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What You Need to Know About Creating Your Family Photo List

June 9, 2020

Wedding family photos are an essential part of just about any wedding day! They are so important to your finished wedding gallery, documenting your key family members in a formal, intentional and lasting way.

You know the kind of thing, everybody look at the camera and give me your biggest smile! Some people call them ‘family formals‘, others ‘family portraits‘.

Whatever you call them, the best way of approaching your family wedding photos shot list is to create your customized list in advance. Each family is unique, so while this is a general guide it will be different for each individual family.

Remember to stick to the essentials. On the day we’ll get them done efficiently so you can get back to enjoying your wedding day.

The key to the family photos at your wedding, like most things wedding-related, is advance planning, so you can be in the moment. So, let’s dive in!

How long does it take to do family photos?

I allow 3 minutes per each desired picture (each grouping). I ask that you number each picture you’d like on your pre-wedding questionnaire (sent via email 30 days prior to the wedding!).

The time is taken up:

  • wrangling people
  • removing keys from pockets
  • putting down bags
  • making sure we have everyone’s attention
  • adjusting hair & clothing
  • getting them into the right spot that fits the size group
  • assembling chairs if a large group, or deciding how many rows
  • positioning them to turn in towards the couple
  • aligning them correctly with the background.
  • posing them to look right (hands, bouquets, expressions)
  • moving them so everyone’s face is visible to the camera

I’ll then take dozens of photos of each grouping to ensure one with all eyes open, looking straight at the camera and with good facial expressions.

I repeat this process for the two cameras I have using different lenses for variety (full body horizontal/ waist up / full body vertical).

So, you can see how the time adds up!

How many family formals should we do?

A reasonable number to aim for is 8 – 10 groupings for a regular wedding.

The time allocated and assumed on the timeline for most weddings is half an hour.

Any more than this is definitely possible, it would just take more time! Let’s chat about what you have in mind and we’ll make it happen!

One quick note: I would steer clear of many permutations of the same group. It is FOR SURE the quickest way to wear out their patience!

How do we start creating our basic family formal photo list?

I encourage you to start with the basic wedding family photo list (keep scrolling to see!) then only add in groupings that you really need.

You can definitely keep in mind that perhaps 5 – 8 pictures will end up on an album spread or as a framed print.

Ask yourself the following question when planning your list:

Are the people in this group included in another photo? If yes, does the other photo serve my needs or is this separate photo needed to serve a unique purpose?

Unless you have a specific purpose in mind, avoid repeating the same shots singly and again as a couple.

Photographed either singly OR as a couple will generally serve your needs.

If you take one thing away – bear this in mind

I’ve seen the following come up time and time and time again, no matter what the size of the wedding. In fact, this issue is more pronounced with smaller weddings of 10 – 75 guests, as they typically don’t have a wedding planner. (Side note – they should! Many couples are blown away by how stressful their ‘small, simple’ wedding ends up being.)

Nor do they have a true sense of what to expect for the family formals, especially if it’s ‘just’ two small families.

Family formals can often be unexpectedly difficult and stressful for the marrying couple. Getting everyone together seems like a piece of cake, after all. There’s nothing much to it!

However, even the smallest party of 10 people required in the family pictures have found it stressful. And difficult to stay smiling for so long. (And it’s the couple that’ll be smiling the longest, being in every picture!)

Finding people is sometimes the issue. Other times, it’s that people simply don’t listen or want to be in the pictures, even if they know you want them.

Next, a person is fine with posing for one picture, but when you make them stand there for 2, 3, 4 photos, they quickly lose patience and it will show.

Almost every wedding I’ve ever shot, especially when I started out shooting intimate weddings, the bride told me ‘wow, that was much harder than I thought it would be. It looked so easy on paper.’

Brides simply don’t realize how much of a task it is to get their family to stand in one place, be completely still, force a smile and stay standing there for several seconds or minutes.

Bottom line: the fewer the pictures you request, the smoother the day will go. The less time we’ll spend, the less stressed you will be, and the happier your family will be.

Oh, and your photographer will thank you, too.

What are we trying to achieve with our wedding family photo list?

The loved ones of your life should be captured in a select number of well-chosen and intentional groupings.

To help with the pace of your wedding day we’ll aim to get through them in about 20 – 30 mins.

For the more casual shots or groupings, you can always catch me at any point during the reception and ask for photos.

I will always make sure I have your list of each family formal picture you would like in advance.

Sample Family Photo List:

(all photos include the Bride + Groom)

  1. Big Family Photo (Bride’s Side and Groom’s Side)
  2. Bride’s Immediate Family (Parents + Siblings + Siblings Partners)
  3. Bride’s Parents
  4. Bride’s Siblings
  5. Groom’s Immediate Family (Parents + Siblings + Siblings Partners)
  6. Groom’s Parents
  7. Groom’s Siblings
  8. Flower Girl and Ring Bearer
  9. Bride + Groom’s Grandparents
  10. Any other special grouping

Sample Bridal Party Photos:

(separate from family photos)

  1. Bride and Groom with all Bridal Party (bridesmaids + groomsmen)
  2. Bride with Bridesmaids
  3. Groom with Groomsmen
  4. Individual portraits of bride or groom with each bridal party member.

There’s no need to add wedding party pictures to your family portrait list.

The wedding party will typically have its own time in the schedule, usually right after the first look and lasting half an hour.

Useful Tips

Photo of all your guests?

Do you want a photo of everyone that is in attendance? I love it! Just make sure you let me know and we can do this at the reception!

Biggest grouping first

Start with the biggest family grouping first, typically the one with both sides that includes all parents, siblings and sibling’s partners.

Elderly or mobility-impaired guests

We want to photograph any elderly relatives and people with limited mobility early on. Please let me know in advance so I can make sure pictures with them are up first.

Photo wranglers

Please appoint one photo-wrangler from each side that knows who’s who. Typically someone who can shout and grab people! Let them know their role in advance, and I’ll give them a copy of your photo list.

The importance of planning

Even with the best will in the world, guests’ patience will fray. With careful planning and maximum efficiency, your family will think it was totally effortless.

Consider a first look to save time

A very effective use of time is to have a first look, then you can do all the wedding party & immediate family portraits right after your first look. Plus more couples pictures!

Be the calm at the eye of the storm!

I advise having you stay put then simply adding in folks around you. I advise both partners stay together for all the pictures, but that’s your call.

Wedding party portraits need longer

The wedding party portraits tend to need a little longer as we want to do some playful, fun ones too. We may use different locations for more variety.

Changing light means changing locations

The light can change significantly in half an hour. We may have to change locations part-way through which I will advise on. If you have a strong preference for having them all in one place, let me know!

Keep these tips in mind when you are planning your family photo list, and remember – I am a PRO at family photos. With over 70+ weddings under my belt, I have developed tried and true systems that make this part of your day stress free so you can enjoy your big day!



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