Simplify Wedding Day Family Portrait Photos: Wedding Planning

Happy Wednesday, friends! It has been pretty dang chilly here in DC! I’m not sure about y’all, but I’m counting down the days ’til spring.

Today, I wanted to dive into something that can be a HUGE stressor on wedding days: Family Portraits. Truthfully, this used to be a time of the day literally brought me so much anxiety. I used to dread this time of the wedding day because I felt like there was so much pressure! Now? Not so much. I’ve worked really hard over the last couple of seasons to streamline my family portrait workflow, both before and during a wedding day. Today, I wanted to share a few key tips and tricks to help simplify family portrait time on your wedding day. Hint: A stress free family portrait block starts WELL before your wedding day!

Weddings are special occasions, and let’s face it, these images are pretty important! These are the photos you will frame for gifts at the holidays and will hold close to when you are missing your family members. They are the ones that your mom will ask you for after your wedding day and the images that will fill family photo books for years to come. Talk about pressure! I often hear couples let me know that their family portrait time brings them just as much stress as this time used to bring me.

I’m here to tell you today though that family portraits don’t have to be stressful if you plan ahead. What if I told you there was a way that family portraits could be efficient, and dare I even say, painless? This time doesn’t have to be miserable, but it does require that you plan ahead!

Today, I’m sharing some of my favorite tips and tricks with you to help prepare your family for portrait time on your wedding day! Shall we dive in?

Keep family portrait time to immediate family only

This is a point that can cause some confusion, but I promise it will make the biggest difference if you take this to heart: keep your family portrait block for immediate family only. This includes parents, step parents, children, siblings and their spouses, step siblings, nieces, nephews and grandparents. I recommend keeping your formal portrait to immediate family only for timing and simplicity.

If you have aunts, uncles, cousins or anyone else that would like to take a photo with you, let them know that you can do this during your reception! We can always have your reception emcee make an announcement for larger group photos!

Plan your list well in advance

This is absolutely vital. I start this planning process with my clients about two months before their wedding day, but it isn’t the worst idea to start thinking about it even earlier than that! Plan your family portrait list together with your fiancé. Run the list by your parents and your fiancé’s parents and ensure that we take every photo you need! From there, I’ll typically work with my couples to put the list in an order that allows individuals to be dismissed as soon as their time in front of the camera is complete! Trust me when I say that it is quite stressful to have to come up with family combinations on the fly! Do yourself a favor and have the peace of mind that we captured everything by creating your family shot list ahead of time.

If I can give you any tip here, it is this: less is more! Taking posed formal image after image isn’t the most fun for you or your family, especially when an open bar is waiting!

Give your photographer the names of everyone in your family

You know your family, but unfortunately, I don’t. This is why it is so important that you include all of the names of family members on your family list. It is so much easier to arrange family groupings when we are able to call out specific names… it also makes your family members feel more like people and less like a photo prop! I’ll be able to call Sarah into a photo, instead of “Sister of the Groom” or “girl in the blue dress.” Can you see the difference there? It is much kinder and way more personable to call someone by name!

If you have any family members with the same name, please make sure there is a clear distinction between who is supposed to be in one shot versus another! In my family, we have quite a few men named Thomas. They each have a nickname or something specific that they go by— I call my grandpa Poppop and my brother Tom! If I was filling out my family portrait list, I would include the specific names that I call them on my family list, instead of listing both of them as Thomas. If they do not have a nickname or specific name, I recommend including their generation in a set of parenthesis next to their name (Ex. Grandpa, Parent, Sibling, In Law, etc.).

Designate a point person to locate family members

It is really hard to track down key individuals when you don’t know what they look like— trust me! I highly recommend choosing a family member, bridesmaid that is familiar with your family, or a close family friend to be a “point person” during family portraits. This “point person” will be responsible for identifying family members and for grabbing anyone that may have wandered away before or during portrait time. DO make sure that your point person is familiar with everyone in your family and ensure they get a copy of your family portrait list before your wedding day. This is a great way to save time and to keep everyone moving during portraits!

Give your family members a meeting time and place

I would say that the number one stressor or delay when it comes to family portraits is having someone forget to show up or having someone show up late. DO give your family a meeting time and place. DO let them know that you love them and it is so important to you that they are represented in your wedding photos. Let them know that if they are late, they will be causing you lots of stress, could cause you to miss something later down your timeline (like the bride and groom portraits you have been dreaming about for months!), or that they could miss being in the photos entirely.

If someone is on your family portrait list, you should definitely let them know when and where they need to be for the portraits before your wedding day. Advanced communication is key— I recommend sending your family portrait time and place to the applicable family members at least one month prior to your wedding day. This ensures that they will be able to make arrangements to be there. It doesn’t hurt to send out a reminder one to two weeks before your wedding day and then remind them again at your rehearsal dinner!

You know your family— don’t be shy about giving certain members a custom time that is about 10 or 15 minutes ahead if you know they typically run late. If your family portraits are happening immediately following your ceremony, let your family members know that they should recess to a certain location (or should stay in their ceremony seats). They should also avoid the temptation to greet or socialize with other guests.

Loop your photographer in on any sensitive situations

This one sounds a little crazy, but it is probably the most important thing on this list. As a photographer, we wear a lot of different hats throughout your day: wedding photographer, timeline coordinator, dress fluffer, hair fixer, joke teller, and if we’re not briefed beforehand, sometimes we end up playing family mind reader and psychologist. There is a really great way to avoid that last category though! If there are any sensitive or uncomfortable family situations, my second shooter and I DO need to know about these in advance. While I don’t need to know specific details, I do need to know who is involved and how things should be handled by my team. Will two people be upset if they are standing next to each other? Does Grandma have a hard time standing for a long time? Are there any young kiddos that have very short attention spans? If Mom and Dad are divorced, should they be placed on two different sides of the photo, or will they be okay standing on one side?

Some sensitive situations include but aren’t limited to: divorce or separation, tension or feuds, mobility issues, unique individual needs and/or differing abilities, sensitivity to temperature (both heat and cold), illness, age, etc. My team and I absolutely keep this information confidential and will not mention the situation on your wedding day, but we do need to know in advance so we can arrange your list in a specific order and can avoid awkward or uncomfortable moments while positioning groups. The last thing we want is to accidentally upset someone on your wedding day!

This is something that I typically cover in a questionnaire that is sent out two months before a wedding!

Let your family know that the more attentive they are, the faster things will go

Let’s face it— an open bar is a lot more fun than being bossed around by someone with a camera! Do give your family members a heads up before your wedding: if they listen and are quiet and quickly get into position, we’ll be finished with portraits a lot faster than if they decide to head to the bar, run to the restroom, or just straight up don’t cooperate during portraits. Efficiency is always my priority during family portraits, but it is a two way street! I need help from both you and your family members to make things go off without a hitch.

Host your family portraits outside

To me, there is nothing better for portraits than some gorgeous outdoor light! I have so many people that want to have their family portraits indoors or on the alter where they got married just moments before! While this is perfectly doable, I did just want to give you a quick tip: You may enjoy your family portrait experience more and may love the final product more after you receive your gallery when you take your family portraits outdoors!

Typically when we photograph family portraits on the alter at the church, there is another ceremony coming in a few minutes later. This puts us under a huge time crunch and a lot of stress to get everyone in place quickly! Also, I’ve found that sound is generally amplified in churches and cathedrals (Tile and marble floors, y’all!). This means that each of your family members voices will feel like they are about 10 times their normal volume! Combine both of these things together, and that is a HUGE recipe for stress!

Now… about consistency: Believe it or not, church alters are often the darkest places we photograph all day long! We typically have to turn off the spotlights and pop lights to keep everyone lit and then bring in external light (like flashes!) to make sure that you can see everyone. While this is something I am equipped to do, the images WILL look different from photos taken outdoors with natural light. When we photograph your family outside, your family images will look much more like your wedding party portraits and bride and groom portraits! I think you will love the lighting so much more 🙂

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