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How Long Should Formal Group Shots Take At My Wedding? with Hannah Mia Photography

How Long Should Formal Group Shots Take At My Wedding? Hannah Mia shares 8 years of experience and why you might want to keep the formal groups list short!

Listen to Hannah on the Wedding Espresso Awesome DIY Wedding Planning Podcast…


Hannah Mia Photography


James [00:00:03] Hello. Thank you for joining me. 

Hannah [00:00:05] Hello. It’s lovely to be here. 

James [00:00:08] So you are Hannah Mia from Hannah Mia Photography. You are a photographer! 

Hannah [00:00:13] I am! 

James [00:00:14] Let’s get that absolutely clear straight out of the gate. Fantastic. So I just wanted to say before we begin, I know you’re having your Website redone at the moment. But the first thing that hit us when we went onto your website was, and there is no other word to describe it… WOW! It’s fun! Your Photography is so fun and so relaxed and chilled out. Everyone’s having a great time.

So the question that we really wanted to dig into with you today was….  “how long should the formal groups shots take at my wedding?”

Hannah [00:01:03] Awesome. Yes. It’s the question I get the most from my couples. Definitely, as you said, I’m so focused on everyone having a great time because you know, it’s not a super austere serious day. It’s about everyone having fun and really, your relationships. So you don’t really want to substitute all that fun time for two hours of your group shots. Or at least my couples don’t. You know. Some couples I’m sure that’s their number one thing.

So I would say first and foremost you need to figure out what kind of photographer you want and what you’re really hoping to see at the end of the day.

Are you hoping to see super polished beautiful Vogue style shots of everyone lined up. Or are you looking for something that maybe speaks a bit more to how you know people, and how they truly look, and you know, in movement almost, and when they’re laughing and being silly. 

James [00:02:07] Maybe a more fluid representation of the moments of the day as opposed to something more structured and formal? 

Hannah [00:02:13] Yes. Exactly. And I mean that’s definitely that’s the way I go. It’s not for everyone. So if you want your super polished stuff, expect that to take a long time.

And then if you’re going more for candids, you want to really remember how everyone experienced the day, then what I recommend is that you spend about 20 minutes on your group shots.

And that means you’re not having 50 different lineups. You know you’re not having all the cousins, all the uni friends, the work friends, all the different groups. You’re going to have to really focus on what’s most important. And I think for a lot of my couples it’s more like your grandparents and your parents. They want their mantelpiece photo. And you don’t really care that much about it. You’re like ah that would be nice but… 

James [00:03:08] We’ll have it. Thank you, move on. 

Hannah [00:03:09] Exactly. You’ll look a that a few times and it definitely is a tick on the list. And it makes other people happy and you know, your wedding is not just about you. 

James [00:03:21]

So in about 20 minutes then are we talking about five or maybe six maximum group shots? 

Hannah [00:03:27] So I say eight to my couples! 

James [00:03:30] So you work fast! 

Hannah [00:03:30] I do. So I get a list in advance. And that list is really important to me. It means I have my little iPad and I look authoritative for that part of the day. And it means if you have that aunt or whatever who’s going to want to lineup all her kids, that you aren’t too bothered about, I can kind of be like oh, you’re not on the list. But let’s do that later. In a more casual way. 

James [00:03:57] Are you on the VIP invite list? 

Hannah [00:03:58] Exactly. You’re not on the list, you’re not coming in! Yeah. That list, it’s definitely not gospel, you can still do a lot of other group shots in a more casual way when you’re already walking around .

But that list, I think people are less inclined to question it once you have that list. I’m not deferring to the couple on the day saying oh who do you want, and then they’re going to forget someone super important.

And another thing on that topic as well. If you have step parents or if there’s some weird family dynamics, that’s a great time to let me know that before the day. Let your photographer know in advance. So they don’t put their foot in it and stick two people that don’t talk to each other together. Who never want a photo of each other together. That’s a great time to sort that out. And then I’ve had it a few times where someone’s forgotten the step mum and the step mum is just standing there at the side of the photos waiting to be in a photo. 

James [00:04:59] And you don’t know any different! 

Hannah [00:05:01] I don’t know who she is really. I don’t know why she’s not in the photos and then I kind of pick up on a weird vibe, and I’m like hey, why don’t you come in, you know, I just kind of try and cover it. So that’s a really great time to figure that stuff out as well. So much politics at a wedding! 

James [00:05:20] So obviously you’ve either experienced this yourself or you’ve figured it out. I mean, when we were filming weddings, the formal group shots were, let’s say variable in the amount of time they took. And we always advised, well we actually got to the point where we were advising couples to seriously think about having a shorter list. Because if everybody’s just gathered round watching formal groups happen for the whole drinks reception, it makes for a terrible wedding film. So is it experience that has taught you that? Or is it something that you’ve decided to do because you’ve learnt it from somewhere else? Or where did the idea come from? 

Hannah [00:05:58] So I’ve been doing weddings for eight years. I’ve done about two hundred and seventy weddings. So that is a hell of a lot of experience. And I think really, I know personally I’m not married, but I know personally that I hate being photographed.

And it’s not my favourite part of the wedding day, the bit where we line everyone up. It doesn’t make for the funnest photos. Funnest? 

James [00:06:26] Funnest is a word yeah, funnest is a real word! 

Hannah [00:06:31] And you know, any time I’m focused on organising other people and lining them all up, I’m not looking behind me at like maybe the really touching moment that’s happening between two people. Or you know like the kids playing a game and spilling stuff all over themselves.

So it really is a tradeoff, and you want to make sure that you get that balance right between if people book me for candids and then they give me a list of 20, 25 photos that they want for their group shots. I have to be really clear with them and say that’s fine, but that’s your drinks reception gone. 

James [00:07:06] It’s gonna come at a cost. 

Hannah [00:07:08] Yeah exactly. And when I started out, I wasn’t. You know you learn through experience really don’t you? I wasn’t so strict on that. I put a lot of pressure on myself as well. You know running around kind of like a headless chicken and just being like, I want to get all these photos done in 10 minutes. But I can’t. And then  being a little bit disappointed with the ratio of group shots to candid shots when I delivered the wedding. And I think now I’m pretty strict with people. It’s something I talk about when we first meet up. I send them this questionnaire where they put their shot list in about two months before the wedding. And then if they go crazy on the shot list, I’ll just e-mail them and say that’s going to take about an hour. So that’s your drinks reception gone. Is that what you want to do? If that’s what you do want, it’s fine. But I feel like it’s not what you want to do. 

James [00:07:57] It’s a brilliant process because I know that there are a lot of photo-tographers, is that even a real word? Out there, photo people who wouldn’t actually educate their clients to that level. And let the clients run the day. The clients, they mean well, they want the photos, but they perhaps don’t understand the logistics of the thing.

So actually wearing your heart on your sleeve there is a very honest thing to do and it is very beneficial for the brides and grooms as well. 

Hannah [00:08:25] Yes definitely. I mean at the end of the day we’re the experts, right? You know no one else is ever going to go to 270 weddings in their lifetime. 

James [00:08:36] Yes. It’s what I’m always saying. Even if you’ve got a million Facebook friends it’s not going to happen. You’re not going to go to that many!

Hannah [00:08:44] Unless you work in the wedding industry you’re not going to see that much and also you’re only going to see a certain type of wedding. Normally, because you know your friends and your family are probably going to have similar tastes to you. And you don’t necessarily get the opportunity to learn from all these different kinds of wedding, and how different people do it. And the really great thing about working at weddings is that you see all these things you probably never see in your social circle, and you get to learn from all of that stuff and bring that to your new couples. And be like, I’ve seen this and I’ve seen this, and you know you really can do whatever you want.

There’s no pressure to spend three hours taking your photos. You can have one if you want, you can just do one group shot and then be “it’s done”! I’ve done weddings where they’ve literally done Bride’s Parents, Groom’s Parents, we’re done!

And then just enjoy the day. Yeah. Don’t download one of those lists from Pinterest. 

James [00:09:39] Must have, top 50 must have formal group shots. 

Hannah [00:09:46] Like 50 photos you must have, and then they’re all in a mountain in California or something. Yeah, it’s not going to happen anyway. 

James [00:09:55] Speaking of California. We’ve just got a couple of minutes left so I just wanted to to ask you. Tell me about California because our wedding photographer came from California. Obviously there’s a connection there.

So what is it that you love about California? 

Hannah [00:10:10] You can see my little Los Angeles poster in the back. So I did an American road trip. I did the whole of the West Coast. And I just really… It’s L.A. I think is for me, my absolute favourite. And I have this expectation it was going to be super tacky and you know just a lot of people trying to get into the movies or whatever. But for me it’s just the vibe of the place. I feel like everyone is really, it sounds very cheesy, but kind of following their dreams. They’ve really committed you know. 

James [00:10:47] Yes, OK! 

Hannah [00:10:48]

People kind of taking a chance on the move to L.A. to pursue their dreams. And there’s something, it’s just very high vibe I think.

Because you know it’s full of that and obviously the sun doesn’t hurt. 

James [00:11:03] Always a plus! 

Hannah [00:11:05] The lovely hiking trails, the beach. Yeah. And I mean I just love an American road trip as well. You know it genuinely is like you imagine there being just big open roads and weird roadside attractions with plastic dinosaurs. 

James [00:11:26] Which we all love, which we all love anyway! 

Hannah [00:11:29] Of course I think it allows you to embrace the tacky. You can do it. Here you go. And I kind of love this. 

James [00:11:37] It’s funny isn’t it.

Do you feel, because I feel very strongly that in recent years we have taken a lot of inspiration from American Wedding suppliers, in our work? Would you say that’s pretty true?

Hannah [00:11:49] Yeah I think that often I’ll get couples will be saying do I have to do this? Or do I have to do this like I’ve seen this? And I think honestly that’s an American thing. And you’re under no obligation to do any of it. You know I think there’s a rise in  bridal showers, which was never a thing that we did, or you know, I actually did a gender reveal party recently. You know that is, I think, it’s not weddings, but that’s a very American thing I think. I think we’re at this position where we can definitely pick and choose what we want to carry over and what we don’t.

Obviously there’s some great ideas in there. But there’s also a hell of a lot of pressure to make everything look really I think opulent almost. 

James [00:12:33] Yeah, OK, good word! 

Hannah [00:12:33] Yeah really just look like you dropped a lot of money on this. And I don’t know if that speaks to our sensibility as Brits where we’re a bit… 

James [00:12:45] Slightly more reserved. 

Hannah [00:12:46] Yeah. And a little bit less show-offy.

I think definitely take the fun stuff and maybe leave the stuff that’s more there just for show. I’m all about the substance. Weddings get more and more towards style vs the substance.

If something is not actually going to make the day more fun or more whatever it is that you want it to be, like emotive… 

James [00:13:15] Or “YOU”! 

Hannah [00:13:16] More “you” exactly. More whatever it is that you are, then I would ditch it. Don’t put your money where you don’t need to put it. Just for the sake of making it  Instagram, Pintrest, whatever worthy! 

James [00:13:33] Yeah. You don’t need bragging rights you just need heart. 

Hannah [00:13:38] Yeah exactly. And you know I’m sure this is true of you too, and people would say oh like what’s the best thing you’ve seen at a wedding? Like which wedding has been your favourite?

It’s never the ones where they’ve built a flower wall or whatever it is that they’ve done. It’s the ones where the couple really seemed in love and the people made me feel like I was one of the guests.

I think you know when people really bring you in and they want you to have fun as well, and they’re trying to get you on the dance floor. And those are the things I love. So yeah and not the ones where you’re standing around for five hours taking photos of lineups. 

James [00:14:17] Well Hannah that’s been absolutely explosive. Thank you so much for sharing that with us, really enjoyed that. 

Hannah [00:14:22] No worries! 

James [00:14:23] Brilliant. And yeah hopefully we’ll get the chance to speak to you again in the near future. 

Hannah [00:14:27] Yeah that would be lovely. And look out for that really 80s tastic Website I’ve got coming! 

James [00:14:36] Oh yeah, we can’t wait to see that. Thanks Hannah, it’s been great speaking to you. Thank then! 

Hannah [00:14:37] Bye!

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  • Reply
    Hannah Mia
    April 11, 2019 at 12:07 pm

    It was so much fun chatting with you James! Especially about something I feel so strongly about! 🙂

    • Reply
      James Pearson
      April 11, 2019 at 1:52 pm

      Likewise Hannah, it was our absolute pleasure to get the chance to chat with you too! I think we blasted that topic tbh! 🙂

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