Most of the couples I speak to about their wedding photography are clear about one thing: they don’t want to spend hours being lined up for formal group shots. They’ve all been to those weddings where the bride and groom, along with their close friends and family, disappear for the whole of the drinks reception for photographs.
They have been bridesmaids or grooms men or guests at weddings where they have been shuffled through seemingly endless group combinations at the whim of the photographer, when what they really wanted to be doing was having a nice glass of champagne and a chat.
They have encountered that stereotypical wedding photographer who barks instructions at them and the thought of having that person at their wedding makes them shudder. Especially as you always, always see someone wander past with a tray of the best canapés while you’re standing in line with your camera smile on.
It’s not what most of my couples want. They want candid photography for the majority of their day but they tell me they ‘suppose they’ll have to have a few group shots’. They’d rather not, but they get why they’re important.
I do get the odd couple who don’t want any group shots. As a photographer this always feels a little liberating in a way. It represents a whole extra 30 minutes or so when you can be photographing things happening spontaneously, however if I am asked I always suggest, in the strongest possible terms, that groups shots are absolutely something they should be doing.
A group shot is more than a snapshot of your family members stood in a line; it is a visual legacy.
When I look at my parent’s wedding pictures I find the group shots fascinating.
My parents are there, looking baby faced. My mum is wearing a floppy bridal hat and looks radiant and my dad looks like a bit of a dude in his flared suit and platformed shoes. My aunties are all young and beautiful bridesmaids. My grandparents, two of whom are now deceased, are all there looking much, much younger than I ever remember them being (which is no surprise given that I wasn’t born). Those pictures speak to me of a world that’s familiar but completely alien at the same time. A world where I don’t exist yet.
It reminds me of a scene from Mad Men where Don Draper talks about nostalgia. Google ‘Don Draper The Wheel’ if you’re interested.
Don Draper is pitching for a job and he talks about nostalgia.
“Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. In Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone”
When I look at that group shot from my parents wedding I feel nostalgic for a world I was never a part of. When I look at that photograph and others from my history, even those that pre-date my existence, I feel that twinge that Don Draper talks about.
Your group shots are a dose of nostalgia, not only for you but for every person that comes after you and wonders what you and your family used to be like 1o, 20 or 50 years ago.
Of course I am romanticising things a bit. The reality of the situation is that there are probably other things you would rather be doing than standing in a line and having your picture taken. There’s that champagne I mentioned earlier for a start.
There are ways of making it quick, enjoyable and even creative though. I do take shots of people standing in lines but I always make sure it’s laid back and relaxed and I often ask people to step out of their lines to create a more interesting group structure.
I’ll generally make sure you have a glass of bubbly in your hand if you want one and we can send someone for snacks any time you like.
I’ll also often aim to take a more creative group shot of the bridal party involving getting people on different levels and against interesting backdrops.
I also work really, really quickly and suggest that my couples limit their group shots to around 6 group shot combinations. This takes around 20 – 30 minutes and means that my couples get through their group shots without losing the will to live and can quickly get back to enjoying their party.
So if you are thinking about ditching the group shots, think again. They can be enjoyable and they are so, so important.
On that note I have a little confession: I didn’t have any group shots on the day of my wedding, I was having too much fun. In retrospect I really regret it.
I have loads of beautiful photos but none of me with my bridesmaids. None of the whole wedding party. None of me with my little nephew who looked so wonderfully cute in his little bow tie.
I have beautiful individual pictures of all of these things but no single shot that my ancestors might sit and pour over in 50 years time, while they ask who the lady in the hat was and joke about the shoes my husband was wearing, while marvelling at how old fashioned everything looks.
Have some group shots. Just one or two. They are part of the legacy you’ll leave for future generations. Future generations who’ll tease you about your haircut.