 10 to 20 people work great.
For a sophisticated group picture, count 5–10 minutes once the light is ready. And it takes about 10–15 min to setup the lightning, or more.

Where to Do the Session

If you prefer the traditional and simple style, then any clean background would work. For outdoors, we would usually prefer the shade of a tree. Avoid cars and ugly buildings in the backdrop.
For indoors, a nice room, big enough, with a beautiful ceiling would be appreciated. Avoid extremely dark rooms, where the photographer would have to excessively increase ISO on his cameras (that may result in electronic noise on your photos). Your church might be an option, especially if it has a beautiful collection of statues or stained glass in the background.

If you want a posed one, then I would recommend to either bring lots of furniture outside (couch, arm chairs, stool), or use a nice part of your venue. It can be in the hotel lobby, a room looking like an old gentleman’s club, or a vintage library. Historic or modern are both options that work great as far as the room is well decorated. A high and white ceiling is preferred.
As a photographer, I usually decide on the precise spot during your special day.

When to Shoot Them

On half of the weddings I have covered, the couples chose to have the group picture taken just after their marriage: either before or during the cocktail.
But it’s not rare to have them taken before the church.
In such situation, the best is to start with the bride and groom photo session. Then, we capture memories with formal family portraits.

Actually, your choice is determined by two other decisions you have to take:

  • Do you want to see each other people before the church?
    If no, then it’s simple, the answer is after your union.
  • How many pictures do you want and with who do you want them?
    If you want pictures just with your bridal party and your close family members, then we can take them before the church. That would save us a lot of time for the rest of the day! And if you want a few pictures with other family members, then we can do a few formal pictures after your wedding ritual.
    But, if the majority of people with whom you want an image plan to be present only for the ceremony, then let’s do all the photographs after.

Should we take small group pictures including only the bride (or the groom) with her (his) close immediate family before you get married?

It’s a question that people who want to save time ask me a lot. They wonder if we should take photos during the preparation, that would feature only the bride and her family side (parents, grandparents, uncle, aunt, cousin). And the question is similar for the groom and his own family.

The answer is a clear no. It is not a good idea.

Indeed, given it is your immediate family, later you will desire the same exacts photographs including your partner. That means we will lose at least twice the time.
Let’s say your parents really want a family picture without your partner, then ask the groom (or the bride), to step out of the image, only for 30 seconds. So, if you compare, you have the choice between spending 5 min vs. 30 secs.
What’s more, you should understand that what really requires time during such sessions is to gather all the family members together. Indeed, whatever the reason is, there is always someone missing! So it’s easier for everyone to do only one (big) photo session instead of two.
Also the advantage of doing your photos after your ritual  is that you are sure everyone will be present. Indeed, even if your guests arrive late for the ceremony, they would be mostly attending the last part. That means you won’t be impacted by them being late, and thus, in my opinion, it’s the most productive way to use your time.

So, which photographs to do before the celebration if you want to discover each other in the aisle?

You can have fun taking bride and bridesmaids images. Special participants are welcome too, even if they don’t wear the exact same dress! I love this moment which could be an opportunity for goofy and out of the line images.
Of course, it’s the same for the groom and his team. You can have individual shots, and pictures with people gathered. If you want more fun, feel free to add some props, such as sun glasses, umbrellas, confetti and other things.
The entire bridal party image will be taken a bit later in the day, at the same time as other groups.
If you have seen a special idea on Instagram or Pinterest and you think it would be fun to reproduce it, please share your idea with your photographer prior to your unique day.

Who should you include?

That’s up to you, there is no rule. The only limit is you and your relation with your guests. As mentioned, in France, bride and groom are not free of obligations. Indeed, avoiding taking the traditional picture with people who love you is considered a bit rude. Everyone wants a shot with the new married couple attesting of their mutual engagement!

Luckily for you, in the USA, it’s much more relaxed!

Couples wanting to dedicate less time to this session would favor larger groups, including relatives and kids of each family.
That being said, there are two photos that are almost an obligation:

  • Shots with the bridal Party. It’s usually an opportunity to capture funny pictures. Don’t forget kids (flower girls, and ring bearers).
  • Shots with parents and siblings.

Example of a typical photo list

Here is an example of list, on one side of the family, and all images include the bride and the groom together. Multiply by two, for both sides.

  • Parents
  • Parents + brother and sister
  • Parents + brother and sister + relatives and kids
  • Parents + brother and sister + relatives and kids+ grandparents
  • Grandparents
  • Aunt/Uncle
  • Aunt/Uncle + relatives and kids
  • Cousin
  • Bride + all the young boys and girls
  • Groomsmen
  • Bride + guys
  • Bridesmaids
  • Groom + girls
  • Bridal Party + Ushers + intendant
  • Friends from childhood
  • Friends from university
  • Other friends (neighbors, sport, church, etc.)
  • Colleagues
  • Officiant
  • All friends

The Very Large Group

It’s possible to stage a photo including everyone. I usually need to climb on a ladder to be high enough. Sometime, I use a balcony or a window and take my images with my camera from the second floor.
The best is to schedule this moment on your timeline. For instance, it can be planned at the end of the cocktail. And just before all your guests would enter in the dinner room.

Tips to improve your photos

Designate someone in charge and keep people informed

As mentioned, the most difficult part is to gather people. Designate someone to help you. It’s usually the siblings’ responsibility.
First, share the photo session information with your guests prior to your marriage.
Tell them where and when. For this purpose you can use your website, and/or send them a message prior to the day to make sure they haven’t forgotten.

The list

Make a detailed list of every image you want and share printed version of it with people who know everyone.
Usually, the best for this business is asking the bridal party or your brother and sister, to take control of the guests. They will gather people and keep them ready until they have their respective images done, so we don’t lose time.

Furniture

Bring a large variety of furniture: couch, arm chairs, stools, and why not a ladder!