Planning your wedding is a little nutty. You’re supposed to learn enough about a whole slew of different things in a short amount of time, in order to make good decisions for a one-day-only event that will be a defining part of your marriage. Yeah, no presh, right?!
Our goal is to help alleviate some of the stress that comes with the decisions that involve photography, by giving you good, solid advice that makes these choices a whole lot easier. One of the big ones that can cause some stress? Group portraits. Just about every wedding day from tiny to huge and grand, will set aside time to dedicate to a series of traditional group portraits in the classic smiling-at-the-camera sense. Even if you’re aiming for a very candid and relaxed overall affair, group portraits are usually a special exception that your families will be pretty keen on having. After all, how often do you gather these specific people looking their very best? While we don’t normally work from shotlists, this is the one special exception, as we never want to leave anyone important out!
Preserving these groups is a worthy priority but it can definitely feel a little taxing, so we’ve perfected a planning system for making these as fun, efficient, and stress-free as possible. Group portraits fall into two categories: FAMILY (generally primarily immediate family, sometimes extended or friends), and WEDDING PARTY (aka attendants, bridal party, etc). So let’s kick off by starting with family.
Here are some basic guidelines on creating a great groupings list that will be efficient, fun, and get you and your family back to your party, fast. We’ll use this list in an active way on the day, calling out names, so we need their actual names on the list! I know your mom may have some input on the groups she thinks you should do, but sometimes that input means a long list, so be prepared to veto anything redundant or that would compromise your experience. Also, stay intentional about the order of your list. Start with the largest groups so we can get them back to the party fast, and narrow down from there (with the exception of people limited-mobility or kids with short attention spans as they might need to be top-of-list).
SO, what does this look like? Here are our 10 standard grouping recommendations:
- Couple + partner 1’s parents and siblings (and sometimes grandparents and/or siblings’ spouses)
- Couple + partner 1’s grandparents
- Couple + partner 1’s parents
- Partner 1 + their parents (sometimes also each individual parent)
- Partner 1 + their siblings (sometimes also each individual sibling)
- Couple + partner 2’s parents and siblings (and sometimes grandparents and/or siblings’ spouses)
- Couple + partner 2’s grandparents
- Couple + partner 2’s parents
- Partner 2 + their parents (sometimes also each individual parent)
- Partner 2 + their siblings (sometimes also each individual sibling)
And here are some groups that are occasionally added:
- Couple + both sets of parents (or both immediate families)
- Couple + Extended family (aunts/uncles/cousins/godparents/etc)
- Couple + Nieces & Nephews (sometimes with siblings and spouses as well)
- Couple + All guests (requires us to shoot from a balcony or have the venue provide a ladder)
- Either partner + friend group (college friends/work friends/church friends/etc)
- Couple + Officiant
Keep in mind that the more groups you add, the longer it will take (and the more frenzied the experience can feel for you, especially if they’re large groups). So be very purposeful when you make your list, so that at the end of the day you feel really glad to have prioritized your limited wedding day time toward the preservation of those you gathered together. Need just a little extra help? Here’s a PDF download link for two sample lists so you can match the formatting and get a feel for what this actually ends up looking like for real events:
We average two minutes per group (1 minute for smaller groups, 3 minutes for larger), so when you make your list, you’ll see it can add up fast. A shot of just you and your mom may only take thirty seconds, but normally there’s some hair-fixing and adjustments, some forgetting something in a pocket and needing to hand it to someone, that ends up taking up a bit of time. And of course, huge groups like all your cousins, aunts, and uncles, or even a full guest group photo can take much more time than that. At least five minutes for the really big groups.
So, all in all, we find minimalist and simple group lists to take us around 10-15 minutes and longer, larger, or more complex family lists to take around half an hour.
They’re definitely a factor that will impact the number of your groupings, there’s no way around it. If you have divorced parents that would prefer their groupings be separated, we’ll likely need to duplicate several of the groupings. This will take extra time, so if it’s possible to minimize the number of groups, it’ll feel less like a drag. Download our Sample Family Group Portraits Lists in order to see examples of what a more complex group list can look like, and get a feel for how easily what seems like not that many people can add up quickly.
You bet your bottom dollar we do. We have two sample lists for you to review here (with blank scratch sheets in case you want to print them out and gather your names), and when it comes time to complete your wedding photography worksheets, we also have space to add your list in there (or just email us a copy). Once you provide us with your list, we may back-and-forth with you about revisions or reordering it until we feel confident it will be smooth, simple, and a piece of cake to work through, even if it’s a hefty or complex list.
While we can truly do them whenever you want them, there are definitely three good ideal time options, and reasons they work so well:
- Immediately after the Ceremony. This is the most common, because we basically have them all held hostage at the ceremony site already—it involves the least amount of chasing after family members. Shooting family portraits right at the ceremony site, or very nearby keeps it simple for family (and gives them a place to sit while they wait). Plus, we’re catching them before they go off to eat and drink and make a mess of themselves.
- An hour-ish before the ceremony. This timing requires reliability, so if your family members are known for being tardy, this might be riskier as waiting on a missing person can really throw off a timeline. But, this is a great way to maximize your time with your guests. If you get all your portraits done pre-ceremony, you’re free to just join your cocktail hour.
- Mixed timing. Some clients prefer to get their immediate family portraits done pre-ceremony, but if they have extended/larger groupings those can be much easier to schedule right after the ceremony. It’s a great way to save a little time and get the best of both worlds. If your parent’s pushing hard for some groups you’re not fussed about, another option is to schedule those during dinner. Once you’ve eaten and are feeling a little less pulled in a million directions, that’s a good time for anything that’s lower-priority.
Well, firstly thanks for giving them advance notice they’ll appreciate it! And it will help ensure less time running around trying to find missing people. In addition to letting them know that they’ll be in portraits, you may want to inform them:
- When those portraits will be
- Where to meet (a good default would be the ceremony site, but we’re happy to make suggestions)
- They’ll need to take off their sunglasses (transition lenses will look like sunglasses outdoors, so we request those come off, too)
- To be prepared to hand off their sweaters/scarves, purses, bulky wallets to someone else before the portrait (or just tuck them behind their backs so we can’t see them)
- That the portraits will be online within a couple of months of the wedding, and you promise to share a link to them (keeps you from being nagged)
Have we done this? Yup. Do we do this normally? Rarely. These Vogue-like glamor-shoots for family portraits may look cool, but get ready for more complexity and a definite need for extra time. If you have a planner who is willing to dedicate the extra coordination, rentals, and manpower to rearrange heavy furniture for this, then we can do it. But in our experience time on a wedding day is almost always extremely precious and fleeting, and it is MUCH easier to do a standing lineup that doesn’t require extra stylization.
Some couples are willing to commit to this for the stylish results, but even for those, it’s most often with their wedding party, and most often at a venue that has an existing seating scape that would work for this purpose. Most of our couples just want to have a blast and maximize their time with their guests, and this would cut into that. So if this is important to you, we can make it happen, but know it will require more time and effort on your day. Make sure you feel it’s worth it!
Well, first things first, you can always lean on us to recommend the ideal spot on the day. So if this isn’t something you want to worry about: happy to say you don’t have to, we’ve got you! That said, if your stress would be minimized by having a plan and selecting an ideal spot in advance, here are the three primary factors in choosing the right backdrop for group portraits. Just keep in mind that if the light isn’t working on the day, we may still recommend a change in plan.
- Stop looking for the prettiest background or coolest view. The subject of your portrait will be the people in it. So while you don’t want a horrible background, the truth is that it’s really not the priority. A supposedly dreamy/magical/perfect background can even be distracting if too busy or the lighting isn’t right. We often get couples so fixated on showing an amazing view, they seem to forget that their large family will essentially be blocking that view, and/or that it’s so bright that the view will get ‘blown out’ (ie too bright to register on camera) when the foreground subjects (the people) are lit correctly. So unless we confirm otherwise, we suggest you save the view for your couple portraits, instead.
- Select a simple, neutral, and large backdrop. In line with Number 1, what you should be looking for is not necessarily something that will be a dazzling environment. That’s not what people are going to be focused on for the portrait. Complex, busy backgrounds, environments that people may be passing through, and tight spaces all will make for difficult portraits that lose their priority: your family! Plus, many spaces just can’t accommodate the large groups you’re hoping to squeeze in. Remember, we need to be a certain distance away to fit the whole group in the frame properly. Great options that work for portraits are often your ceremony site/arch (if spacious enough), an open field or grassy area, a large and simple wooden/painted/brick wall, historic doors (that aren’t in use), a background of shrubbery or trees, an archway or covered hallway, a grand staircase, etc.
- FACTOR IN LIGHT! This is probably the thing most often overlooked by our clients so it’s kinda my mission. You may love how pretty a certain spot is, but if the light there at the time we’ll be shooting will put half your family in the shade and half in the sun, it’s simply not the right choice. Great light and a plain background is going to produce way better results than a pretty background and terrible light. Our big priority above all else is to make sure everyone looks and feels great in the portrait, so that’s more important than the background. We recommend shade because it’s neutral, flattering light, and nobody will be squinting or sweaty. For more information on this, see some examples of rough lighting conditions that compromised photos on this post about lighting. Please trust us when we say a certain spot isn’t a great option.
Basically, trust your instincts, but keep the above in mind. And gather inspiration from all the photos we’ve included in this post. OR, just let us guide you—after over a decade capturing weddings, we have a handle on what will work best for you.
JUST A FEW MORE HOT TIPS TO MAKE YOUR EXPERIENCE A FUN ONE
01.Use first names
You know everyone but we don’t. And while you may be a take-charge kinda person, we need you to stay parked during formals, and let us handle the wrangling to save time and complication. By listing first names (or occasionally “The Jacobson family”), it allows US to manage the coordination and wrangling of the right people, calling out names, and drill-sergeanting to get things done right quick.
PLEASE don’t just mark ‘siblings’ — we won’t know the right names to call out, and even if we enlist the help of your person of honor, they may say… “wait, which siblings?”
Choosing groups is tough, especially with other family members adding their two cents. While we do things it’s super important to consult with the family members that matter most to you (so that you understand their priorities, even if you decide to veto them)… we think executive decisions and cuts can be important to making sure you have FUN on your day and that none of this feels like a drag. Don’t have your mom just make you a long-ass list and then feel miserable through the ages it takes to complete it. Review it, and decide which of those items actually matters to you—which you’ll actually want to frame and share.
Do you REALLY need that photo of you with each individual family member, on top of the several group of them? If yes, no prob! But be intentional. Expect that each grouping will take between 1 and 3 minutes, depending on size. Extra-large groups will take extra-long.
Our number one best efficiency technique is by starting with the very largest groups (especially extended family), and then dismissing them to cocktail hour. Not only do we want you to have a blast on your big day, we want your guests to have the best time ever, too, and waiting around for ages to be in a single portrait is not the way to their hearts. So extended family groups full-guests portraits, and any other biggies should lead the list.
Keep in mind that sometimes limited-mobility family, or kids with short attention spans may also need to be near the top of the list, or take precedence over a big group. Regardless, you want the least number of people having to wait around as possible.
04.Inform Everyone in Advance
People wandering off after the ceremony, or being late to arrive to the scheduled group portraits tends to happen because they weren’t prepared in advance (though let’s face it, some folks just aren’t that reliable). So in order to avoid having to hunt down a missing person while waiting and waiting, once we’ve finalized the groupings list, go ahead and send it to the people who’ll be in it, or at the very least, inform them they’ll be in the formal group portraits, and what time that will take place. It also doesn’t hurt to have your officiant remind folks that group portraits will be following the ceremony and that if they’ve been informed in advance they’ll be included, then they should remain seated after the ceremony concludes.
While a bit less common, it’s growing more and more frequent that we shoot ALL portraits before the ceremony even begins, so if group portraits are happening pre-ceremony, tell them to arrive 15-20 minutes earlier than they’re actually needed/scheduled, just to ensure we don’t end up with stragglers.
Wait a sec…
You bet I did! Thanks for actually reading, y’all. So yep, let’s chat a little about wedding party portraits. Just to clarify, many different terms get used to mean the same thing, so when we say Wedding Party, we’re talking about the attendants that will walk down the aisle with you, typically also standing in a lineup with you at the ceremony site, likely will be getting ready with you, and possibly will be seated together at a head table with you. We like to stay gender-neutral without any assumptions around here, but you also sometimes hear them referred to as attendants, your I-do crew, bridesmaids, groomsmen, people of honor, etc. That all make sense?
Okay, so back to it—these types of portraits tend to range a little. They can be as formal and traditional as family portraits, but often they can get a little more creative/playful as well. I like to get a feel for your vibe when I send over your wedding worksheets, in order to really approach your wedding party portraits from the right point on the scale, since the range is so broad, and my couples often have distinctive preferences.
Some folks want these portraits to feel glamorous, fabulous, editorial, and chic chic chic. Some just want it to feel simple and classic to look back on smiling memories. Some like lots of variety and creativity, to create something unique and intriguing and artful. Many folks just want to have a blast, and so being a little playful and casual with their portraits is the best way to go, with lots of laughs and silly antics. There’s no right or wrong, here, just what’s the best fit for you. If anything I just said sounds kinda groan-worthy to you, it’s important that you let me know so I steer clear of that. If anything I just said made you wanna clap your hands, then I definitely want to know that too. If you’d rather just trust us to have fun with it and capture you and your crew as we feel it, then we’re good with that.
Check out some of the inspiration below for ideas, as well as some factors to keep in mind when thinking about your wedding party portraits.
So, many of the details mentioned regarding family will still apply to your wedding attendants, however there are some distinct differences, so let’s just start with the standard groupings and clarify what they mean for you, so you can figure out what you actually want to prioritize.
Here are our 7 standard I-Do Crew grouping suggestions:
- Couple + entire wedding party + children in wedding party
- Couple + children in wedding party
- Couple + entire wedding party
- Partner 1 + all their wedding attendants
- Partner 1 + each of their wedding attendants
- Partner 2 + all their wedding attendants
- Partner 2 + each of their wedding attendants
Plus bonus: sometimes your officiant is counted more as a wedding party member, and so you might decide to include them in this portion of photos instead of family groupings (or not at all, you do you).
And the stylistic approaches to your group photos fall into the following categories:
- Classic/traditional: smiling, in an ordered line, timeless and a parent-pleaser
- Fierce/Editorial: Glam, not necessarily smiling, like a magazine spread. Channel your inner diva.
- Creative/artsy: unique arrangements and unusual photography techniques
- Playful/fun: silly faces, silly poses, cheering, grabbing/tickling, action
- Informal: candid, casual, drinking/toasting, group hugs, focused on each other
There’s no right answer to the above, just what feels more you—what would make your day more enjoyable. The kinds of photos you’d love to hang on your wall, print in your album, or share with your friends and family. Many clients like a mix of the above (for example, for ‘partner + each of their attendants’ we will often do a mix of some classic shots and silly/glam shots), so just have a bit of a think about what you like, and let us know!