Creatively speaking, I am fueled by capturing important and once-in-a-lifetime moments, but I understand the importance of being good at photographing beautiful wedding family photos. However, my definition of being a wedding photographer is so much more than producing a set of amazing candids.
I love weddings for the commitment that they stand for. However, I do know that because it’s an important day, stress levels can run high.My service on a wedding day can extend to being a part-time bridesmaid, timeline enforcer/coordinator, and sometimes a listening ear.
1. Think about what photos will be important to you in 50 years
I’ve never had a couple say, “A beautiful photo of my shoes”.
Overwhelmingly, my couples will say, “ Photos of my family and friends. Beautiful moments between my [husband/wife] and I.”
I enjoy speaking to talk to my couples about what photos they think will be most important to them and 50 years.
2. Background isn’t everything. Trust your photographer.
My goal: Photograph a clean portrait of your family, so that your faces are evenly and well lit, with a clean background so that the focus always stays on the humans of the photograph.
Option A: Mom wants to take photos with the ocean in the background.
Here’s what will happen: It is 12pm noon, the sun is directly overhead. Everyone is squinting. They have shadows underneath their eyes. Their eyebrows are furrowed because they cannot keep their eyes open. It is window. It is so dang sunny. No one looks flattering, but hey – there’s an ocean in the background.
Option B: Nicole finds another portrait spot where the sun isn’t hitting directly overhead (perhaps under a tree, perhaps with even shade). Perhaps Nicole instructs her assistant to set up a natural-looking artificial light to make sure that all faces will be illuminated well.
Here’s what will happen: Families get a simple background, but everyone’s faces are lit well. No one’s tearing from being unable to keep their eyes open from the direct sun. In 50 years, we remember how beautiful everyone looked.
I will always choose flattering light with simple backgrounds.
Good light means different things to different people. It even means different things to me depending on what I’m photographing, and the size of the group. Lighting determines the feel, the vibe, the mood.
For wedding family photos, I want cohesive and even lighting. If I can’t find it, I’ll create it with artificial lighting. This is why I always have my lighting kit with me.
3. Get organized BEFORE the wedding. Communicate with your photographer.
I like being organized. I love lists and spreadsheets.
I have heard it many times before from couples whose wedding I did NOT photograph: “I wish my photographer didn’t miss these family photos”.
It’s important to be honest and to talk things through with your photographer. For our clients, we have a specific video call about your families and who you love. We’ll work through a very detailed checklist several months BEFORE your wedding so that we can keep referring back to it as the date gets closer to make sure we haven’t forgotten anything.
- Who is important to you? – For all of my clients, we’ll communicate specifically about the people who are most important to you.
- Family friction – We’ll identify family friction and if certain people shouldn’t be around or stand next to others.
- Blended families – Let’s work together to make sure that everyone feels loved and important.
4. Consider the people outside of your immediate family that you would like formal photos with
Here’s a list of the most common wedding family photos.
- CoupleA and CoupleB w/ both immediate families
- CoupleA and CoupleB w/ both immediate families
- CoupleA and CoupleB w/ both sets of parents
- CoupleA and CoupleB w/ Couple A’s Immediate family
- Couple A w/ Couple A’s Mother & Father
- Couple A’s w/ Mother
- Couple A’s w/ Father
- Couple A’s w/ all Siblings
- Couple A’s w/ individual Siblings
- CoupleA and CoupleB w/ Couple B’s Immediate family
- CoupleB w/ Mother & Father
- CoupleB w/ Mother
- CoupleB w/ Father
- CoupleB w/ all Siblings
- CoupleB w/ individual Siblings
I ask my couples to check off the ones off this list that they want.
Then, I ask them to think of any additional groupings.
Most couples add on maybe 2 to 3 additional groupings. (ie: extended aunt and uncles, or a group of college friends)
My couples very much prioritize having fun on their wedding day and not spending the entire cocktail hour, or first look on family formals. I work to be efficient, so that our wedding time is spent wisely!
5. Realistically, which photos will you PRINT?
Before you go ahead and make a list of a dozen portraits that you THINK you’ll need, ask yourself this… Which one of these photos will I actually print?
If they’re important, add them to the list.
If they’re not, then perhaps let me do what I do best – capture moments and candids in a documentary approach. I certainly don’t want you to spend your entire wedding taking photos. You deserve to eat all of the appetizers you’ve chosen and hang out with all of your guests!
Organizing large groups is very much in my comfort level. Growing up, my family dinners are massive. I watched my family organize each other into positions. Soon, that assertiveness was passed down to me.
6. Consider that each grouping will take between 3-5 minutes
Do you need individual solos with all 54 of your Irish cousins? or will one big grouping of your cousins during the reception suffice?
I have assisted for many wedding photographers. I’ve paid my dues. I’ve carried more bags than you can count. I have many battle stories. I have seen dozens of ways that photographers tackle wedding photos.
7. Your secret weapon: Designate a couple people to be your “Photo Captain”
“Aunt Edna didn’t know she was needed for wedding family photos”
A photo captain is someone who will help you gather the people needed for specific family photo. This should be someone that is close to you, that knows all the people in the photo (ie: your sibling or cousin, for an extended family photo)
How do I know that this person is a good photo captain?
Think of the person that’s is a little bossy (in the best of ways) and knows the important people in your family. Maybe a sibling? a cousin? This is the perfect person to be the photo captain! He/She is in charge of making sure that Uncle Joey isn’t doing Irish car bombs at the bar during wedding family photo time.
This photo captain is critical because on a wedding day, it’s ideal to NOT have the newly weds be chasing people down.
Family members and VIP must been in the right place and the right time. Sometimes, this involves getting to the location early. Sometimes, it requires staying behind during the ceremony and not going immediately to cocktail.
The perfect time to do wedding family photos is…
Sorry. There is no perfect time. Every wedding is different.
Below are some options to take your wedding family photos!
– During the First Look
A First Look is when couples opt to see each other before the ceremony, rather than the traditional method of seeing each other for the first time while walking down the aisle.
Here is the greatest thing about a first look: When all goes well, I can complete all wedding family photos, bridal party photos, and couple photos done way before the ceremony. It’s an awesome feeling. Everyone gets to enjoy cocktail hour!
However, here’s the worst thing about a first look: If hair and make up runs late, or someone in your family or bridal party forgets their shoes/belt/tie/socks/bra, the entire timeline is derailed. What gets cut first? You guessed it… my portrait time. Then, we end up moving all the formals to cocktail hour anyway. It’s not the end of the world, though!
– During Cocktail Hour, because the couple is not doing a First Look
If a couple is not seeing each other before the ceremony, then photographing your wedding family photos during cocktail hour is another option. Parents must understand that they will not be able to socialize for the entirety of cocktail hour. Again, it’s important that the photo captain(s) tell their assignees that they are needed at x location and y time for wedding family photos! Lots of reminders are key!
– Half and Half
If a couple is not doing a First Look, I always advise us to do the formals we can, before the ceremony. Examples (Couple A with mother, Couple A with father, Couple A with siblings, Couple A with individual siblings). Let’s make time before the ceremony, so that we can photograph the portraits that we do NOT need Couple A and B together for! It’s a big time saver!
Conclusion to getting the best wedding family photos
I’ve photographed a lot of families. It doesn’t have to be stressful. I talk fast. I move fast. We can get this all completed efficiently if we communicate openly, and if the photo captains are there to help. 🙂
Do you have any wedding family photo tips that I should add?