As a wedding photographer ‘formals’ (the planned group shots of your daytime guests that often happen between the wedding ceremony and the meal) regularly form a part of my days work.
Of course, formal shots are not obligatory… Just because they are traditionally done doesn’t mean you have to do them too. However, some guests – family and closest friends in particular – are likely to want a photo of themselves with you at your wedding; so if you don’t plan to have a set of formal shots it is worth thinking about where and when you might get those photos.
Just planning to get a shot with them ‘at some point’ may mean that it just doesn’t happen (I know my own wedding day flew by in a whirl!). The advantage of formal shots is that it removes the concern that someone important might be missing from your final photos. It’s also important to remember, you can have fun with these pictures too (particularly with your wedding party). They don’t all have to be traditional shots of people in neatly formed orderly rows!
If they ARE right for you and your wedding, formal shots can form fantastic part of the story of your day, but with lots of people to co-ordinate – often including children who impatient to run off and play and a handful of camera-phobes determined to stay out of shot – it is not without its challenges. Of course, a professional photographer is well equipped to handle what arises on the day, but my experience (including being on the other side of the lens on my own wedding day) has taught me a few invaluable and simple tips that couples can take on during the planning stage to help things run as smoothly as possible.
When To Do Group Photos
If you are going to have the traditional group photos, it is worth thinking about when to do them and how long they will take. Straight after the ceremony everyone will want to come up and congratulate you so allow 15 – 20 minutes for that but it’s a good idea to crack on fairly soon after that. At that point there is often a bit of a planned gap, everyone is usually in roughly the same place and there hasn’t been much of a chance to have too many drinks yet (the drunk uncle in formal photos isn’t always the look couples are going for and is much more difficult to direct!).
Doing formal shots earlier rather than later also allows you to enjoy the rest of your day with your guests, safe in the knowledge that you have some cracking shots of them all to look back on.
What Photographs Do We Need
Think carefully about how many photos you would like. Your photographer will be happy to do as many as you like but bear in mind these take time!
You probably don’t want to spend a huge chunk of your wedding day on these photos – you want your face to be aching from genuine smiles and laughter with your guests not from hours and hours of formal posing; keeping to under about 10 shots is a sensible number.
If you’re struggling any good photographer will be able to advise you from experience on what shots you might want or how to cut down a huge list whilst still including everyone. And remember your photographer will be there all day, so they will have plenty of other opportunities to get off-the-cuff images!
I normally tell my clients to allow up to 5 minutes per photo as rounding up guests at a wedding can be like herding kittens! I can normally get these shots much quicker than that though if a couple of rules are followed;
1. Start with the big group shot. This means that everyone at the wedding knows that the photos are happening and can be told not to wander off too far!
2. Order your shots in a sensible fashion (again, your photographer should be able to suggest the best order!). It is much easier to get people to step out of a group photo than it is to find the missing aunt or cousin that has run off to the loo or bar. So for instance, if you are having a shot of your entire, extended family, then that first. Then get people to step out of the photo for the shot of your immediate family then again for just parents.
3. Assign a few people from the wedding party to rounding up guests. The photographer won’t know who everyone is so having a couple of helpers will make life much simpler. Try to think of the people who will know different groups of guests and are confident enough to approach and ‘encourage’ people to be ready for their turn. If they are on it and can be rounding up the next group while they are organising and shooting the current one you will get through the shots much faster.
4. Remember this is your day and you can ask for what you want! So if it is important to you to have everyone photographed and you know there is a person amongst your friends or family who will do their utmost to avoid it, consider telling them before your big day how much it means to you, just to do this little thing for you!
The Big Group Shot
A popular shot as it guarantees a shot of everyone in attendance without taking too much time, this deserves a point all to itself!
Any good photographer will do a ‘reccy’ on the day (as light levels make a big difference) and be able to advise you on good locations – but you might want to consider spots yourself when you visit the venue. There are a few ways to get a strong group shot (I’ll tell you about my favourite in a minute) but mostly you either want the photographer up high and looking down at everyone so they can get everyone’s face in shot, or you want all your guests stood on some steps or a slope (again so you can see everyone’s faces). If you just group everybody together at the same height as the photographer you will only see the first couple of rows of people.
If, when you visit your chosen venue, you can’t see anywhere obvious for a large group shot – don’t panic! Identifying this in advance just gives you an opportunity to speak to your photographer so that they can plan for it – they may well bring along a box to stand on or have a small step ladder for exactly this purpose (I actually have a pair of stilts I sometimes bring along as this gives me a bit more freedom to move about quickly).
Both the methods above are fine and work well with a minimum of organising – just get everyone to stand in a big group and go – but there are other ways too. I came up with a shot a couple of years ago which I really like to do if there is space. I call it the guest 360. I get everybody to stand in a big circle facing inwards like they are about to do the hokey cokey with the couple stood a few paces in and me in the middle. I then takes a series of photos while turning around 360 and then ‘stitch’ all the photos together later to create a full 360 panorama of you, your venue and guests.
What I really like about this shot is that you get to see all of your guests in a full length shot rather than just their heads, the whole venue (thinking about where to do it for the most impressive view is a good idea) and the final image you receive is incredibly high resolution (it’s often about 20 or so images stitched together) meaning if you like, you can print out a large panorama of it and you will be able to see everyone clearly.
Allow Enough Time
Make sure to allow enough time to get all the formal photos done (baring in mind the 5 minute per photo rule of thumb!) and to give your photographer time for the couples shoot if you are doing one. Again, these aren’t compulsory but most photographers offer this as this is when you often get the real feature shots of the two of you on your wedding day (it also gives you a bit of time to yourselves in what is otherwise often a pretty non-stop day!).
The more time you can give your photographer the more they will have the freedom to be creative. I often plan a couple of shots in advance, whilst doing my ‘reccy’ of the venue – so that there are definitely some great shots in the bag and then experiment with other shots in the remaining time. This time is when you can get the really arty, individual photos so the more time you can give them, the better.
I would suggest you allow a minimum of an hour and a half between your ceremony and your meal (or next planned activity for the whole group). This is enough time to get the formal group shots and the couples shoot done but you won’t have much time for mingling with your guests and eating the lovely canapés, so again, if you can all a little more time, do!
Golden Hour Shots
Your photographer may well suggest you come outside for a couple of photos in the hour before sunset (this is called the golden hour) as this is when the light is at it’s best. It is of course weather dependant, but if it goes your way you can get some really great stuff. If you are pushed for time on the day you may be able to cut the couples shoot off a little early in favour of doing it at golden hour.
Wedding formals are not for everyone, but if you do choose to do them the last thing they should do is detract from your wedding day itself! Letting your photographer know what is important to you and working with them from the start to fit that into your day will not only stop any stress or upset on the day but will also produce the best photos.
THIS IS A GUEST FEATURE WRITTEN BY // Love In Focus
“Sandy is a Bristol based wedding photographer covering the South West and beyond. He has a relaxed documentary reportage style with bright, colourful and natural flair. ”