Formal wedding group photographs

Links to previous posts in this series by Lincolnshire wedding photographer Chris Marsh:

Part 1 Getting ready for the wedding

Part 2 At the wedding venue

Part 3 The bride arrives

Part 4 The Ceremony 

The trend in recent years has been towards reportage wedding photography and this is a change that I welcome as I feel that, unless you are working with professional models, natural photographs of people are better than contrived ones.

That said I also think that a limited number of formal wedding photographs are required as a core around which the rest of the story of the wedding day, shot in a more contemporary way, can be built. These photographs make a link through the generations and I have had several occasions where the couple are having their wedding at the same church as their parents did. Which brings me to the first and the most traditional wedding photograph of all – the bride and groom outside the church door.

This is a photograph that goes back to the earliest days of photography and I think that we have a duty to carry on that tradition. Not only is the setting traditional but the pose too with the bride holding her husband’s left arm. You will have heard the story that they stand this way round because of the husband wanting to keep his sword arm free to “defend” his new wife. I have doubts about the accuracy of this story because when photographing military officers (who really do have swords!) the tradition is to have the bride on the husband’s right so she does not get hurt by the sword hilt that is on his left hip. At venue weddings there is usually an equivalent photograph to the church doorway as the couple leave the ceremony room and move outside for the first time as a married couple.

Once I have photographed that standard doorway shot full length and close-up I take the couple off to one side to allow the guests to move outside too. I generally then go straight into the formal wedding groups that the couple have requested. The advantage of getting these photographs straight away is that everyone is to hand, and the groups can be set up with the minimum of fuss.

Though the groups are “formal” that should not mean stuffy and stiff. By overlapping people, turning their shoulders so that they are not square on to the camera and, most importantly, getting the group taken quickly so that those involved do not have time to become self conscious I find that I can get a wedding group that is formal but still relaxed.

It is important to keep control and to keep everyone’s attention while taking the photographs so that they are all looking my way at the same time. When there are children in the groups I usually ask the adults to keep looking at me and not to look to check what the children are doing. Otherwise the one moment the child looks into the camera will, so often, be the very moment that the adult looks away and at the child!

I look on the confetti-throwing picture as being the last of these formal “staged” wedding pictures. Putting it last on the list means that the couple won’t be covered with bits in the rest of the formal pictures. The reason that it needs to be staged is that everyone throwing together make a much more impressive image than a few petals coming from one box at a time. I try to gather everyone as close to the couple as I can by warning them that the confetti never goes as far as they expect. It is also better if you can manoeuvre them behind the couple so that the blizzard of petals does not completely cover their faces. I also remind the couple to try to keep their eyes open – not an easy thing for them to do!

In my next blog I will look at the drinks reception at the wedding venue and the Golden Hour of wedding photography