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Wedding Photography: Group Shots

A few years ago I found many couples were saying that they really didn’t want any group photographs. Reportage was firmly in fashion, and anything that smacked of formality and organisation was not.

I feel that this has changed a bit. Perhaps because economics have led to more people living at home for longer, because we have all felt the chill winds of mortality via the pandemic, because we are more open about loving our families… I don’t know, but I find that brides and grooms have swung back to valuing good “formal group” images of their family and friends.

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Nikon D700 24-70 2.8 @ 36mm f5.6 320 ISO200
Nikon D700 24-70 2.8 @ 24mm f4.5 500 ISO200

Photographing groups is not the favourite part of the day for most of us wedding photographers.  It is probably the section of the day where we feel most exposed, and where everything is hanging on our work, rather than us just photographing what is happening for other reasons. A wedding photographer who lets the group shots drag on and on will not be well-loved for the rest of the afternoon. Ditto the shouty or naggy photographer.

Here are ten tips about photographing groups from my experience as a wedding photographer. I hope they will be helpful to other photographers, but also to wedding guests, best men and brides and grooms themselves.

The group photo time should be short, fun and blend with general socialising so that it doesn’t drag or tire people out

Group Photos at Weddings:
How to get the best possible group shots

1 Have someone else do the organising of the groups

One of the key things I try to sort out with wedding couples well in advance is that someone (often the best man) will do the actual organising of the groups. A shouting photographer needs to be very winsome not to grate on the nerves; a best man can get away with far more! On top of which, I find I have enough on my plate organising the groups into shape once I have them – “Could the lady in red in the back row please move 9 inches to your left” etc. Having someone else find the people for the next group while you are getting the shots speeds things up no end.

Nikon D700 24-70 2.8 @ 70mm f2.8 640 ISO200

A best man doing the loud work

Nikon D5 24-70  @ 45mm f5 100 ISO100

2 Check the group shots over with the best man to make sure that the order they will be done is a sensible one. 

Not everyone is a born organiser. I am sometimes amazed at the inefficiency which can creep in to the group photos part of a wedding. The key is to have as few people as possible moving in and out of the group area more than once. So, for instance, if you want to have (besides the couple) each wider family, each close family, each set of parents plus both sets of parents together, then an order which goes…

Bride’s wider family –
bride’s close family (wider relatives leave group) –
bride’s parents (other close relatives leave group) –
both sets of parents (groom’s parents join group) –
groom’s parents (bride’s parents leave) –
groom’s close family –
groom’s wider family

…keeps the changes to a minimum. Anything which has wodges of people going in and out multiple times may be ok at the barndance in the evening, but it will waste time and tire people out now!

3 Get your technique down solid

It is very easy to get flustered by the pressure of the group shots of a wedding and to lose focus (excuse the pun!) as a photographer. Generally you will be using wider angle lenses, so depth of field will not be a BIG problem, but all the same, stopping down enough to hold the group in focus should be basic. If you are used to using a single focus point in autofocus, it is perilously easy for it to wander onto the background and suddenly you have lost the group… For this reason I like the Group setting on my D5 – but also like the extra pixels of my (older) D800s so as to get the maximum resolution on large groups.

However you do it, these shots should be sharp, well exposed and well framed. In general I am shooting full length, so no cut off feet (let alone heads!) and nice, sensible geometry.

Nikon D700 24-70  @ 36mm f2.8 1000 ISO200
Nikon D700 24-70 @ 42mm f4.5 100 ISO320

The guy, eternally preserved on his phone…

4 Get the crowd on your side

Group shots can seem a bit of a chore for the guests – and some people always seem to delight in not being very cooperative. Humour and warmth are essential if you are going to avoid people hiding in big group shots. For me, creating that rapport is a key part of the day.

I would love to tell every guest at a wedding: You are present because the bride and groom love you. They are paying their wedding photographer the big bucks to take their portraits – and group photos with YOU in – let’s work together to make them really good!

Sometimes people genuinely seem to think that they are invisible in wedding photos – because in a big group they are lost, or because lenses can’t be THAT wide angle! It can pay to let them know they can be seen!

5 Don’t be scared to use space

My tendency, as a close cropping portrait shooter, is to also crop my groups too tight. Over the years I have got better at posing groups and using the space around them. My natural style is reportage, but I have learned to love doing groups, and especially enjoy this more creative bit.

Nikon D800 24-70 @ 24mm f5.6 80 ISO100
Nikon D800 70-200 @ 70mm f2.8 250 ISO100 Fill-in flash
Nikon D800 24-70 @ 24mm f5 50 ISO180 

6 Be ready for bad weather 

As with the portraits of the bride and groom, it is important to have a back-up location in case of rain. In fact, it is far easier to do a few bride and groom portraits in the rain (partial shade, umbrella etc.) than to do large groups.

Fortunately, it rains far less than people think, but from time to time I have been forced to fall back on the “bad weather option”.

Nikon D3 Sigma 12-24 @ 12mm f4 80 ISO1000 Multiple flashes

7 Really big groups need a bit of height, a wide lens and some nous in editing

It is very difficult to take perfect shots of very large groups. Good rapport with people, a sense of fun, will help to get as many people as possible looking at the camera. Some height will allow your camera to see as many faces as possible. And a wide angle rectilinear lens may require some deliberate fisheye distortion to be added if the people towards the edges aren’t going to look too massive. I will come back to that last point another time…

Nikon D700 24-70 @ 26mm f11 250 ISO200 Multiple flash

All the guests at the first wedding I was paid for – a sunken garden with the sun behind them all helped to avoid squinting. We filled in with as much flash as we could. 

Nikon D700 24-70 @ 36mm f14 250 ISO200 Multiple flash

A really difficult shot for light – lots of squinting eyes in the glare, but it wouldn’t have worked as well with me high and the crowd low, because of background issues. 

Nikon D700 Sigma 50mm 1.4 @  f14 320 ISO200 

A sloping bank can also help if you can’t get absolute height above your group. Plus a bit of action, in this case!

Nikon D800 24-70 @ 24mm f5 100 ISO100 Single flash

Shade around the side of the church, and I found a perch on a very rickety, ancient wall. Definite health and safety risk!

Nikon D700 Sigma 12-24 @ 12mm f7.1 80 ISO200 

Not much height available, but using the church steps. Notice the slightly pushed perspective and fisheye distortion, to stop the people on the left looking twice the size of the bride and groom!

8 The structure of the group can vary – be creative!

Creativity doesn’t stop with groups. It is very easy to do the same thing every time with wedding group photographs, but variety and movement adds so much to a wedding photography set.


I admit that my instinct (and that of the vast majority of wedding photographers) is to keep the couple at the centre and organise the groups around them. This has the benefit of also tiring them as little as possible. But it can be good to ring the changes, especially in medium-sized wedding groups.

Nikon D800 24-70 @ 24mm f5.6 125 ISO100 Single flash

The Bride and Groom do not have to be central

Nikon D700 24-70 @ 31mm f7.1 320 ISO200 

With medium sized groups, getting the people into “layers” keeps everyone visible

Nikon D700 24-70 @ 56mm f4 250 ISO200 Single flash

Layering using a flight of steps

Nikon D700 24-70 @ 31mm f7.1 200 ISO200 

Breaking up a group into subsets can help the eye “read” the photo

Nikon D700 24-70 @ 48mm f7.1 100 ISO360 

Using available “props” (especially where, as in this case, they suit the interests of the couple) can be really effective.

Nikon D700 24-70 @ 58mm f2.8 8000 ISO200 Fill-in flash

With mum and dad in the garden

9 Groups don’t start with the “groups segment” of a wedding 

Althought the main “group photo” part of a wedding generally occurs after the service and, often, before the reception (one reason to not let it drag!) there are moments for key group shots well before you get to that point.

Nikon D800 24-70 @ 40mm f2.8 320 ISO100 Fill-in flash

Leaving for the service

Nikon D700 24-70 @ 42mm f2.8 2500 ISO400 Fill-in flash

Bridal group in the garden

Nikon D700 24-70 @ 32mm f5 60 ISO360 flash bounced off the ceiling

With parents (or larger group) signing the register

10 Groups don’t end with the “groups segment” of a wedding 

I always tell wedding couples that I am there to serve – and ready to capture impromptu groups through the day. People may have travelled a long way – getting small, informal group photos taken with precious relatives and friends is an important part of the day.

Nikon D800 24-70 @ 62mm f5.6 250 ISO100 Fill-in flash
Nikon D800 24-70 @ 45mm f6.1 150 ISO100 Fill-in flash

Informal groups may include only one of the bride and groom… this was a very quick “grab” shot with huge back light and fill-in flash

Nikon D700 24-70 @ 34mm f10 250 ISO200 Fill-in flash

… or neither bride nor groom. Even more back light, but my flash was helped by the white side of the marquee behind me – bright diffuse sunlight shining straight back at them!

Group photos are a vital part of a wedding day

I actually love taking good group shots. They are often a challenge – technically and in terms of people skills – but they can be some of the most important images that a wedding photographer can take. “This is the last picture we have with grandad” – you never know the significance of some of these images. It pays to get them done, and done well.

Nikon D700 24-70 @ 24mm f4.5 125 ISO200 

Since I first wrote this piece I have added in all the camera and lens details, and I realise how much it illustrates the role of the 24-70mm f2.8. I looked at that lens specifically in a recent article on wedding work.

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Photos © copyright Andrew King Photography

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