After polling 252 photographers in our community, we found that 44% struggled with creating unique group photo poses, making it the biggest pain-point for portrait and wedding photographers.
There is nothing more chaotic than trying to wrangle a group of people for a photo and then have to worry about lighting, posing, and expressions. These are some of the most valuable images you will capture during a wedding day and we know just how stressful they can be.
We reached out to 13 of our award-winning wedding photographers to help us answer the following question:
What are some posing tips you would recommend to beginners fearful of group portrait photography?
Getting a great group photo pose is all in the small details and you’ll see that all of these incredible artists focus on different aspects of posing to get to an image their clients fall in love with. See what words of wisdom they have for posing groups:
“My approach to photographing people (whether on their own or in a group setting) is to make them look and feel beautiful and natural at the same time. The trick is to combine the beauty of a pose with the natural feel of something candid.
In this particular image, my first version of it was with everyone looking into the camera and smiling with a more traditional feel. I will almost always do that first. Then, I literally asked every person to look in a specific direction and interact with someone. I posed each individual then made them laugh to break the stiffness a bit and the result is a well-posed image but with a candid feel.”
“When I have a larger group together I really like to break up your traditional formation and either find some steps to get some height changes in the group or find some chairs and have some sitting and some standing. This helps the bridal party be able to use the chairs to pose, and it makes it easier to pose off of one another.
Once I get the group into formation I lead them into a conversation about giving me a confident smirk. We don’t want to have some people smiling too hard and others looking like they are angry. So I will usually tell them to think Vanity Fair covers or Zoolander “Blue Steel”. Once I drop the Zoolander term they know exactly what I am looking for!”
“Sometimes you will come across a group and one or two of the wedding party stands noticeably above the rest, including the bride and groom. This example shows one of the groomsmen standing tall, all 6’5” of him, which presented the challenge of how to photograph the group without his height being a distraction while maintaining focus on the bride and groom. The trick? Stairs! I used steps in this photo, to create two diagonal lines, with the tallest at the back, creating suggested lines leading to the point of interest… the bride and groom. “
“I try to switch things up a bit during group photos, bringing out a few chairs is an easy way to add a bit of attitude and a Vogue-like-vibe, which my clients love. I take one shot where I ask them to all give me their best fierce fashion pose and for the next shot, I tell them cheesy joke so they all crack up. The whole set up is quick, efficient, and fun!”
“As photographers, we love to create cool shots and capture moments and so we often get bored with these family portraits, but I force myself to realize that it could be their last photo with their loved ones (especially thinking about grandparents). I am always making sure you can see the connection between them, and so I will look at their hands and tell them to hold each other; they are a family, not a football team! So the hand placement is what I am looking at, making sure they are all connected.”
“First, I think about peoples’ 3 biggest insecurities: their nose, their neck, and their arms. Never have their nose cross their lips, it’s visually unflattering and tends to exaggerate the areas that people try to hide. Have clients push their head slightly forward, but avoid over-stretching or they’ll all appear to be turtling. Arms should be kept off the body, at least slightly, to accentuate not only the shape of the torso but also to avoid having the upper arms pancake out while pressed against the body.
Additionally, make sure the arms are bent, allowing them to engage and create a more picturesque shape.”
“Try to look at big groups of people as an excellent opportunity to challenge yourself to create high fashion shots that can wow a client. Any form of group portraiture will be time-consuming due to the fact that you need to pose/guide each and every individual.
Don’t memorize a pose beforehand, understand what flattering posing looks like and then guide your subjects accordingly. Giving them poses that flatter their body or personality will yield more authentic results. Visualize the end picture and work around that.”
“Dealing with group portraits is actually harder than it looks. It takes time to have people cooperate, especially kids. Most parents would love to get a few moments off taking care of their children, so before you know it you’re an instant guardian and it’s up to you to make them behave for the shoot.
The key to a good group portrait is to engage. Arrive earlier than the given call time, strike a conversation with everyone especially the kids. This will open their hearts and make you part of their family or group and will put their guards down. Having the right attitude is always a must: try to be funny without being awkward. This technique softens them up and you’ll able to tap into their feelings faster.”
“We have so many “clients” to please with the portraits on our wedding day; the bride & groom, their parents, their grandparents, relatives, friends, and yes, even ourselves (I do count myself as a client). One technique I’ve found very helpful is to explain that we are going to knock out all the “standard” formals (standing up straight, posed, turned, etc) first then we will focus on capturing more of who you are photo instead of what you look like.
Instead of giving them posing instructions, I give them a focal point (the couch) then let them figure out whats most comfortable. You’ll be amazed at what you get sometimes.
Once in the right position, engage everyone in some dialogue. Whether it be a dad joke, something slightly inappropriate or just a funny comment, anything you can do to get everyone to not “pose” for the camera and, instead, interact with everyone else in the photo, makes for a great portrait and surprisingly enough pleases every one of your clients.”
“I often hear couples and photographers say they want photos of the wedding party that have a little bit more style to them. Fitting a lot of people into a photo is difficult by itself, let alone trying to make it look anything other than a straight line of monotony or a crowded cluster of faces. I try to mix it up and have some of the people facing in opposite directions and doing different things with their hands or bouquets.
Tell them it doesn’t have to be as formal and to show off some of their personality (sometimes you will have to reel them back in after that cue, but you can tweak it to your desired result). You can also incorporate more of the environment, or try a different angle or composition to add some more flare to the image so the group isn’t the only interesting thing in the photo.”
“When I photograph family formals, I always try to add some energy to the photos. After I photograph the obligatory “smile at the camera” shots, I say “now I want everyone to get really excited and show me all of their energy, whether it’s nervous or crazy or happy or emotional, all at the same time! Ready, go!”. The photos are always hilarious and in this case, the groom took it to the next level!”
“My biggest advice for great group formals is to have everyone get close. One of the sayings I am famous for by the end of a wedding celebration is ‘togetherness’, and many a night I have members of the bridal party yelling at me from across the floor “Hey Jeff!!! TOGETHERNESS!!!” And they are hugging each other and going nuts.
One of my pet peeves is when I look at formals and bridal party photographs and everyone is standing stiff and super erect, like pylons. I instruct my couples and families about the importance of leaning in toward each other and not away from each other and not stiff. Body language is everything!! I am constantly saying “togetherness, get close”.
Another line I use that gets a big laugh is when I say “Guys, c’mon, you love each other, these photos are going on your wall, not mine”. “Love each other”!! It almost always relaxes everyone and gives people beautiful portraits that show emotion and love. I sometimes even get texts or emails from my couples during their honeymoon, with a photo of the two of them and the caption: “Hey Jeff. Look. Togetherness!”.
“This photo took exactly 6 minutes to pose and capture. Before creating a moment like this, it’s important to understand that exaggerated poses and over-the-top ideas like this take time and very perceptive attention to detail. We knew that the couple was going to be our central focus so we started there and built our way out, adding in people and layering them to fill in gaps.
Most of the time, I have a slight idea of what the final image will look like but building out poses from the center helps me piece together what I want. The key to quick posing is variety, always making sure that everyone is doing something different, even if it’s a small hand placement or body angle. You can learn more about how we lit this shot here. “