War and Peace – How to Survive Your Family Group Photographs

Despite the fashionable plethora of contemporary wedding photography styles around today most couples, and certainly their parents at least, will want their wedding photographer to take a few family group photographs. This part of the wedding photography coverage isn’t particularly glamorous or stylish and few photographers will advertise that we all do them. I show exclusively wedding reportage images on my website for example as this is the style of photography I really enjoy but taking group photographs is still an integral part of my coverage. However, particularly in years to come, they can become an invaluable and cherished historical record pored over by future generations of your family.

Despite their importance, having the group photographs taken is the one thing that most couples don’t look forward to on the wedding day. They worry that they are going to take ages to do, that the family won’t “perform”, people will go missing, divorced parents will not stand next to each other, the in-laws will resort to handbags at dawn and general mayhem will ensue – very stressful! However, this really doesn’t have to be the case. There are a number of things that you can do to make things go smoothly:

It’s Your Day!

Firstly it’s your day and one of the few days in your life when you really should be forgiven for having things completely your way. If you can’t bear the thought of standing in a clump with all the relies and smiling like a cheshire cat then don’t do it! Very, very few couples ever manage not to have some group photographs but you could possibly get away with just one big photograph of all of your guests. A good wedding photographer will identify the key people anyway and should produce some good natural photographs of them throughout the day. Possibly this will be enough without them all having to be lined up and “shot”!

Plan Ahead!

Assuming that you are not quite radical enough not to have any group photographs at all, one of the worst things that can happen is that you make up the list of group shots on the day. Despite the temptation to scribble it on a beer mat it up in the pub before the ceremony you absolutely must do all of the negotiation with parents, friends and relatives beforehand and then have a discussion with your photographer in a pre wedding planning meeting where you can agree a list of photos. As a professional wedding photographer myself I would never change this list on the day unless it is at the request of the bride. If I am asked to do additional photographs I always take the photographs on the agreed list first and then add any extras on afterwards time permitting.

Where and When?

Having decided who is going to be in the photographs you need to decide when they are going to be taken, where they are going to be taken and what happens if it rains! Often it can be a good idea to start with a time frame and work backwards from that with your photographer. If you are willing to spend say 10 minutes doing the group shots then an experienced photographer will be able to tell you what you can achieve in this time. Don’t try to do it the other way round by shoe horning a list of pictures as long as your arm into whatever time you have left at the drinks reception after glugging all the champagne and polishing off the canapes.

Let the Ushers Ush!

Confident best men, ushers or bridesmaids can be invaluable at gathering people together. Give them a list of the photographs along with the plan for time and location and get them to work with the photographer to organise everybody. Generally it’s not taking the pictures that takes the time it’s finding the people to go in them! Often it can be a good idea to photograph “the attendants” first and then send them off to gather other people.

Negotiate Before the Day

Be clear about who qualifies as “close family”. Does this include partners, batty Aunt Mable and that weird cousin you never see or do you just mean your parents and siblings? Decide beforehand and stick to your guns on the day.

Stick With it!

As the bride and groom, once you have started the group photographs NEVER leave the photographer and go off to find people, mayhem always ensues! If you are both in position, looking like you are ready and waiting to be photographed, you stand half a chance of attracting any missing family members. As soon as you go off looking for people you will be caught in massively time wasting hilarious wedding conversation before you know it and the group photographs will grind to a halt.

Count to Ten…..

Try to remain calm at all times. There is something eroding to the soul in barking at your mother to line up through the red mist at one moment and forcing an ecstatic nuptial smile the next.


Please, in the name of good taste, avoid walking around in cheap sunglasses “Reservoir Dogs” style, lifting the bride up, lifting up kilts or anything else you have seen in wedding magazines/on line. These types of shots were cool/funny once, and once only.

With some thought, careful planning and management the dreaded group shots can be achieved quickly, efficiently and can even be fun to do! Your children will be fascinated by them and if, as is popular today, your grandchildren put them on display at their wedding, they will become part of the fabric of your family’s history. Take a bit of time to think about what you would like beforehand and always ask for help and guidance from your photographer.

Many thanks to Andrew of Lightworks Photography for this post. Please see his amazing work at for Wedding reportage and images on his website click here or visit http://www.photographyatlightworks.co.uk

Michael Deluce