As a wedding photographer who’s spent years behind the lens capturing the magic of wedding days, I’ve come to understand the dreams, expectations, and – yes – the realities of weddings. 

One request I’ve heard is, “I want to get a photo of every guest at my wedding.” While I completely understand the sentiment behind it, this task is often more challenging than it appears.

So, is it realistic to expect your wedding photography team will take a posed photo of every guest or small grouping at your wedding?

For larger weddings of more than ~35 guests, there are definitely a few factors to consider that you may not have thought of before! In this article, I dive deep into what you can expect with regard to getting great posed guest wedding photos on your big day.

In the second half of the article, I outline in detail alternatives that may work if you want to ensure everyone’s faces smiling at the camera are captured in some way! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

There just isn’t enough time

Weddings are a whirl of activity, with each moment carefully choreographed. From the ceremony and speeches to the first dance and cake cutting, your wedding photographer has a packed schedule to document the key moments.

Want to make time somewhere on your schedule? After all it’s your day! The reality is that weddings have a structure of their own. You’re dealing with professional DJs, caterers, planners, venues and musicians who do this every weekend.

Each event follows a templated structure. Otherwise, there’d be lulls in the event causing a bad experience. Or you’d go over your allotted venue hours or the schedule would be messed up. In short, your timeline has been designed in a certain way for a reason.

Trying to photograph every guest can be a logistical challenge amidst all these activities. Individual / group photos of every guest could take more time than is available, potentially disrupting the flow of the day.

how to get posed guest photos from your wedding
We love to grab posed guest photos if the opportunity arises! | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

It isn’t a good USE of the time you have

Even if you wanted to prioritize it to the point that you ditched or delayed some other events. Would that work?

Well, you would spend the entire evening just walking around taking photos with guests! And sure, no-one’s going to stop you if that’s what you want to do. When the night’s over you won’t think ‘wow, I’m so glad we did that for several hours!’. You’ll be thinking ‘I was so concerned with photos for the future, that I missed the now’.

Table shots during dinner are not the most comfortable. It involves interrupting people’s meals. There’s half-eaten food on the tables. Because it’s unflattering and inconvenient, we don’t usually photograph during dinner, plus vendors also need to eat.

And by the time dinner is over, people are up and wandering around.

We’re happy to get some groupings during cocktail hour – whether they are must-get groups (3 max), or more casual (any number in the available time). Your photographer would request your list of groupings in advance so we can raise any concerns before the big day. We’d love to follow you around and get all the impromptu groupings you like. However, we just can’t make any guarantees that every guest is captured.

Guests at reception captured candidly during table visits
Guests at reception captured candidly during table visits | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

Guests are spread out

At any given moment, guests are spread across multiple locations. Some are on the dance floor, others at the bar, some chatting in another room. Some are in the restroom, some stepped outside for fresh air.

Tracking down every guest for a photo can be like trying to herd cats. That’s one reason I strongly advise having your dedicated family photo session pre-ceremony. This encompasses family formal groupings and any special friend or wedding party groupings. It’s possible to have another, shorter session during cocktail hour for extended family groupings or a large group photo.

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Rather than trying to keep track of everyone, we capture the moments happening in front of us. Remember, we’re not coordinators or professional family wranglers. There are specific moments we direct – the family photo session, romantic photos, some ‘getting ready’ portraits. However, other than that, we document, rather than organize.

wedding guest hamming it up for camera
We have to stay free to capture guests being themselves | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

Some people are camera-shy

It’s also worth considering that some guests may prefer not to be photographed. Some feel uncomfortable or awkward in front of a stranger with a giant camera.

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Some guests we photograph very little or not at all. It’s a sad fact some individuals hide their faces even or leave the room when a photographer points a camera at them!

While that’s annoying for you (who only wants a keepsake of your dear guests), ultimately that’s their prerogative.

We cannot force people to be in photos. We can’t keep track of who, out of dozens of guests, hasn’t been photographed. People move in and out of our field of view to a greater or lesser extent during the day.

Those who ham it up for the camera or are seated in particular spot are going to be overrepresented. Contrast that with those who avoid the camera or are seated in a position that escapes our lens.

wedding guests that are comfortable in front of camera
There are always some more comfortable in front of the camera! | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

Quality over quantity

A wedding photographer’s role is not just to take photos, but to create memorable and meaningful images. It’s about capturing the essence of the day, the atmosphere, the love, the tiny details that you’ll want to remember.

Ensuring every guest is photographed can lead to a focus on quantity over quality. This might dilute the overall collection of your wedding photos. If you want your photographer to capture work like you’ve seen in their past weddings, you have to leave them the freedom to do so.

After all, if all this time and creative energy is put into the task of photographing every guest, then it’s going to come out of another area.

We love providing a mixture of candid and posed shots, but that mix and flow are down to our creative eye. They are organic, not taken from a checklist.

fun and candid wedding guest photo ideas
Fun shots of guests after being seated for dinner | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

We are hired to capture moments

Some of the best wedding photos showcase spontaneous, laughter, tears, and joy in an unguarded moment. These candid shots tell a powerful story compared to posed photos, which honestly anyone with a halfway decent phone camera can take.

If your photographer spends a large portion of time photographing every guest, we’d miss these impromptu, emotional moments. As you’re paying a specialized professional, that’s a shame! 

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Especially when you hire a wedding photojournalist, anything that takes us out of the moment is a no-no. The only exception is obtaining your family/wedding party groupings. However, this is a strategic, self-contained timeline item lasting no more than 40 minutes for a standard number of groupings.

We strongly advise scheduling your formal family session to take place pre-ceremony. This way, by the time the ceremony’s done, you’re through posing for must-take photos. You can enjoy your wedding and spend time mingling (and yes, getting impromptu photos, if you like) with guests which any photographer is always happy to take.

impromptu posed big groups at wedding
Photographing impromptu posed shots is part of the fun! | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

If you’re looking for a photojournalistic-style wedding photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area, find out more about my services below!

Alternative solutions to get photos with all your guests

Luckily, there are lots of alternative ways to capture photos of most if not all of your guests. One big question to consider is ‘do you (the couple) want to be in these guest photos? Or is it more about the guests themselves?’ That will help decide what may work for you.

Of course, the number of guests is a factor. A solution that works for 35 guests may look quite different when transposed to 130 guests.

So, remember to chat with your photographer (as well as planner and DJ if relevant), because every wedding, venue, and timeline is unique. These are the ideas that I’ve seen as a wedding photographer in San Francisco – it could be different in your area or culture.

Here are a few solutions for capturing photos of all guests at your wedding.

Rent a photo booth

If a simple snapshot is sufficient, a photo booth may do the trick. Make sure it’s set up somewhere visible. I can’t tell you how many times the photo booth was in a separate room! No one knew it was there so hardly anyone took photos.

Have your DJ periodically announce to guests you have a photo booth and that you’d greatly appreciate a photo of them. Also, ensure that you book a package that includes high-resolution digital copies of all photos.

candid photos of guests enjoying wedding photo booth
Candid shots from your photo booth might suffice | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

Have a Polaroid guestbook

This is a little more haphazard, plus the output quality from a Polaroid or Fuji Instax isn’t the best! But it’s a fun and interactive touch that will delight your guests. 

You can set this up as a guestbook station, Simply have a sign requesting folks snap each other and place photos in the guestbook. 

Provide clear instructions on how to use the camera. Make it clear that flash must be on for every photo. Provide instructions on how to load film, too. Appoint a trusted friend to periodically check that the Polaroid works correctly, has film, and is getting plenty of use!

The model of instant camera I’ve seen always has problems with batteries. Make sure your helper knows exactly how to fix any issue that could arise.

polaroids of guests at wedding
Fun moments of guests captured on instant film | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

Aggregate phone snaps

If it’s just about a memento, would phone snaps suffice? Group photos around the table can be captured adequately with a camera phone. You could ask folks to snap selfies or a few group shots while they’re at their tables. Don’t care if you’re not in the photos? This might work.

To collect photos, set up a Dropbox or Google Drive folder/Google Photos album and ask folks to upload there. This way it doesn’t interrupt the flow of your event to put aside 30-60 minutes getting professional photos. 

guest taking a photo of a group on his phone
A guest snaps a family pic at wedding | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

The next ideas involve working with your professional photographer. These are the options that I’d recommend, as of course we want to be the ones taking the photos, where possible. We’re happy to grab whoever is around and willing to pose for a photograph!

Take one big group photo of all your guests

Have your photographer take one large group photo of all the guests present. For some, this will replace the need to take smaller groupings. You know that everyone is represented in this one shot. For larger groups of over 120, a large group shot may not be feasible. There may not be a space sufficiently large and empty to make it work. You’d also need levels (shown in the header image) or the ability to take advantage of height, for example a vantage point for the photographer one story up.

The best time to do the big group photo is immediately after the ceremony. Request in advance that the officiant makes an announcement that a big group photo will be taken. Then the photographer will direct folks to the area that’s previously been scouted out as suitable.

Once people start drinking and spreading out into cocktail hour / reception, you can’t always get everyone’s attention or move a crowd. A captive audience leads to a greater degree of success. 

I also recommend either letting everyone know in advance or putting ‘group photo of all guests present’ on the program. Make it clear that this is for everyone present. Usually, people will assume this means all family, rather than all guests.

Another option is to do the group photo on the dancefloor, but that is quite a different vibe! Everyone’s sweaty, drinking, and the lights are low. Plus, some folks especially those with young children tend to leave right after dinner service. 

As a photographer, I personally like to get on the mic and make sure everyone knows where to stand, it’s much quicker. This is particularly important if the group photo takes place during the reception like the wedding below. I stood on a high table, got on the mic, broke up cocktail hour and organized a hungry crowd!

big group photo at a wedding at Greens, San Francisco
Big group photo at an indoor wedding during cocktail hour | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

Do posed table visits

Table visits can be chaotic and much more time-consuming than you may realize. However, it is a good way of grabbing photos with each group (and you have a captive audience!).

Candid table visits can be nice, but posed ones are often a mad dash and can leave you frazzled. Why is this so stressful and overwhelming for the couple? 

Well, it takes a lot of time. You have the schedule it so it doesn’t impact other parts of the wedding. Your smile is forced, your jaw aches! You find yourself repeating canned responses, ‘thank you for coming, so nice to see you, you too!’ literally 100 times.

The less you know your guests and the more infrequently you normally see them, the more this will happen. Your parents’ random friends and distant relatives will see this as their big chance to get photos with the newlyweds. 

More on the timing aspect. Let’s say you have 12 tables of 10 to get through. You would like to spend 3 minutes with each table – 2 minutes greeting, one minute setting up the posed shot. 

That’s just 12 seconds per guest! And it would still take 40 minutes on the timeline. Factor in: after dinner, people visit the restroom, the bar, sit at a different table, go for a smoke, etc. Now we’re waiting for guests missing from their tables, so it takes even longer. 

If this was something you wanted to put aside the time to do though it can be done. The idea is not to put you off but to give a realistic idea of what to expect.

Round tables of 8 – 12 work best for this. Your photographer would ask half the table to stand up and stand behind the seated half. 

The couple slot themselves in in the middle of the standing row. This may not work in very cramped reception spaces. 

posed table visits at wedding
Posed table visits | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

Do candid table visits 

With candid table visits, it’s not really a ‘pose for the camera!’ type event. Instead you’re saying hello in a more heartfelt way. Perhaps hugging and raising a glass here and there. 

A difficulty with this approach? It’s hard to break off and go to the next table after just 3 minutes. Ask your photographer to be the bad guy! We will keep track of time. When it’s time to move on, the photographer will shout ‘next table!’. 

If you’d like it to be more loosey-goosey though we can stay totally in the background without disturbance. As long as you have the time to spare on the schedule, this absolutely fine by us. 

compelling candid table visit photos from wedding
Candid table visits tell the story in a more compelling way | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

Dash to the sweetheart table

An improvement on the table visits idea is to have everyone do a dash to your table! This way, the guests are the ones doing the work. This works if you’re at a sweetheart table with plenty of space behind you. 

They slot themselves in and pose for a photo, then the next group immediately comes in. Your planner or second photographer would rally people to line up and grab their shot. This is faster than the traditional table-visits format where it’s difficult to peel yourself away. 

sweetheart table photo dash with bride and groom
Sweetheart table photo dash with bride and groom | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

DJ-led photo dash

A more modern take? Involve the DJ and do an even quicker ‘photo dash’. Have the two of you seated next to each other on the dancefloor where it’s super spacious. You can even move some decorations or put a photo backdrop behind you. 

The DJ announces all guests will make their way over in turn and pose for a photo! Here’s the catch: it takes place while ONE song is playing! The announcement makes all the difference in building momentum. And of course, you can roll into another song if needed

I’ve never tried this before but have seen it before on social media! It sounds like a great idea. Plus, the couple chills! 

Just make sure you square it with your DJ first! The DJ may have thoughts about how it cuts into dance time and interrupts the set they’ve prepared. 

getting photos of wedding guests
Guests enjoying themselves at a Bay Area wedding | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

To conclude

Remember, your wedding is about celebrating your love and the start of a new journey. Make sure your photos capture that spirit, and they will be cherished for a lifetime. 

Ultimately if none of the workarounds listed here work out for you, I recommend being firm with parents (usually the ones requesting this), that photos with each guest is neither possible nor something you’d want. Send them this article if you like!

While it’s a nice idea to grab photos of everyone, there are pitfalls we don’t want you to fall into. 

Though I’d love to say yes to every request, much of my time is spent managing expectations. What can sound on paper very easy might in practice not be logistically feasible. 

When you hire experienced professionals as your wedding vendors, it’s our job to understand the implications of any requests our clients make within our area of expertise, having serviced many hundreds of weddings. 

Zoe Larkin

I’m Zoe, a wedding photographer based in San Francisco! My style is candid, capturing authentic moments for my couples all over the Bay Area and Northern California. Creating content is my passion! Follow along the blog and Insta!

logistics of capturing photo of every guest at wedding - big group photo

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Why it’s unrealistic to expect a photo of every guest at your wedding

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