Organizing groups at weddings

I have previously covered an article about Group photos at weddings and why I recommend no more than 5 Formal Group photos during a wedding photography shoot, you can find my reasoning behind this here; however I was recently sent an email from a new photographer to the art of wedding photography and they asked me to explain how I personally go about organizing group photographs at my weddings in this beautiful area of Somerset.

Well firstly, have you ever experienced being at a wedding, where the photographer is calling out for individuals to join the next group, I remember attending a wedding and the photographer ended up sounding very rude and frustrated, unfortunately he further made what should be a very enjoyable part of the day became very stressful for all attending, I know it wasn’t his fault as organizing large groups is quite challenging however, the only thing the guests will remember about this poor guy will be his attitude!  So, what is my first plan of action? Ask the ushers to ensure that everyone is ready so that they simply have to call them in when needed. Another tip is to make sure that the catering staff does not forget to offer canapés to the bride and groom, as I find this helps to keep them going.

When choosing the location, I am acutely aware of the background and of ensuring there are no distractions such as trees potentially growing out of people's heads, stacked chairs, used glasses or drainpipes. If I have the room available I will bring the grouping away from any walls, hedges or sides of buildings. I want to create depth where possible. The light will influence your decision greatly - you need to ensure that you are in even light to avoid a dappled effect spreading across people faces. Ensure that the sun is not too much to the side causing one side of the face to be in harsh shadow and the other in extreme brightness, creating strong contrast. Where possible I like to shoot in open shade, or backlight the groups giving a beautiful rim light. Be careful though not to work on the extreme wide end of your lens, as you will distort the people at the frame edge also remember to stop down as well, to at least f5.6 to ensure good depth of field.

When composing the group I try to avoid what I refer to as the "Firing Squad" image of everyone in a line directly facing the camera. It simply does not look good. We have an opportunity to be creative so should use it. The first thing I do is give a very quick demonstration of how to stand in a flattering way; this loosens everyone up and creates a good foundation. Shoot basic groupings, but nicely. Line people up either side of the bride and groom (this works best with groups of up to 12 people) as you see fit. You may ask the men to stand on one side and ladies on the other, or boy then girl, or ask any couples to stand together. Ask them to move in close and stand in a flattering way. You will probably find that everyone is positioned facing in towards the bride or groom. Go in and mix it up. Have someone face the other way but ensure they are near to the bride or groom to avoid looking into the wilderness. If you have couples, then maybe have them facing towards each other or have the man rest his hand on the lady's shoulder. This breaks up the symmetry and makes the image more dynamic.

If you have a little more time, then see how you can make small groups within the big group. Try to make groupings of, say, 3 people together (never an even number as this does not work as well visually) and don't be afraid to have each group stand away from the bride and groom. They do not have to be together at all. In fact it is far more interesting if they are not.

If you have time on your side then you can really make the group shots special. I find that this style really works well with the bridesmaids and groomsmen, as they will "get it" more than older generations.

Enjoy this fabulous part of the wedding photography, be creative.