How to Organize Family Portraits at a Wedding

This past week I spent quite a bit of time chatting with spring brides about their weddings, specifically their timelines. One reoccurring theme was Family Portraits–who, where, how much time, organizing groupings in light of step-parents, etc. I figured that if I'm working on a lot of the same emails, other wedding photographers might too, so today I'm sharing a few responses to brides regarding their questions.

If, after reading my responses, you have helpful feedback, drop me a line in the comment box. If you happen to find my responses helpful, implement them into your correspondence workflow and buy me a Perrier the next time we see each other.

How Can We Ensure Family Portraits Go as Quickly as Possible?
Dear Bride #1,
Since I'll be taking a group photo of the extended family immediately following the wedding ceremony, please have a familial representative on each side (bride's side and groom's side) inform all family members to stay in their seats after the ceremony. They are not to go to cocktail hour, sneak off for hor d'oeuvres, or pass GO. There's nothing more frustrating than organizing a 30-person family photo only to wait for Uncle Joe to return from the bar. The representatives should be the notorious cousin/aunt/crazy sister who doesn't take junk from anyone when it's time to organize the groups. Of course you will let everyone know what you expect in advance, but your family representatives will be on hand to help ensure we keep things on time (and get your family to enjoy cocktail hour on time). Basically, the more instructions you give in advance, the better…especially when there's an Enforcer involved. 😉
And right about now I feel like the Family Portrait Gestapo,

How to Incorporate Step Parents into Family Photos Without Making Anyone Uncomfortable
Dear Bride #2,
As far as organization goes, it's best to start with the biggest group, then peel people off in layers. It gets really complicated when you're adding, then taking away, then adding, then swapping…and complication leads to more time taking portrait photos (which can sometimes be taxing on a wedding day).
Here's a sample of a mixed-parent family portrait with the bride and groom:
Bride's side – large group photo (this is everyone: parents, step-parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, cousins, uncles, godparents)
Bride's side – parents, step parents, grandparents, siblings
Bride's side – parents, grandparents, siblings
Bride's side – parents, siblings
Bride's side – parents
Bride's side – single photo with mom, single photo with dad
Bride's side – siblings

This is eight posed photos just for your side, which will take me 12-15 minutes (the same will be repeated for the groom's side). As far as other combinations of photos, I'd be quite judicious in allocating formal time for them. Extended family variation photos will bump into valuable sunset light for your B+G photos. We can do individual extended family photos during the reception as we will be following you throughout the entire evening.

While I'm taking posed family photos, JD will be taking candid photos, so please rest assured that photos of your step parents will also come in an unposed form. While they'll be in the large scale photos, they will also find themselves in other places in the gallery as well.

Based on the length of this email, I'm a chatterbox,

How Can I Ensure I Get Beautiful, Natural Light for Family Photos?
Dear Bride #3,
If you decide to see your groom before the wedding ceremony, we will have our choice of great locations (I say this because planning all the photos {bridal party, family, B+G} after the ceremony limits our time and ability to move everyone to the best location…most of the time we must take photos at the alter, which may or may not be the best light).

We love capturing family photos before the ceremony because everyone is relaxed, happy, and passing champagne. We have more flexibility to capture candid photos since we're not as rushed to fit in all the photos during cocktail hour. We arrive to the wedding venue early and scope out the best locations and will work our hardest to ensure complimentary light follows us wherever we go, but having more time to ensure this happens before the ceremony is ideal.

Love + Light,

Have a beautiful day!