For family portraits, I ask the couple to allow for three minutes per formal group portrait (10 photos in 30 minutes). I spend that time to get everyone together, to make sure glasses are off, purses are down, etc. I generally take one shot that shoes everyone head to toe (what they were wearing) and some closeups (especially of mom, dad, sister, brother, bride & groom). I shoot at F5.6 or higher for any group portrait. If needed, I will increase my ISO and I’ll add flash to ensure I have everyone exposed. I ask everyone to tuck their shoulders in and I give the simple instruction “please put a shoulder to the camera.” Some people don’t understand what I mean (there’s usually a lot of commotion around this time as well, so it’s hard to get everyone to pay attention) so I’ll go up to the people and show them what I mean (I show rather than touch).

These shots are mostly taken for the parents. Most parents are on the more traditional side in terms of what they expect. They want a nice, framed portrait of their family. They will look at that framed portrait for years and years to come. Therefore, ensure the TOP of everyone’s head is showing. If you are taking a far-away shot, make sure the bottom of the feet are showing. This is very very important.

You’ll notice everyone in the picture above is looking in a different direction. That’s because some people behind me were taking photos at the same time. The people in the portrait will look at other cameras even if you tell them to only look at theirs. That’s why I don’t permit my second photographer to shoot the groups at the same time as me (if I bring a second).

Here’s a technique I generally use. I’ll look behind me and cheerfully say, “Okay everyone, wait until I’m done and then I’ll give you a chance to get the picture.” Sometimes they will still take a photo at the same time. I’ll look at the back of my camera and I can tell by the direction someone was looking who the culprit was… I’ll look directly at the culprit and I’ll say… Okay… I can tell someone was taking a picture at the same time as me. This time, you can all take the first photo and I’ll wait. This sometimes shames people into feeling silly… and they’ll let me go first. If they keep doing it, I’ll continue to let them get the photo first and then I’ll say, “Okay… now it’s my turn.” Preferably, I’d prefer no crowd behind me, but some wedding days this is impossible to enforce.

If there are lots of children then I want NO ONE SHOOTING. I’ll tell this to everyone and I’ll insist that the parents turn around and put their backs to their children because usually they’ll start to say, “Jimmy, look at the camera” but Jimmy will look at the parent talking and not my camera. I’ll explain that it’s like a game and that the parents cannot look at their children or take photos while I’m shooting. It’s the one time I’m very strict about this policy.

P.S. Speaking of kids… don’t be afraid to zoom in on them if they’re doing something funny:


I have had two moms (one in particular) very upset that they didn’t have a portrait of them one-on-one with their daughter/son. I used to have a policy that if it wasn’t on the list I wouldn’t take the photo during the time slotted for the traditional portraits and “we can get the extra photos at the reception.” Usually, you’ll have an opportunity to photograph the mom of the bride/groom during the preparations, but not always. Now, I insist on a portrait of mom + bride, mom + groom, dad + bride, dad + groom (or + same sex partner). I do a nice closeup and it only takes an extra few seconds.



Technique #1

If you have a gigantic group – let’s say 14 or more people… ask them to go and hang out while you “get your camera ready.” Generally, they’ll hang out in the spot where they will have their photo taken and they’ll form little circles. I’ll give them a chance to form these little clusters of three to four people… and then I’ll say, “Okay everyone… stay EXACTLY where you are and look my way. Often, I only have to move one or two people, and I might re-position the couple in the middle.

This is how the group was naturally talking (sometimes they’ll be in more of a zig zag… with some people closer to the camera than others.

Technique #2

If you are taking a group portrait of any group (including families) in the sun, make sure the sun is completely behind them or there will be unflattering shadows on the faces (be careful under trees because one spot of light can cause contrasty shadows on one person’s face). I’m not entirely happy with this particular group portrait, but often couples want the beach/lake background behind them so I will oblige. Later during the shoot I was able to get the whole group in the shade:

Technique #3

Group portraits look better when people are staggered in a zig zag rather than in one straight line (for family portraits, I keep people in a straight line because it’s easier and I don’t have time). Usually, you’ll have a little bit more time to play with the wedding party.

1. Ask everyone to stand in a completely straight line (with the bride and groom in the middle).
2. Now ask the bride & groom to take six or seven steps forward.
3. Now ask the people at the end to take three steps forward.
4. Now ask the people in the middle of each side of the bride and groom to take one or two steps forward.

Now you will have a natural zig zag.

If it is a super duper big group like the photo above, then I’ll ask people to form couples nd then I’ll ask each couple to move forward, backward, etc., until I get them where I want them. These instructions generally take about one or two minutes and it saves arranging each person one at a time. You can also ask each couple to stand back to back (or ask a few couples to stand back to back).

You can also do this on a smaller scale with smaller groups. Sometimes I’ll get people to change which shoulder faces the camera. I use the “shoulder” as a cue… Please put your “left shoulder towards the camera” immediately tells them what I want them to do.

Technique #4

Triangles. Our eye loves ’em. If you are able to put people on different levels, try to form various triangles among the groups. How many triangles do you see in the photo below:

Technique #5

Once you have them in place, you can get everyone to look in different directions. Look up, look down, people on the right look to the right, on the left look to the left, look at each other (which usually causes laughter), etc.

Technique #6

Once I’m done with the traditional “this is what you look like” portraits, I’ll sometimes get out a long lens (ie a 70-200mm 2.8 – a prime like an 85mm 1.8 or a 135mm 1.8 works too) or I’ll shoot with both a long and a wide lens. I’ll then ask them to squish in together and I’ll ask them to look at each other without talking. Usually this makes them start to laugh. Here are some examples:

Technique 7

Now that you have them all lined up and you’ve finished with the traditional portraits, you can take few more using negative space. This only works if the background is plain (as seen here):


Do any of these ever go into your portfolio? No. They say nothing about you as a photographer. They will be appreciated for years to come in the familys’ frames… but they aren’t creative. All photographers take these photos. It’s generally understood that you will too. I always tell every couple that I take these photos. You can even put it in your write-up online about how you work. However, putting it in your portfolio or on your blog will make you look just like every other photographer. You want your portfolio to showcase you as someone who is different.


Are any of the photos above creative? No. But you are expected to take look-at-the-camera-and-smile photos of any groups in the wedding.

If you have time you can definitely get more creative with the groups.

In the photo below, notice the triangles… also notice that the bride isn’t looking at the camera but all the girls are… in another frame I had them do the opposite (bride look at camera, girls look away). It’s better to have something different going on in the scene.

Here are two more examples. These wouldn’t look the same if everyone was looking at the camera. It’s better to have people look at each other… or look away. In both of these images, I told the girls to “check out that hot guy” and the guys to “look away, like you’re too hot for the girls.” This caused the girls and the guys to laugh a little.

Here are some videos that show some techniques for group portrait posing. I must apologize that the day I created these videos I had my video camera on a tripod and must have had it on Manual focus because they are a little blurry. However, you can still make out what is going on, and the communication skills & techniques come across.

Technique #1
Works for super large groups. Pretend you are putting a new battery in your camera and tell the wedding party to hang out. Usually, people will gather into circles. Then, after a minute, ask everyone to “stay exactly where they are” and to turn to face you. Usually, you’ll have a fairly decent quick-and-dirty staggered group portrait. Sometimes (as demonstrated in this video) you’ll have to adjust a few people, but it’s a lot easier than actually putting each person into place. This works very well with unruly and uncooperative groups who aren’t listening to you. I used the word “talking circles” in this video. I wouldn’t say that unless it was students (in this case the “models” were students from the Western Academy of Photography). Most people will form circles themselves. Because I was teaching a class at the time the students felt they had to look in my direction. 🙂

Technique #2
Here is another technique for quick and dirty staggering. This will also help line everyone up quickly. Have everyone line up in a completely straight line. Then, use your arms (as you can see in the video) to have everyone shift their shoulders in different directions. Volia! Easy and quick. Remember, if people don’t understand your instructions let them know it’s okay. In large groups it’s okay to have things be a little less perfect in terms of who stands where.

Technique #3
Here’s another technique you can do (same concept as above). This also works great for large groups. The key is to have them stand back-to back and then separate (touching backs doesn’t look as good). This will also line the shoulders up in different ways.

Technique #4
Ever have to deal with large groups of people taking photos behind you? Thought so! Me too! You can always tell if someone has taken a picture because when you look at the back of the camera (always check to make sure all eyes are on you before you’re done with each group) people will have been looking in the direction of the rogue shooter. Here is a way to politely and cheerfuly “shame” that rogue shooter.