How to Nail Your Wedding Day Family Photos, Part 1: Overview & 101

Nailing your family photos is essential, and has a big impact on your wedding-day experience ⚡️

This is a portion of the day that couples tend to have questions around. You might be wondering when photos with family can or should happen, whether or not you are or aren’t doing a first look together as a couple in the beginning of the day. Can we take these photos before the ceremony, or do we have to take some or all of our family photos after? It’s also totally understandable to wonder how long, in total, these photos could take, and want to determine when these can happen throughout your wedding day.

These are important photos because we may have relatives that have flown in from out of state or out of the country to see you, so naturally we’ll want to take the opportunity to have photos with these special loved ones.  

To be more sentimental about this- this may be one of the last times particular family members will be all together, looking their best and gathering to celebrate. All the more reason to make sure we capture who’s most important to both you and your future partner for life!

Before You Book Your Photographer

If you haven’t booked a photographer for your wedding yet- ask about how they manage family photos, and if they have a great strategy for managing these! There’s a lot of different types of photos to capture in one day, so you’ll want to learn about their process and how they support your experience, while capturing what you’ll want most. 

If you’ve booked your wedding photographer, ask to see if they have a Family Checklist of their own, or if they have any resources/ checklist templates from places like Canva, GSuite, or a share-friendly platforms, to begin crafting yours for your wedding, and to get their professional POV.

If you’ve already booked your photographer- you’ll want to begin putting a great plan in place, here are some things you can do as you come to be a few months our from your wedding date.

Preparing a Family Checklist- Months in Advance to Your Wedding Date

This is totally vital to collaborate on directly with your wedding photographer- especially if it already feels like one of the bigger priorities of your wedding day! For anyone know are guaranteeing to be in attendance, you’ll want to begin putting this checklist together- and then totally finalize this checklist once you’ve received all of your official RSVPs.

If you’re close with your family members and want to ensure that you have a wonderful, professional photo with them, you’ll want to begin crafting an organized family list. Your photographer should be able to provide a wonderful, inclusive family checklist for you to start with that’s templated, for you to begin customizing.

On Your Wedding Day, When Can Family Photos Be Taken?

Most, if not all family photos of a bride or groom with their immediate family, can be taken before ceremony. A factor that can determine how many photos can be accomplished before ceremony all depends on how you want to spend your day- and any professional photographer can share when a portion of photos can happen. Feel comfortable to ask when you have any kind of check-in with your photography team!

Typically, photographers are able to work to have as many photos taken before as possible, for a few reasons. Couples tend to prefer this if they are planning to prioritize spending time with as many guests as they can to socialize and mingle organically during cocktail hour, before all of the official reception activities. The exceptions to this tend to be when:

  • The wedding couple is planning to have their first look during ceremony – Please note that when couples opt for this, any and all photos of the just-married couple together will need to logically take place immediately following ceremony. 
  • There are several family members that have travel delays/ issues on the day of the wedding, and are unable to arrive until during or after ceremony

I have often worked with couples whose primary focus is to be able to mingle and spend quality time with aunty and all guests during their cocktail hour. When this is the case, I find it’s best to ask family to arrive up to 2 hours before ceremony to have these photographs taken, so that any and all of the more formal, posed family photos are completed.

Regardless, When a couple decides to do their first look at their wedding ceremony, their vendors, including the photo and video teams, want to be supportive of how you want to spend your day. After all, it’s an incredibly personal decision with a lot to consider!

You are able to decide when families can arrive for photos- you don’t have to feel obligted to do this when it’s best for them- especially if you are wanting to prioritize spending time at your cocktail hour for any portion of time.

Your Family Dynamics, and Why They Matter to Your Photographer

This may sound super personal, but your photographer does need to know about things like: recent separations or divorces, estrangements old or new, bereavement- basically any complicated relationships, passings, or severed ties. Why? 

This way, we can keep it enjoyable and as drama-free as possible on your wedding day, and manage personalities while capturing what’s important to both of you. We want you to be transparent and share with us your family dynamic, and for a few important reasons. What do we mean when we say this, and why does a professional vendor need to know this?

1. We can give our expert advice on how to navigate anything sensitive, awkward or tricky to avoid this experience being uncomfortable for anyone.  We can learn how to help you navigate your groupings so that you can get the best photos, with lots of smiles, and groupings that help people in bad terms avoid being photographed together.

2. Do you or your partner want to avoid being photographed with someone that’s insistent on being in a photo with either of you? Share this nuance with us too- this will allow us to help you professionally navigate this situation prior to your wedding day- to keep the vibes high and avoid anything unwanted from happening during this portion of the day.

Most professional wedding photographers are judgment-free around these topics, and have the best intentions here. We want you to feel comfortable in front of the camera, and to get the most out of your wedding day experience without having to worry about different personalities and dynamics within your family. We all have complex relationships with each of our families, so if anything, we can relate in different ways too. 

Create Groupings – Parents, Siblings, & Other Loved Ones

You may want to have photos with an individual in your family, and you may want to have several of these- maybe with each of your parents, each of your siblings, or each of your grandparents. Whoever feels significant in your life! Usually, anyone that is helping you get ready is someone that we can get a 1:1 photograph of you together before ceremony, so more is captured beforehand!

You might also want to have specific groupings- for example, you and all of your cousins together for one, or simply you and grandma 🤍 regardless, these groupings can be much easier to manage to track with a prepared  family checklist, so definitely ask your photographer for a sample list that you can customize to your liking, which leads us to…. 

Providing You Necessary Time Estimates for Family Photos

Photographers will also give you “time estimates”-  aka the amount of time it will take to complete all family photos, depending on the number of total groupings you end up having finalized. Short answer- the more groupings you have, the longer the family photos will naturally take to complete. Because of this, you’ll want to have this checklist completely finalized a few months before your wedding day, or, very soon after you’ve finalized your RSVPs. 

That will help us determine when we can photograph different groupings- based around whether or not you both will be seeing each other before ceremony, or other important factors like potential weather constraints, and transportation logistics that involve multiple locations to and from your ceremony and reception spaces. That will all help us determine when different people can be photographed on and throughout your wedding day!

Here’s a breakdown of the number of groupings you aim to have, with the time estimates:

-5 to 10 Groupings, Combined with Both Sides of the Family: 15 minutes
-10 to 20 Groupings, Combined with Both Sides of the Family: 30-45 minutes
-20 to 40 Groupings, Combined with Both Sides of the Family: 45 minutes- 1 hour and 15 minutes

That all being said, you and your significant other may want to ask yourselves:

1. Based on the groupings that I’m considering- How long do I want to pose in front of the camera, with family members coming in and out of photos for?
2. Which people in my family (immediate or extended) are really important to my fiancee and I?
3. Based on that, who do I absolutely want to make sure I have an individual portrait with, versus who would I love to have photographed simply in a grouping instead?

Leading Up To Your Wedding Day, As You Finalize Your Family Checklist

2-1 Weeks Out: Communicate & Delegate

As soon as you finalize your photography timeline with your photographer, it will be incredibly helpful and essential to begin opening the lines of communication, with accurate information, to share with family when to be ready and onsite at the wedding venue for photos with you/ your fiancee. Who would be best to relay this information to? This could be one, or several people, that could come to mind: Your MOH, a trusted Bridesmaid and/or groomsmen that is very familiar with your families on both sides, and/or close siblings or family friends of both the couples’ sides of families.

The more that you communicate and set expectations with your family members, and share timeframes to be fully dressed and onsite for photos (via the Family Checklist itself, or possibly a one-pager with photo times and information, etc), the easier it will be to keep this portion of the day running very smoothly.

Wedding-Day of Tips to Keep Everyone Together for Photos

After all- here could be some wanderers, who are tempted to mingle with others who are not part of the families, during cocktail hour- or they may want to leave to use the restroom, grab appetizers, or drinks instead. That does significantly raise our time estimate up to 30 minutes longer than originally prepared for by your photography team. There is only so much we can do, as we are taking photos, and running down the list to keep the vibes high and ensure you get every photo that you’re wanting!

If any photos are happening during cocktail hour/ or following ceremony, you will be relying on these important support people alongside your photography team to keep people engaged and ensure they are photographed.

Definitely chat in-depth with your wedding photographer about this to make sure we can do this right, and as seamlessly as possible! 👌🏻💛If you want to learn more on this topic, there are some incredible, actionable tips you can take in my Part 2.

Read Part II, by clicking here.

April 11, 2024

Julianne Shearer



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