family photos at wedding
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Family Photos at Wedding: Survival Tips and Getting Great Portraits

Today on the blog let’s talk about how to handle, prepare for, and survive family wedding photos. This is one of the original reasons for having a photographer for a wedding. Sure, a portrait of a couple is really nice to document the wedding day but sometimes a wedding is like a family reunion, and family wedding photos become important keepsakes.

For the wedding couple and their guests, the family photos are the images that are most likely to be printed but the largest quantity of people. However, no one wants to stand around taking pictures rather than celebrating the wedding. We’ll talk about how to balance capturing solid family photos with making sure it doesn’t negatively impact the wedding day experience.

Then, we’ll discuss some tips for family photos that will help achieve your goals, whether you’re a bride or a photographer. And finally, I’ll share a recommended shot list for your family photos. Which is the one and only time of the day that I like to have a show list.

Family Wedding Photos: The Pictures Everyone Wants But No One Wants to Take

Family photos. Beloved images but an often hated pastime. Wrangling people when some family members run off to the bar while others are in the reception or bathroom is an impossible task. A wedding day is short and sweet, every minute is precious.

Every minute spent taking photos is a minute not spent enjoying your family members and wedding guests. Wedding photography is very important. But so is having amazing wedding day memories. A lot of people who have been in a few bridal party photos, have had negative experiences around how much time they spend wasting, I mean waiting on photos.

My philosophy for family photos is that they are some of the most important pictures that I take on any given wedding day and yet they are the ones that I try to be the most efficient on. I want to spend limited time on these photos so that my couples have both a great experience and great images.

wedding photography family photos

Family Wedding Photo Tips

How do we get great family photos but do it efficiently? That’s the challenge when it comes to most wedding photos, it’s just most important with the family wedding photos because of how many people are involved. The more people you add to the wedding family photos, the more complicated it gets mostly because of the time you spend waiting around for various people.

In this section, I’m going to talk about dealing with the details of all the family members. Then I’m going to address how to make the photos great. Using all this information, you’ll be abe to come up with a strategy that will work best for you.

How Long Do Family Photos Take

The first question to come to terms with is how long family wedding photos take. Often, not understanding this is why the experience ends up being so bad. Couples think they can just knock out family photos really quick but it actually takes time to move people in and out of the frame.

I like to put an estimate on each combination in order to do simple math. For example, let’s say you’re going to take 10 different pictures and it’ll take an average of 1 minute per picture, you know that’s 10 minutes. The tricky part is that the more people involved, the longer the pictures take.

With a big and complicated family, your average might end up closer to 2 or 3 minutes per picture which adds up quickly with every photo combination you decide to do. Putting time to each photo that you’re taking helps you know how valuable that time is. While it can be nice to think you want every combination just in case, when you start to add up all that time you suddenly realize it’s more important to prioritize.

family photographs wedding photography

Immediate Family Versus All the Family Members

One of the easiest ways to limit the family pictures it to do immediate family only. This is a huge time savings but often disappoints the extended family members who wanted a family reunion picture. Often a good compromise is to just do one extended family photo and ensure you don’t get out of control with a cousin’s pic and an aunt’s pic and a million other combinations.

Who a couple wants in their wedding photos varies from couple to couple. There are family expectations and boundary-setting that need to take place. Family dynamics play a big role in how this all goes down.

I find that the best thing to do is to remember that every photo will suck 2 minutes of time and those minutes will add up. Therefore, ideally, we want to limit the number of photo combinations. But from there, it’s easy to share with moms or other family members the proposed family picture list and make sure there’s nothing else that’s super important to them.

Dealing with Family Dynamics

All of that brings us to family dynamics. The more complicated the family dynamics, the more complicated a whole family portrait list or picture list can get. However, it’s better to think things through ahead of time because you can build a shot list based on what will keep everyone happy.

As you’ll see later when I build a family picture list, I try to build a list that will be most efficient for moving people in and out of the frame. If there are people that can’t stand next to each other or be in a photo together, the efficiency will change. But sometimes it’s important for the experience to keep certain people separate.

In a similar vein, I will often change the shot list order if there are small children or grandparents who for whatever reason can’t be as patient as the rest of the families. I always ask my couples about family dynamics as well as the mobility of grandparents and the patience of small children. Then, I’ll use that information to help inform who goes first.

What About All the Other Cameras

family photos at a wedding

When I’m taking family photos I snap a handful so that there is a high likelihood that everyone will have their eyes open in at least one image. The biggest disruptor to that success is when other family members are trying to take pictures at the same time. Then, people don’t know where to look and it harms the quality of the photo.

The best thing to do is either to tell everyone ahead of time that the photos will be shared and they don’t need to stress. But people will still want their own photos. The second best thing to do is to just let them go first.

They’ll snap a photo really quickly because they’ll feel guilty for being in the paid photographer’s way, and then they’ll stay out of your way. It works most of the time and is peer pressure at its finest. The posed pictures taken with the professional camera are going to be much better than an iPhone snapshot anyway.

Backdrops for Family Photos: The View Versus the Light

Now, speaking of the opinions of others, there is some controversy around where to do family portraits. Do you do them in front of the epic view? Do you do them where the best light is?

Or do you do family photos where it’s most convenient for everyone to walk and stand? Many people will have strong opinions on the answers to those questions. Ideally, you want all three and sometimes that works out if the ceremony backdrop is the prettiest view and the light is cooperative.

Otherwise, you have to prioritize, and while in my opinion, the wedding family photo is about the family and therefore soft light on everyone’s faces is most important. However, in the opinion of most of my clients and their families, they chose to get married somewhere epic so they want epic views in their photos. Therefore, we often need to find solutions to how to get nicely lit photos with tricky lighting with a nice backdrop somewhere that everyone can easily get to.

Sometimes, you need to light the family photos to accomplish your goals. While I’d rather use natural light for group shots since flash is slower, if the view is vital sometimes artificial light is necessary.

family photos at wedding

Timing for Family Photos

One of the easiest ways to know whether the backdrop is going to be a problem is to identify the timing for the family wedding portraits and what the light is going to be like. In a dream world, you would plan everything around beautiful light.

For wedding day family portraits the timing typically comes down to when it works best with the wedding day schedule. I almost always vote for right after the ceremony because everyone will be present and accounted for. Inevitably if I try to do the group photos just before the ceremony to save time during cocktail hour, someone is missing or late and we have to re-do the shots anyway.

If it’s immediate family only, I think you can get away with a lot more flexibility because the bridal party is often getting ready with the bride anyway and the bride’s parents want to be ready when the bride is. But often in trying to save time and getting photos done before the ceremony, we just end up with prolonging the efficiency of the photos.

wedding family photos

Recommended Family Photo Shot List for Your Wedding Day

Below I’ll share a sample shot list for your wedding day.

You’ll see the way I build up a photo trying to minimize how often I’ve moving anyone in or out of a photo.

Traditional Family Wedding Photo Groupings

If you’re dealing with a traditional family, meaning parents who are still married to each other, you might end up with 24 picture combinations. Here’s an example of 12 pictures that might be important to do.

Example of Bride’s immediate and extended family photos

  1. Bride with Mom

  2. Bride with Dad

  3. Bride with Mom and Dad

  4. Bride and Groom with Bride’s parents

  5. Bride and Groom with Bride’s parents and siblings

  6. Bride and Groom with Bride’s parents, siblings, and siblings families

  7. Bride and Groom with Bride’s parents, siblings, siblings families, and maternal grandparents

  8. Bride and Groom with Bride’s parents, siblings, siblings families, maternal grandparents, and maternal extended family

  9. Bride and Groom with Bride’s parents, siblings, siblings families, and paternal grandparents

  10. Bride and Groom with Bride’s parents, siblings, siblings families, paternal grandparents, and paternal extended family

  11. Bride and Groom with paternal grandparents

  12. Bride and Groom with maternal grandparents

Then, you would repeat the list with the groom’s immediate and the groom’s extended family. This is a lot of photos, even though you might cross off some combinations depending on the families. You’re looking at 24 photo-combinations and that’s without adding any special combos like mom and grandma or all the cousins.

Divorced or Blended Family Wedding Photo Groupings

The possible combinations grow as the family combinations get more complicated. In the example below you’ll see 19 combinations of just the bride’s side which puts the total photo-combinations to 38 if both families do the same.

Example of Bride’s extended and immediate family wedding photos:

  1. Bride with Mom

  2. Bride and Groom with Bride’s mom

  3. Bride and Groom with Bride’s mom and stepdad

  4. Bride and Groom with Bride’s mom, stepdad, and siblings

  5. Bride and Groom with Bride’s mom, stepdad, and siblings families

  6. Bride and Groom with Bride’s mom, stepdad, siblings, siblings families, and maternal grandparents

  7. Bride and Groom with Bride’s mom, stepdad, siblings, siblings families, maternal grandparents, and maternal extended family

  8. Bride and Groom with maternal grandparents

  9. Bride with Dad

  10. Bride and Groom with Bride’s dad

  11. Bride and Groom with Bride’s dad and stepmom

  12. Bride and Groom with Bride’s dad, stepmom, and siblings

  13. Bride and Groom with Bride’s dad, stepmom, and siblings families

  14. Bride and Groom with Bride’s dad, stepmom, siblings, siblings families, and paternal grandparents

  15. Bride and Groom with Bride’s dad, stepmom, siblings, siblings families, and paternal grandparents, and paternal extended family

  16. Bride and Groom with paternal grandparents

  17. Bride and Groom with Bride’s mom and dad

  18. Bride and Groom with Bride’s mom, dad, and siblings

  19. Bride and Groom with Bride’s mom, dad, siblings, and siblings families

You can see how quickly family photo lists can grow. And some combinations are more important than others. I think it’s important to think about what photos might actually get printed by someone. Focus on those and cross out the rest.

Honoring Moments With Grandparents

Lastly, one of the things that has become more important in life to me over the years is making sure to honor moments with grandparents. I’ve resent family photos to couples over the years when a grandparent has passed and they’re looking for good photos of the grandparent.

Sometimes the grandparents talk to the couple before or after the posed shot, this is a fun and great time to honor the moments with grandparents.

More Wedding Photography Tips

Here on the Bergreen blog, we teach the basics of photography for both Brides and photographers. We offer tips for planning for wedding from location advice and beyond.

Learn things such as the exposure triangle and camera settings. We also review some of our favorite gear. Let us know what you’re interested in and we’ll do our best to help take your photography to the next level.

Next, check out our candid moments shooting guide, marketing guide, or our 9 Best Tips for Outdoor Wedding Photographers. Links to products are affiliate links.


About the author

I am Brenda Bergreen, one half of an Evergreen husband and wife photography team specializing in Colorado wedding photography and videography, and adventure photography. If you need wedding photography tips or advice on the best gear for your goals, reach out.

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