People often ask me if I find shooting weddings stressful, and the truth is 80% of the time I don't. I love them, I'm confident I'll get everything I need and I'm flexible when I need to be. But if there's one point in the day that can be a bit tricky, it's the group photos. It might sound a lot but having 2 hours between the end of your ceremony and the start of food or speeches is ideal, giving us enough time to get the group and couple's shoots done while still leaving an hour or so for you to mingle and chat to guests. Below are some pointers on how I think it's best to organise them and make good use of your time.
I nearly always do these straight after the ceremony because it's the most logical point to gather the right people and they're usually expecting it. It's also something you don't want to end up either forgetting or being forced to do later on when people are a little too well-oiled, hard to locate, and light and space are limited. Getting them ticked off the list so that I know you'll not be disappointed you missed any is my priority.
Daylight will be the most flattering light and the best way to get everyone in the photo in focus. If it's really sunny, I will look for some open shade because bright sunlight creates harsh shadows and means that most people will be squinting. Plain, non-distracting backgrounds are ideal and I will scout out for a location earlier in the day. If the weather isn't playing ball, I'll happily postpone them until we have another window of opportunity or shoot inside if necessary.
I recommend to my couples to choose a maximum of 8 groups and set aside half an hour for this. In theory, I only need 30 seconds per group to get a good shot, but getting people together can be a surprisingly lengthy process, so 4 minutes per group is more realistic. For most people, this includes the parents on each side, close family, bridesmaids and ushers but it's completely up to you! If possible, I will spend a little more time on the bridal party for some cool and quirky shots. Remember, the more group photos you have and the more time they take, the less you'll have to relax and mingle and the less time I'll have to get those lovely candid shots of your guests.
The main difficulty of group photos is getting people together, so letting all the people who are required for any group photos know before the wedding is a good idea. As a photographer, I won't know the individuals so add their names to your request list and make sure you have a bridesmaid/usher who can help find them quickly. If you're looking to get a whole wedding photo, ideally I'd need a place of elevation to stand otherwise it's very difficult to see everyone. You'll also need to allow an extra 10 minutes for this and, once again, recruit the ushers for assistance.
Having staged group photos may not be your thing, but I would always encourage couples to do the bare minimum. It will save any family members' disappointment if not your own! I can't guarantee any photos on the wedding day with 100% certainty, but if they're on your groups list I will do everything I can to make sure they happen. If you leave it up to chance, there's a strong probability that a natural, off-the-cuff version won't happen.