Posing Large Groups at Weddings

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All images by Eric McFarland. Used with permission.

Photographer Eric McFarland is part of a photography duo with his wife, and has had the honor of receiving R/WeddingPhotography’s Best Wedding Photo of 2014. Eric reached out to us, and what we noticed in his portfolio is his ability to pose large groups very well. If you think that portrait posing is tough, try posing lots of people at once. Attention spans are short, people are tired, don’t listen to orders, and it can be a tough life for a wedding photographer.

So how does Eric do it? We talked with him about the professionalism behind each photo when it comes to posing large groups.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography?

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Eric: I had some extra money my freshmen year of college that was burning a hole in my pocket. So I went down on a whim to Best Buy and bought my first camera, the prestigious 6 megapixel Nikon D50. (haha) I took a photojournalism class in college and was hooked. I got a job through school taking pictures for the athletic department as well as the yearbook/newspaper. Learned the basics through that and by going out and shooting every day.

Phoblographer: What got you into wedding photography?

Eric: I loved doing photography in college, and I thought it would be great to get paid to do it. My sister was getting married soon, so I offered to photograph her wedding. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I was happy to get my foot in the door with weddings. After that I was able to photograph a couple friends weddings from school and gradually got better and developed my style. My girlfriend at the time was also doing a little bit of photography, so once we got engaged I knew I had my second shooter. We booked as many friends and friends of friends weddings and was able to develop a good client base so that a good majority of the weddings we book now are referral based. Seems that a lot of people got married fast at the college we went to. So that helped a lot.

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Phoblographer: One of the toughest things for any wedding photographer to do is to get everyone for group shots. Take us back to your first wedding: what was the experience like trying to do this?

Eric: It is tough for sure. Thats one of the times you are in complete control of the wedding and the timing of the day. You have a limited amount of time, and if you are late you make the entire wedding behind, and that makes for unhappy clients. I don’t think I did much in the way of group shots for the wedding party at my first wedding, maybe a couple pictures or so. Family shots were jumbled and unorganized. Like I said before, I didn’t know what I was doing. Thankfully it was my sister, and she knew it was my first wedding so she wasn’t hard on me. Had it been an actual client it would have been much different. It is times like these that having a second photographer or assistant is super helpful.

After that wedding I spent a lot of time researching wedding photography and got a lot of inspiration. My next wedding, I knew which poses for the bridal party I would do in what order, and what family pictures were happening and in what order. Needless to say, things went a lot smoother.

“You have a limited amount of time, and if you are late you make the entire wedding behind, and that makes for unhappy clients.”

Phoblographer: You’re more experienced now. What are your methods of getting the groomsmen or bridesmaids together for group shots?

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Eric: Getting the bridal party together and getting poses down quickly and effectively is no easy thing to do. The key for this is to know what poses you’re going to do before hand, so there isn’t any time spent with you looking like you don’t know what you’re doing. Confidence is crucial, people are usually more willing to pay attention and follow direction better when they believe you know what you’re doing. Aside from social aspect, you have what matters most, the photography side. I am rather meticulous when it comes to this, lines (making sure everyone is lined up evenly), lighting (making sure everyone is lit equally) and spacing (equal spacing between everyone) are all some of the key things I try to make perfect when it comes to a group. Nail those three and your picture will look much better. I will first get everyone into the pose that I have in mind, specifically placing people one by one if needed, then step back to where I am photographing from and make changes based on those three things. Its much more than simply putting people into a pose and taking a picture. Details are key to a good shot.

Phoblographer: Let’s chat about large group portraits. Lots of brides will try to get portraits with the older folks first to keep them comfortable, so what are your methods of making sure that the larger group portraits are seamless, painless, and quick?

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Eric: It’s something I will discuss with the clients before the wedding. I find out if there are any specific groups they want and take note of those. When the wedding date comes, its helpful to have someone help you gather people together so you can just seamlessly go from one group to the next. Family groups can sometimes be one of the hardest things to photograph because everyone absolutely needs to listen to you, and some people just don’t like to be told what to do. Generally I will start with the entire extended family and go down from there, ending with the bride/groom and their parents. That way, the people who are needed for only a few pictures can be done and get back to the bar or whatever it is they want to do. Details are key here also, I will get everyone in a group then step back to where I am photographing from and check to see if anyone is being blocked, if there are any big gaps, if both sides are even, etc. I focus on lines, lighting and spacing here too. Ultimately, people need to follow your direction and you need to know what fix right away so that people don’t have to stand in a big group for any longer than they have to.

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