Planning out the formal family photos to be taken on your wedding day can be stressful, because you don’t want to forget an important shot, or make it a long and drawn out experience for the entire group involved. I have systems in place to make this process quick and painless! Below are some tips that you can refer to as you plan out which family photos you need.
At a minimum, your formal family photos should include your immediate family. Who is included in “immediate” family? Your parents, siblings, your siblings’ spouses and children, and grandparents. Whether or not you include any boyfriends or girlfriends for your unmarried siblings is up to you, but I always recommend including them, since my method involves a photo of every arrangement so you have plenty of variety, just in case they’re not in the family a few years from now. More on that process below.
If you are interested in getting some photos with extended family – aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. – I usually recommend taking those in a more informal setting later on during your cocktail hour or reception when there’s a lull around dinner time. However, I occasionally get a longer list from couples that include some must-have extended family members and it’s definitely possible to work them into the formal photo time if you are organized and prepared.
When it comes to when you should hold your family photo time, you have two options. If you’re doing a first look prior to the ceremony, you have the option of also taking your family photos before the ceremony as well. In this scenario, I usually recommend scheduling your family photos one hour before the ceremony start time. This gives you plenty of time to take those photos before you need to be tucked away when guests begin to arrive.
The second option, which is available to any couple regardless of their first look decision, is to take your family portraits immediately after the ceremony is over. This is the most common option, and many couples choose their ceremony location as the backdrop. It’s usually easiest to gather everyone needed at this time since they are already there.
One helpful tip to consider in this timing decision is available transportation for your family members. Some family may find it difficult to get to the portrait location an hour before the ceremony begins, so it may be easiest to have everything gather right after the ceremony instead.
Tip: Give everyone involved in family photos a heads up in advance of the wedding, ideally at your rehearsal dinner or by group message/email. You don’t want to be stressing about reminding people the day of your wedding.
I always recommend allowing 30 minutes for family photos in a wedding day timeline. Although, most of the time, with the systems I have in place, it doesn’t usually require more than 15 minutes to take these portraits.
I use what I like to call a “build up, break down” method of determining the best list of photos for each couple in advance of their wedding, and this is the list I stick to the day of to make sure we don’t miss anyone.
How does this work? Beginning with one partner’s side, I try to start with any grandparents so they can go relax as soon as they’re done. Then I move on to the rest of the family, starting with the parents, and adding people in to each shot. Once I get to the largest group (usually parents, siblings, their significant others and children), I add in or remove the partner whose family we’re not photographing and go back down the list in reverse to get the same groupings again.
I always make sure that each partner gets individual shots of them with each parent and a siblings photo. This helps ensure that you get every possible combination you need, plus any specific unique must-have shots you have in mind. Be sure to share those photos with your photographer in advance so they’re added to the list and you’re not going off of memory on your wedding day!
Below is a sample of how I would list out the photos to be taken for a couple on their wedding day, using my “build up, break down” method. For this example, the list assumes I’m working with a bride and groom each with 2 parents, 2 sets of grandparents and siblings. This will give you a good visual for how you will want to think through your list to make sure nothing is missed!
Some examples of other shots that many couples request are listed below to give you some ideas: