How many of you wedding photographers absolutely love shooting family portraits?

Despite the significant importance of family portraits on the wedding day, for many of us wedding photographers – family portraits are certainly not the most exciting part of the day.  There are many reasons why family portraits can become quite stressful and difficult for both the photographer and also the bride and groom, here are some of the big reasons:

  • Family dynamics/drama
  • People not available for photo
  • Multiple “clients” in the crowd
  • Not enough time

In this article we are going to discuss common pitfalls and problems associated with family portraits on the wedding day and discuss strategies to help make the wedding day family portraits go as smoothly as possible.

Lets first go into details to explain each of the bullets above.

Family Dynamics/Drama –  Lets face it, every family has its own quirks and nuances, some more than others. Of course most of the time, as the wedding photographer we have no clue about any of this until its happening as we are photographing them.  I am sure we have all made the mistake at some point in our careers of mistakenly posing mom and dad right next to each other, only to see funny faces looking at you before realizing they are divorced and would prefer to NOT be right next to each other – oops!

People not available for photo – We always make sure we have a family portrait list before the wedding day from our clients which helps us get through the family photos in an efficient manner. However, the list is only as good as its participants and its pretty much inevitable that all of us will come across the situations where we can’t take one, or two, or three of our photos on our list because uncle Joe is no where to be found.  More times than not, our pal uncle Joe decided that getting started on cocktail hour is more important than family portraits.  I can’t say that cocktail hour isn’t more “fun” however, nothing will stress the bride and groom out more than family members not being on hand and ready to rock and roll rather than causing delays in time and ultimately less time for the bride and groom portraits!

Multiple “clients” in the crowd – Despite being prepped for the big day and having the family portrait list that you worked with the bride and groom on it is not uncommon at all to suddenly have moms, dads and other family members requesting additional/different photos.  When this happens it becomes a balancing act with trying to be flexible and accommodate requests from family members but only within reason since you have to make sure you don’t cut yourself short on portrait time with the bride and groom.  If it starts to get to the point of too many requests, just simply explain that you’d be happy to take additional photos at some point during the reception but in order to have enough time for the bride and groom to have their photos you have to move on.

Not enough time – Especially true if your bride and groom opted out of doing a 1st look, there is usually not a lot of time between the end of the ceremony and reception start time…even less if your bride or groom wants to partake in some of their cocktail hour, so not letting family portraits spiral out of control is extremely crucial!  As the photographer it is your primary responsibility to be aware of the timing of the day and make sure that you are keeping things moving as well as possible.  The typical post ceremony portrait flow of the day for us is: family portraits, bridal party, then bride and groom so if your start running behind, you can eventually get really messed up by not having much of any time available for YOUR clients – the bride and groom.

Tips for efficient and smooth wedding family portraits:

Setting expectations with client – It all starts with educating your client – the bride and groom.  Let them know how long of time to allocate for family portraits and how important it is that all needed family members are there and ready for their photos, because if they are not, it will cause delays which will be less time for other photos, like bridal party and themselves.  We explain upfront to our clients when working through the timeline that if not doing a 1st look, to think of the time between end of ceremony and start of reception as a pie, and each segment of portraits (family, bridal party, B&G) is a slice of the pie, the larger the family portrait list, or the longer it takes, the less you will have for the others, no doubt about it.  We also explain that on average, with us, we take about 1 min for each shot on the list, so if their family list comes out to 15 different photos, we can plan on roughly 15 minutes.

The family portrait list – Make it easy on your client by sending them a family portrait list example in the format you want so they simply have to type in names so you can go down the list and call people up for the next shot.  You can choose if you want to simply tell them to try and keep the list to a certain number of total shots or if you actually give them typical shots and have them try to stick to that as close as possible.  Also don’t be afraid to ask your clients if there are any special family dynamics that you should be made aware of so you can be adequately prepared for the wedding day and not caught off guard.  Remember that its important for you to be a leader and also give your opinion and suggestions when needed but its “their big day”, not yours – so make sure to be as flexible as you can if your clients family portrait list is not the “norm” that you are used to.   My recommendation is if you come across clients that have an abnormally large family portrait list that you feel will take “too much” time and take away from their own photos, just educate them about the benefits for them of doing a 1st look which would allow them to have ample time for their own photos and still accommodate the large family portrait list.  If they are 100% certain they don’t want to do a 1st look, then recommend either they extend cocktail hour or consider taking some photos off of the formal family portrait list and to get those photos informally later at the reception.  The important thing is to take the role of the trusted adviser and educate them of what to really expect given their timeline.  Most often they will take your advice and make some adjustments.

Wedding Photography Family Portrait List
Assign a family member or bridesmaid to help
– Once the ceremony is over and its time to get ready for family portraits, I usually ask a family member or bridesmaid to help ensure that all needed people are available and present and I give them a 2nd copy of our family portrait list.  The key is to find someone who knows most or all of the people on the list!

Planning, Planning, Planning! –  The biggest tip I can give out of all of this is the importance of doing all these things in advance of the wedding!  Please do not try and hand the bride and groom a list to fill out on their wedding day or even send an email the day or 2 days before the wedding – you will not be helpful and simply be a source of added stress to them.  Not good!  I recommend discussing family portraits with your clients when you begin to work on the timeline, if you aren’t helping them with the timeline, then I’d suggest sending an email with your family portrait list example to them about a month prior to the wedding.  When you are printing the list to take to the wedding, print a 2nd or 3rd copy so you can have a backup but also one to give to your helper.

Shoot multiple frames – With each group setup make sure to take 2 or even 3 quick photos.  If you prefer to use “burst mode” to take a few frames rather than click frame by frame that is fine but the point is to NOT take only one frame of each photo.  Why?  So you can pick the frame that everyone has their eyes open.  Even with a countdown of some sort its very common to have one or two with their eyes closed.

wedding photography tips family portraitsWedding Photography Tutorials
I hope this article gives you some insight into potential pitfalls associated with doing wedding day family portraits and also some tips on how to do what you can to make sure they run as smooth as possible!

…and what would a post about family portraits be like without posting one of my favorite family portraits we’ve done…

Family portraits can get a bit hectic...

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Cole