Family Formal Portraits at Your Wedding: Helpful Hints

One of the most important parts of your wedding portraits is capturing a record of your family members together on your big day.  Everyone's dressed up and looking good, so this is a perfect opportunity for an updated family photo! Without proper planning and time allowance, however, family photos can cause stress and upset the schedule you have carefully planned.  Here are some helpful guidelines that might be useful while you plan your family formal portraits.  Remember, these are based on my experience with over 100 weddings; each wedding is unique, so your groupings may take more or less time.  In general, involving more people in these photos will require extra time in your schedule.   Wisconsin farm wedding photographer


The Basics: Your Immediate Family

The minimum amount of time to set aside for family photos is 30 minutes for the basic immediate family members.  By default, I always gather the following people from your family for photos:

  • all parents of the bride and groom
  • all siblings of the bride and groom (plus their spouses and children if present)
  • all grandparents of the bride and groom
These people are the MUST-HAVES.  I try my best to start with grandparents and small children so that they can go on their way.  🙂  Suggested groupings for this set are:
  • bride & groom with each set of parents
  • bride & groom with each set of parents plus siblings
  • bride & groom with each set of grandparents
  • bride & groom with each set of parents plus siblings and grandparents
  • bride & groom with each set of siblings
  • bride & groom with both sets of parents
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Beyond the Basics: Your Immediate and Extended Family

Some couples choose to include extended family members in their family portraits.  This is entirely okay, but does require that we add at least an additional 15 minutes to your schedule to accommodate these groups, so you should schedule at least 45 minutes to accomplish this larger list.  Larger groups are much more prone to wander off at the wrong time, talk loudly and miss our directions, take longer to arrange themselves in the group, and take time getting organized.  The extra time allotted for these things will ensure that we are able to capture all of the groupings you would like without pushing into the rest of your day, rushing your loved ones, or causing any unnecessary stress to the bride & groom.

Here are some examples of family groupings that would fall into this category:

  • aunts, uncles, and godparents
  • cousins, nieces, nephews, and godchildren
  • close family friends
  • generational groupings
  • familial groups (dad's side, mom's side, etc)
  • specific groupings within the family (bride with sister's family, groom with brother's family, etc)

Choosing Locations for Family Portraits

In order to keep things simple, I often recommend planning your family portraits at your ceremony location immediately following your ceremony or receiving line. Keeping things in one place means you know that your family members are present (unless they skipped the ceremony!), and you don't have to wait for multiple groups to meet at another location. This is a great tactic if your ceremony location has some nice options for backdrops or you're looking for a more traditional, in-front-of-the-altar approach. If that's the case for you, awesome! You're all set.

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There are some situations in which this plan won't work. Perhaps your ceremony spot is dark, you have to be out of the location quickly, or you simply don't like the look of the spot for your formal portraits. In that case, we can do our best to split your family groups into two locations. Here are some tips for executing a split-location strategy!

  • If you have extended family groupings on your list, consider keeping those larger groups in your ceremony location and moving only your smaller, immediate family groups to an alternate backdrop. This will cut down on the number of people who will need to travel and could potentially get lost or otherwise delay the photos.
  • Choose an alternate spot that is easy to get to from your ceremony or reception location. Don't head across town or add a ton of extra transport time to your schedule unless that's already part of the plan for your bride & groom or wedding party portraits. If that's the case, then there will be time to wait for family members to arrive and organize while you complete other groupings.
  • Make sure your alternate location has easy and abundant parking; at least enough to accommodate the regular traffic at that location PLUS the number of vehicles that will be accompanying you for these groups.
  • Scout your alternative spot ahead of time (preferably at the time of day you will be there) and make your photographer aware of the lighting conditions. Family groups can be as big as wedding party groups or larger, and this creates special requirements that may impact their equipment or lighting plans. This piece of advice can also be applied to your bride & groom AND wedding party locations!

Organizing and Informing Your Family

Especially if your family portraits fall under the "Extended" category, it is very beneficial to do these few things to ensure a smooth family formal experience:

  • Create a list of all the combinations you'd like within each side of the family.
  • Assign someone from each side of your family to manage that list (make sure they know who most everyone is!).
  • Call or email a member of each individual household with a warm invitation to be a part of the family photos, and let them know when these will take place and where they should be; include directions to alternate locations if necessary.
  Family portraits are an important and necessary part of your day, but we don't want them to run your schedule.  Following these tips should help ensure that they go smoothly and quickly so we can spend enough time photographing the beautiful newlyweds and wedding party before your reception begins.  Best wishes for a gorgeous wedding day!