Photographing Family Formals at Weddings

August 29, 2017


I love to photograph candid, unscripted moments at weddings. However, I absolutely photograph traditional, formal family photographs at each wedding I attend. I know you and your family are going to want these photos. They provide an important historical record for future generations. As a result, my goal with family formals is to have them pre-planned, to work efficiently, and to have them complete in, typically, 25-30 minutes. Thus, here are some tips to help make that happen.

Formal Family Photo Shot List.  

I provide a suggested family shot list to each couple and then have the couple choose which photos make sense for their family. I recommend keeping the shot list on the lean side about 15 groupings of people. Below is a basic list of what I believe are the must-have shots.

  • Bride & Groom with Bride’s Parents
  • Bride & Groom with Bride’s Immediate Family
  • Bride & Groom with Bride’s Immediate and Extended Family
  • Bride with Bride’s Parents
  • Bride with Bride’s Mother
  • Bride with Bride’s Father
  • Bride & Groom with Groom’s Parents
  • Bride & Groom with Groom’s Immediate Family
  • Bride & Groom with Groom’s Parents
  • Groom with Groom’s Parents
  • Groom with Groom’s Mother
  • Groom with Groom’s Father
Cutting Down Endless Variations. 

You’ll notice that the above list does not include every variation of Bride & Groom with Aunt, Uncle, Cousin, etc. We are definitely still capturing those important family members in the “extended family” photo. In my experience, it is the larger group photos that make their way into wedding albums.

Specifically Identifying Family Members.  

I recommend that all my couples specifically name each family member in their photo shot list before the wedding. In particular, I want couples to have a clear vision for who should be in the “extended” family shot. It also helps me to address your family members by their names.

Notifying Family Members Before Wedding.  

I recommend emailing all the individuals needed for family photos before the wedding to let them know when and where they will be needed for formal photos. For example, a couple might tell their family “Please meet at the chuppah immediately after the ceremony for photos with the professional photographer.” When we are able to start formal photos with all individuals present, the time needed for those photos is often dramatically reduced.

Appointing a Wrangler.  

It is a great idea for a couple to assign a family member to be the photo wrangler on their wedding day.  A photo wrangler is someone who knows the people in the shot list and can find them and round them up for each photo. I am good at calling out names and directing people where to stand and straightening ties, etc., but it is very helpful to have someone who can recognize faces or go look for someone and pull them back to the group.

Have an Unplugged Family Session.  

If the wedding day timeline is super tight, I recommend couples consider an unplugged family photo session. It is common for family members to take photos over my shoulder or to want to step in and take some shots between my shots. I don’t mind this and totally understand why they want these photos on their personal cameras or phones. However, if we only have a few minutes, then having an unplugged session makes things go faster because I will have everyone’s undivided attention. As a result, it will be easier and faster to get all eyeballs pointed in the same direction, and we won’t have to stop for multiple photographers.

Let Me Know About Sensitive Situations.  

Please let me know about any sensitive situations (for example, divorces, people who are not on speaking terms, people who are resistant to having their photo taken). I want to make sure everyone is happy during the family photos and having a good time.

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With preparation, family wedding photos can be smooth and efficient. You’ll get these memories recorded and be back on your way to cocktail hour in no time!


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