The formal group shots. Something every wedding photography moans about. You have to organise all these people intent on having fun somewhere else, determined to chat, to get drunk, to socialise, to congratulate, to cop a crafty snog, or nip off for a sneaky smoke. Goddamnit, these people are here to be photographed, not to have fun, right?
They're here to have fun. People want to look their best and act their best, and of course they've come to wish the bride and groom a lifetime of fulfilled dreams, love and happiness. But they've also come to have a laugh, to meet old friends and new, to let their hair down and enjoy themselves. And part of a photographer's job should be not just to not get in the way of that fun, but to add to it.
While some weddings can be chaotic when it comes to formal group portraits, it is crucial to have an idea of what you want, so that time isn't wasted herding your friends and family with a megaphone. (In the wedding below, the best man actually used one!)
Every wedding is different and should be as you want it. My only recommendation would be to try to keep things to a sensible limit. We photographers want to document a day of love and fun and we want you to have fun, rather than be worrying about the 53rd set of formal shots of your third aunt twice removed.
With this in mind, as a help to all couples, I have put together a simple template of which groups are good to include, though, as I say, the choice is always yours.
Bride and Groom and Brides parents
Bride and Groom and Grooms parents
Bride and Groom and both sets of parents
Bride and Groom and Bridesmaids
Bride and Groom and Bestman/ushers/suits
Bride and Groom Bridesmaids, Bestman/ushers/suits
Large group shot
Bride and Groom and any special family members.
and remember - have fun!
Which isn't to say formal group shots should all be wacky, ad-hoc, crazy affairs. More often than not, the ceremony and the gathering call for refinement, formal composition and a respectful portrait of family and friends.
But this shot, lit and composed and shot at the wonderful One Whitehall Place in London's Westminster embankment is a great example of the opportunity a group formal portrait offers a photographer to get creative. When nervous planners are urging you to "just pop out in the park" or grab a few shots on the stairwell, it is often too tempting to take the quick and easy option, rather than to see that something more challenging will result in something more rewarding. Here I lit with two small flashes behind and a studio portrait soft box in front and arranged the family in the Gladstone library to create a Downton Abbey look, perfectly in keeping with the assured and sophisticated mood of the day.
Which isn't to say the grand, sweeping staircase of One Whitehall Place shouldn't also get a look-in when it came to the group shot. In fact it was ideal for placing all of the guests in a sumptuous surrounding.
And there are other times when circumstances force you to have a bit of fun and jazz things up. We all pray the day will be wonderful and sunny, but as Brits, we are also philosophical to know that those rain clouds are never far away. So it was with Heather and Sam's Dartmouth wedding. It rained ALL DAY LONG! And it is then, at a beach-party wedding, when a photographer, has no real alternative to shooting outdoors, that the last thing anyone needs is a stiff pose and a long face.
Although, I have to confess, the most fun I've had to date, was shooting the group shots at London's Zetter's Town House in Clerkenwell, at the reception held for Jerome and Rosie after their Islington Town Hall Wedding. Having arrived breathless with excitement on a classic route master bus, and eager to party on at The Artisan Clerkenwell, Jez and Rosie were more than happy nonetheless to give a little time and creativity to their group shots. The only challenge being that the outside of The Artisan is really just a courtyard. As Jez had stayed the night before in Zetter's, they kindly let us shoot in their townhouse club, with the proviso that we were quick. For a Saturday night, the townhouse was blissfully quiet, and so we snuck in, at first with the idea of merely shooting some classic, stylish and contemporary group shots.
And then this happened.
Jez and Rosie, and their family were immediately game for some fun. They're a fun and funky bunch and responded to every whacky idea with an eager grin. "No, we don't want stuffy posed pictures, do whatever you want", they said. "Dangerous words", I said. "Bring it on", they replied. "Do Charlie's Angels", I said. And this is what I got.
"Now all have a terrible family fist fight, really try and kill each other", I urged, as, so naturally you do at a wedding. And this is what I got.
This image makes me smile every time I see it, front lit with a studio soft box, a little kicker backlight from a flash on the floor, and light coming in from the window, but most importantly, a wonderful, fun-loving family, all game for a laugh.
Of course, not every formal group shot can or should be like this. But sometimes, you wish maybe just a few more were.
So that is probably the long and the short of it - keep it simple, keep it intimate, keep it fun. Try not to squint (we do try and shoot in shade, and if there isn't any then we battle with the sun behind you)
and please, not too many this big:
and smile, don't forget to smile x