How to plan the family portraits on your wedding day

In my previous blog “Do you need a wedding photo checklist?” I talked about how to make sure you get the photos that you really want.
Now most of the photos throughout the day occur naturally. The preparations, the ceremony, the reception. These events unfold naturally which is great for photographers like myself who like to capture the moments as they happen.
But certain photos require planning and the family photos fall into that category.
So without further ado, here is my list to help you plan for your family portraits.


Get a helping hand!

I capture the moments as they happen. That’s the way I prefer to work. As a result the photos take on a natural and authentic feel. But the formal family portraits are different. Things are outside of my control. Apart from the couple and the few people I have been introduced to during the preparations, I really don’t know who's who, nor do I know who is related to you.
This is where your planning comes into play.
Before the wedding day you should delegate someone in your party with the job of organizing people. Most people use one of their bridesmaids or groomsmen for the job.
Now is it important to stress to them that you are relying on them to make things run smoothly. It’s not simply a favour. You want them to understand that they have responsibilities and their help is needed to ensure that everything runs quickly & smoothly.
Needless to say pick someone who you know is reliable and organized.

Time is of the essence!

The longer the family portraits take, the less time you have to enjoy your day and spend time with your guests. Not to mention your family members will also appreciate a quick photo session. I’ve seen it happen where everyone is waiting on one family member who just magically disappeared while the couple are left waiting 15+ minutes for them to reappear.
Have your delegated helper close by until the family portraits are over and get them to organize people before they are needed. On the day itself I will remind you before we start the family portraits. At that point you get your helper to round everybody up. If they are all ready to go the portraits can be knocked out in record time. Then everyone (including your helper) can go and enjoy a well deserved drink and you can get on with enjoying your special day.

Who to gather?

I mentioned in my checklist blog the typical family portraits that are taken. But every family is different and who you want in your photos is completely up to you.
But here are some examples to help you decide what you want.

* Please not that the more combinations you have the longer it will take. Also if you are considering a very large group of people additional planning will be needed. Your photographer will need prior warning as large groups of people generally need to be photographed from above. A location will need to be found beforehand. Anywhere from a wall to stand one, up to a 1st floor window may be enough to get everyone included in the photo. But the higher you are and the further your guests are away from the photographer, the less likely you will be able to make out their faces.

Bridal party
* Bride and groom with bridesmaids / groomsmen
* Bride and groom with bridal party
* Bride with bridesmaids
* Groom with groomsmen

* Bride and groom with her parents
* Bride and groom with her parents & siblings
* Bride and groom with his parents
* Bride and groom with his parents & siblings
* Bride and groom with both sets of parents
* Bride and groom with close family members

Now these are the most common ones. But there are countless variations when you include kids, sibling’s partners, grandparents, special close friends etc. Just be sensible with the photos you want and remember that these are your photos. Only pick the people that you want to photograph.
Of course if you see someone who you forgot to add to the list, or just someone you really want a photo with. Simply ask your photographer. You may be following a list, but it’s not a military operation.

When to take photos?

From my experience the best time to efficiently take family portraits is directly after the ceremony. Why? Because everyone is in the same location and close by. If you are greeting all your guests after the ceremony just ask your family members to hang on and not to leave until told so.
Most times the venue entrance or somewhere very close by will do the job just fine. Where I position the family will depend on the weather and the direction of the sun. If the weather is against us we will need to move indoors or wait until later to take the photos. Just remember that waiting until later may effect how efficiently everyone can be gathered.

It’s your decision

Obviously you decide, who, where & when. I (or any other photographer) can only offer my advice which is based off experience.
Just remember that a short list, a good plan and a dedicated helper will result in quick and stress-free family photos that won’t interfere with your enjoyment of the day.