When you envision your wedding photos, you likely envision the two of you, your ceremony, maybe the first-look. But the other important part of your wedding is likely your family, no matter how big or small. When you invest into wedding photography, you’re investing in your legacy, your love story and your family’s history.
For future generations, understanding and seeing where family lineages crossed and changed names, evolved and expanded is important and special. Some of my favorite memories with my mom and my grandparents are of all of us sitting in the living room going through my grandparents’ boxes of family photos (printed photos, by the way). When my grandparents passed away, we looked to family photos for comfort and memories a lot. So when you plan your wedding photography, remember that what may not feel as important today, will only gain value over time. And there are few occasions in life where all of your family will be in one place, dressed to the nines and celebrating you.
Family photos can get complicated pretty quickly so it’s important to plan ahead. And let me just say this – family is who you make it. You’ll see family lists online of “must-have photos” and so forth and while that is a great place to start for the average, it’s not a one-size fits all. For me personally, my family (as in blood related) is quite small. But there are people in my life that have been more like family to me than my actual relatives and these people, in my eyes, should be in my family photos and are extremely important to me. So while what I list below may fall in the more “traditional” line, just know that for you, it can look however you want. The best thing to do is to communicate with your photographer and family so everyone is prepared and nothing gets missed. Here’s a little rundown on how to prepare for family photos on the wedding day:
I always recommend focusing on immediate family (parents, siblings, grandparents) and the most special and important people in your life. But if having formal extended family photos (cousins, aunts, uncles) is very important to you, that’s cool too. You’ll just need to plan for it since the larger the group, the longer things take. Remember that informal group photos can also be taken during the reception so if the formal family photos can be for immediate family only, you’ll save a lot of time before or after the ceremony.
For the sake of time, it’s smart to keep both of you in as many of the larger family groupings as possible. Things get complicated and delayed when the bride or groom needs to be pulled in and out of photos. Besides, you’re all one family now! When it comes to the smaller groupings and individuals, like you and mom, you and dad, etc, these can be one-on-one since they move much faster.
Whether your parents are divorced, civil or uncivil, you’ll still want to plan for a group photo with your entire side. (Just give your photographer a heads up so they can arrange people in a strategic manner if need be). It’s courteous to invite your parent’s significant others, if they’re remarried or in a relationship, for the family photos. If you’re inviting step-siblings to the wedding, plan to have them in family photos as well.
I’m not one to work off of a shot list on the wedding day. But the big exception to that is family photos. I send all of my couples a questionnaire before the wedding that asks for the list of immediate family members that will be in the photos as well as notes on any special family dynamics I should be aware of. Make sure you communicate your wants and needs for family photos before the wedding so they can best prepare. Your photographer will likely have a string of groupings they’ll run through quickly so it’s important to relay anything else they should know.
Also communicate whether there will be young children or elderly grandparents or other family members that can’t stand for extended periods. When this is the case, I like to prioritize these photos with the kids and/or grandparents so that they can be done quickly, requiring little attention from kids and not too much time on their feet for grandparents. Chairs can also be brought into the picture if needed.
The next most important step is to communicate the plan to your family. Make sure they know when and where to be for photos. If you’re doing a first-look and will see each other before the ceremony, you can take family photos before the ceremony to save time before the reception. If this is the case, make sure your family knows when to meet you and plan to do this right before the ceremony so it’s convenient for family members.
If you’re doing family photos after the ceremony, it can be really helpful to have your officiant make a quick note at the end of the ceremony for family members to stick around for photos.
Designate someone to be the ringleader for family photos, like a close friend or a sibling that knows the whole family. This way, you don’t have to worry and they can help your photographer move the groups along and put faces to names.
Traditional family photos are important but remember that there are many other opportunities for photos of your key players throughout the wedding day! Some examples are:
Getting ready – mom putting on the veil, dad tying the tie, sister tying up the dress, first looks with parents, etc. You’ll definitely want your family to be a part of the earlier part of the day in some way. These pre-wedding butterflies and intimate moments are some of the most special memories of the day.
Speeches and toasts – if your family members will give a toast or a thank you speech, this is another great way to capture key players in your life.
Dances – traditional parent dances are great for moments between parent and child, but dances can also be whatever you want. I’ve seen a family group dance, mom-daughter dances and sibling dances. There are no rules when planning dances with your special people!
Religious or family traditions – whether it’s a blessing or prayer or a religious tradition before the ceremony, these are other great moments to capture immediate family.
Candids – and of course, candids throughout the day are an amazing way to capture the important relationships in your life. Personally, I’m looking for these interactions and moments all day long at a wedding, not just between family, but between guests too. The best thing to do is tell and point out the key people in your life to your photo team so they know who to prioritize keeping their eyes on.
Informal group photos – During the reception is a great time to get more informal group photos of family, perfect for extended family and friend groups.
Family photos can quickly become stressful and feel complicated before the wedding and family dynamics or special circumstances and requests can make things way more complicated for you than it should be. Just remember that it’s your day so do what feels right for the two of you, first and foremost. And be sure to communicate with your photographer in order to prepare for family photos so things move quickly and efficiently on the wedding day.