No matter how non-traditional and creative you want your wedding to be, family wedding photos are important. There’s just no other way about it. In our day and age, with so many living far away from each, a wedding day is one of the few occasions when the whole family gets together. It’s a fantastic opportunity to capture everyone being together and looking their best!
When dreaming about your wedding photos, you probably imagine lots of candid photos of people laughing and hugging. You imagine seeing the faces of all of your friends and some stunning natural-looking portraits of the two of you. You imagine a picture of your dad shedding a tear during speeches.
I love this type of photos, too! They truly reflect the atmosphere of the wedding day and they help bring back the emotions many years later. But I also know that it’s the family wedding photos that get printed and framed most often. It’s pictures of your family your mum will want to hang over her mantelpiece. And while these photos might not be the most important ones for your right now, trust me – in 10 years’ time you’ll regret not doing them.
The great news is that family wedding photos don’t need to take up much time at all! As a documentary wedding photographer, my role is not just keeping wedding memories safe. It’s also making sure your day is relaxed and smooth! So here are some of my tips on how to minimize time and stress yet have timeless family wedding photos.
When to Take Family Wedding Photos
As with everything else, timing is key, and choosing the best time when to take your wedding photos is half the battle. I always try to make sure that you get as much time to chat with your guests as possible. So it only makes sense to use the time when your guests aren’t available anyway. You can do it straight after the ceremony, when everyone is checking in or ordering drinks at the bar and enjoying the canapes. This is the ideal option, as it’s easiest to get all your family together. Trust me, getting everyone away from the bar isn’t as easy as it sounds!
The alternative option is to do family photos right before the call for dinner. If you have a lot of guests they will take time to find their seats and make orders. You can ask your family to stay behind and use the now-empty reception room for family pictures. Do bear in mind though that by this point your family and bridal party will have been drinking for the last two hours!
My ideal timeline is to organize 20-30 minutes of group photos straight after the ceremony. Tell your family and bridal party to meet you at the agreed location right after the greeting line. Then everyone can go off to mingle and enjoy the rest of the reception without keeping an eye on the clock!
Best Locations for Family Wedding Photos
The decision on where to take family photos is best taken by your photographer. I sometimes get requests from my couples to do group photos at a specific location. I’ll always go along with it if I believe it’s a good idea, but do bear in mind that there’s a lot more to family photos than just a pretty background. If you are particularly in love with a spot there’s nothing stopping you from using it for couple photos!
When choosing where to take group wedding photos, the thing I pay most attention to is the light. Unlike creative photos I take on the day, the main focus of family photos is exactly that – your family. I want you to be able to see everyone’s face perfectly and evenly illuminated. I don’t want your family to have “panda eyes” from the harsh sun. I don’t want half of the group to be in the sun, and the other half in shade. I also don’t want the background to take away from the main subject of the photo – your family!
The ideal location for family photos is outdoors, in the shade or facing the sun on an overcast day. The backdrop should be neutral – maybe an alleyway to give perspective, or the steps of your venue, or simply greenery. Your attention will be drawn to the people so there’s no point focusing too much on the background. It will be out of focus in any case!
There are days and venues when this ideal location is nowhere to be found. Sometimes there are no grounds around the venue, or the sun is too harsh and there is no shade. In this case I’ll suggest using one of the rooms indoors and use the flash to create even light. I prefer to have natural light whenever possible as I find it the most flattering on people’s skin. But indirect flash is still better than bright summer sunshine!
What About Family Photos at the Church?
My couples sometimes ask me about taking group photos at the church, and 9 times out of 10 I’ll recommend doing it at the venue. Firstly, the gardens are usually a much nicer backdrop than the grey stone or the graveyard of the church. There’s more space to line up your families than at the church doors. Inside the church, the light is often unflattering and the flash doesn’t help much as the ceiling is too high. But more importantly, your guests will be mingling around, so it will be really difficult to get through the photos quickly and efficiently. I only recommend doing family photos at the church for winter weddings when we might run out of daylight by the time we get to the venue.
Another thing for you to keep in mind is finding a location that’s convenient for everyone. After a rainy season the girls’ heels will dig into the grass, so the lawn wouldn’t be a great idea. Getting group photos by the sea sounds ideal but open areas are often windy, and there’s no point having photos of half of your guests with hair flying across their faces! Other locations might be harder to access for elderly people. Don’t get hung up on the exact backdrop! You can always get photos done there with your partner. For your group photos just focus on everyone being present and comfortable!
How to Take Group Wedding Photos Quickly
Whenever I ask my couples if they are worried about anything regarding their wedding photos, I hear one concern most often. “I was at a friend’s wedding and we barely saw the bride and groom at the drinks reception – they spent the whole time taking pictures!” Now, I definitely don’t want this to be the cast on your wedding day!
I’ve already talked about the best time to take family wedding photos, so let’s jump to the next point. How do we do group photos quickly and efficiently? I’ve heard of photographers who take an hour, I also know the ones who take 20 minutes. I’m in the 20 minute camp!
By far the most time-consuming part of taking family wedding photos is getting everyone together. It’s not the actual lining up, it’s waiting in a line for your uncle to be found (he might be in the bar or in the bathroom.. Who can tell?) To avoid this happening, communication is key. When we go through your timeline before your wedding, we’ll organize the best time for family photos. Prior to the day, I’ll ask you to let your families know where and when we need everyone to be!
The Only Photo Checklist You’ll Need
Another thing I’ll ask you in preparation for family photos is the exact family wedding photo list. More on that later! While I’ll probably get a chance to meet your parents and siblings on the wedding morning, I definitely won’t be able to locate their partners and other family members. So I always ask you to organize a wrangler or two, to help locate all the missing family! An important point – the wedding couple cannot be wrangling people on the day! As soon as you go back to the wedding reception to try pull out that uncle from the bar, you’ll spend 10 minutes just making your way back through the crowds of friends and well-wishers who want to chat to you! Normally, your sibling or a bridal party member who knows the family closely are the best people to give this responsibility to.
I have another trick how take group wedding photos quickly, and it works every time! Start with large groups first. Some photographers like to start with immediate family and add to the line, but I find two problems with it. First, the rest of your family patiently waiting to get into the photo will inevitably take out their phones and tablets, and start taking photos. This always results in mayhem – the group doesn’t know where to look, I wait for your aunt to take the same photo on her tablet, and one photo takes 3 minutes instead of 30 seconds.
So what I do instead is start with the largest group – all of your immediate (or extended) family! This way, we make sure that everyone we need is present. I get to meet all of your family and understand who exactly I need to bring for the next photos. And best of all – I get to tell all partners and kids that they are free to go enjoy themselves at the reception after the main group photo is taken! Trust me, they will be a lot happier with a drink at the bar than watching lines of people smile at the camera!
List of Family Wedding Photos
Here’s the standard list I send to all of my couples prior to the wedding day. In most cases, it’s a pretty good guideline that you can modify in accordance with your family. You are, of course, also welcome to add any other combinations of people. Just bear in mind that the more points we have on the list, the longer the pictures will take!
An important point: while taking photos, try not to jump from one group to another and just go in order. This makes sure we won’t forget anyone and can tick all the boxes!
1. Bride and Groom + bride’s extended family (parents, siblings, siblings’ partners & children)
2. Bride and Groom + bride’s close family
2. Bride and Groom + bride’s parents
3. Bride and her parents (together and individually)
4. Bride and her siblings
6. Bride and Groom + groom’s extended family (parents, siblings, siblings’ partners & children)
7. Bride and Groom + groom’s close family
8. Bride and Groom + groom’s parents
9. Groom and his parents (together and individually)
10. Groom and his siblings
11. Bride and Groom + bride’s parents and groom’s parents
12. Bride and Groom + bridal party
13. Bride + Bridesmaids
14. Groom + Groomsmen
Group Wedding Photos with Friends
If you feel like you want photos with friend groups, and not just candid photos of them during the drinks reception and speeches, the best time to do them is normally between the meal and the first dance. There’s usually an hour of lull at this time while everyone is digesting their dinner and the band is setting up. I often get requests for group pictures with college friends or school friends. The easiest way to get them as a group is to sit them at the same table! Otherwise, ask the most proactive person from the group to round everyone up so you don’t waste your wedding day time searching for people. Arrange a place for everyone to meet (at this point it’s normally indoors as outside is pretty dark), then jump in quickly and take a fun picture!
5 Tips for Smooth Group Wedding Photos
So here is the big takeaway and my best 5 tips how to take group photos on your wedding day:
- Prepare the exact list of all family photos beforehand and communicate with everyone involved when the photos are going to take place (ideally at the venue, just after the ceremony / at the start of the drinks reception)
- Ask your photographer for advice for the best location to take family photos. They will judge it by the light and backdrop available.
- Ask a friend or family member who knows your close family well to help with wrangling everyone and reminding them on the day where and when the family photos are happening.
- Try to organize family photos in a private location and limit the number of guests present – the fewer phones and tablets there are, the quicker you can get back to your friends and drinks reception!
- Give a shout to your friend groups after the meal to get people together and jump in for a quick group photo!