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Don’t let family wedding photos derail your wedding timeline

We’ve all been to that wedding at least once. You know, the one when the venue coordinator, or priest, or maybe even a member of the wedding party announced that the bride, groom, and their families were going to take some time away from the festivities for family portraits.

And then they were gone far longer than expected.

This happens at more weddings than you might think. What begins as “We’ll start with a few shots with everyone who’s here right now and work from there…” becomes, “Where is Uncle Bob? Did we get a group shot with Aunt Susan?” And soon, a well-intended portrait session puts the wedding day behind schedule. Brides, grooms, and their relatives arrive late to the ceremony location, or guests find themselves waiting through cocktail hour and past when dinner should have been served because family portraits are going long.

Our Top Tips for Family Wedding Photos

Fortunately, you can avoid this by taking a few simple steps before your family gathers to help you celebrate the first day of forever with your groom.

Set realistic expectations and prioritize

As a general rule, a professional photographer can organize, pose, and artfully capture one family grouping every two or three minutes. If you have 20-30 minutes allotted to family portraits in your wedding timeline, that translates to about 10-12 different groups. In the weeks leading up to your wedding, begin thinking about which family groupings are absolutely essential, and plan to have your photographer take those first.

family wedding photos

Make a list

Family portraits work best when you make a shot list. Now that you’ve considered all the subsets of your clan, write them down. Your photographer can help you plan the exact order of the shots, but a couple of general rules to consider are:

  1. Do shots with small children first. Little flower girls and ring bearers generally don’t last all the way through a 30-minute session.
  2. Work big to small. Start with that big group shot of everyone on one side of the family, and dismiss people a few at a time until it’s just you and your parents. Then, call up the other side of the family and do it all over again.

Make sure your photographer has a copy of the final shot list so he or she can call your family up for each shot. It’s helpful to list the grouping you want, and the names of the people in the shot. For example:

Bride & Groom, Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa: Jenn, Mitch, Karen, Mike, Dale, Susan

Then, for your next shot…

Bride & Groom, Mom, Dad: Jenn, Mitch, Karen, Mike

And finally:

Bride, Mom, Dad: Jenn, Karen, Mike

One more tip here: Make sure your photographer knows about any divorces or awkward family situations upfront; he or she can help you plan around these!

Communicate with your family

Make sure your family understands that we’ll have limited time to capture your family formals and share your portrait shot list with your family, so everyone can anticipate when it’s their turn to join the happy couple in front of the camera.

Some of your relatives may want to take family pictures as well. Please ask them to put their cameras away. You hired a professional photographer to take these shots and make them look beautiful. You’ll be able to share your wedding gallery with anyone you choose. When family members take pictures beside or behind the professional photographer, it slows down the flow of the session, and the parties in the shot don’t know where to look!

Location, location, location!

The number one reason family portraits run behind comes down where they happened. Scheduling your family formals far away from your ceremony location can put you behind schedule as people find their way over, or worse yet — they don’t make it there entirely.

family wedding photos

I strongly recommend that all family portrait sessions take place right after the ceremony, in that same space, or just outside. That way, you’ve already gathered your family and you can transition straight into family portraits as your guests make their way to cocktail hour. Asking your officiant to announce that family should stay behind after the ceremony is huge plus! The more efficient you can be, the sooner you can join your guests for small bites and a cold drink.

What if we can’t take all the shots we wanted during our family portrait session?

No plan is foolproof, and every once in a while, a portrait group might get skipped because someone wasn’t there or you ran out of time. But don’t worry! By prioritizing your family groupings before the big day, you’ve already mitigated the risk of missing something critical. Communicate with your photographer if you need to catch up on family portraits. The easiest times to add in a couple of extra shots of smaller groups are right before your couple’s sunset session or during the open dance portion of the reception (bonus points here if you set up a photo booth with fun props and masks!).

Embrace the unplanned moments

Finally, your photographer may ask you to stop and have a moment with Mom or Dad or another special relative sometime during your day. This could be a quick hug or sharing a few private words of advice. Being open to adding moments like these to your day gives your photographer a wonderful opportunity to capture the connection you have with your family.

family wedding photos

That’s it. Plan. Prioritize. Communicate. Pick a location. Be flexible. Are you ready to rock your family wedding photos?

If you’d like to talk more about how to make your family wedding photos a success, I have served over 45 couples and their families as a Chicago Fine Art Wedding Photographer, and I would love to share with you how I make family wedding photos simple and fun no matter what the conditions of your day might be. You can get in touch with Joshua Harrison Photography right here.

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