The blog: Advice+ full weddings/sessions

Family portraits on your wedding day | Advice

Have you ever wondered how to help the family portraits on your wedding day go more smoothly?

If not properly handled, the family portraits portion of your day can be the most stressful and time-consuming part of photos.

I want to set you up for success!

I’ve been told that I’m excellent at wrangling large families with grace and ease. This is, in part, due to my preparation with my clients beforehand. I can’t direct large groups of people efficiently, if I don’t have a game plan. Let me help guide you through this planning, with four simple steps.

Four steps to help make the family portraits on your wedding day go smoothly

Here are my top tips to make the family portraits go more smoothly on your wedding day

  1. A detailed family portrait list is key to having family portraits go smoothly.

  2. On your list, include EVERY family member’s name on each photo they will be in.

  3. Have your officiant announce for your family members to stay put after the ceremony.

  4. Let your family members know, BEFORE the wedding, that they will be in family photos.

Four steps to help make the family portraits on your wedding day go smoothly1.  A comprehensive list.

Each image can take 2-3 minutes to create. Some take much less, but some larger groupings take longer. 

It is tempting to add as many groupings as you can, but I highly suggest condensing where you can.

If you want great formal family portraits, but don’t want to spend the whole cocktail hour doing them, there are a few things you need to know to help the process go more smoothly.

Please keep in mind, at your request; we can grab informal portraits (like the image below) of you and family members throughout the day as well. That is what we are here for!

My suggestion is to include the images you know you want in your formal portrait list. For ones that aren’t as imperative, I suggest making a separate list. Those I will try to get throughout the day, less formally.

how to make your family portraits on your wedding day go smoothly

There is an example of the framework for family portraits at your wedding below. This is just a suggestion and you can add or take away images. 

Some people have huge families, and getting an image of the whole family’s side helps appease all the relatives. Others have extremely large families and prefer to keep the formal photos for immediate family and grandparents. Sometimes families are blended. In these situations, it may be appropriate to have some of the photos done separately with each parent, etc.

Family dynamics can be tricky, so clear communication and planning can really be your best friend in these situations.

There is no right or wrong family portrait list. I recommend trying to realistically keep in mind how long the family shot list might take. 

Here is the framework I suggest starting with:

  • Partner 1 + Partner 2 and Partner 1’s whole family
  • Partner 1 + Partner 2 and Partner 1’s parents, siblings, grandparents
  • Partner 1 + Partner 2 and Partner 1’s parents and siblings
  • Partner 1 + Partner 2 and Partner 1’s parents
  • Partner 1 + Partner 2 and both sets of parents
  • Partner 1 + Partner 2 and Partner 2’s whole side of the family
  • Partner 1 + Partner 2 and Partner 2’s parents, siblings, grandparents
  • Partner 1 + Partner 2 and Partner 2’s parents and siblings
  • Partner 1 + Partner 2 and Partner 2’s parents

Below, I added some fictional names to show you what a real list may look like.

four simple steps to set your family up for success with family portraits on your wedding day

2. One of the MOST important keys to family portraits going smoothly, is including every person’s first name in your list. It can feel tedious to write out each name in each grouping, but I promise this helps speed things along.

It’s pretty simple: Your aunt Carolyn is probably not used to being called “the bride’s aunt.” She is, however, accustomed to being called Carolyn. If I call her Carolyn, she will respond much faster. If you multiply that by how many people are in each photo, those little moments add up and save you time.

When you are finished, your family portrait list should look something like this: The description of what the image is, and everyone’s name listed.

  • Tayler + Micah + Tayler’s whole family: Terry, Hank, Fred, Dan, Tina, Willow, Tiffany, Luna, Meghan, Ashley, Travis, Scott, Nic and Kathleene
  • Tayler + Micah + Tayler’s parents, siblings and grandparents: Terry, Hank, Fred, Dan, Ashley, Travis, Meghan, Scott
  • Tayler + Micah + Tayler’s parent’s and siblings: Terry, Hank, Ashley, Travis, Meghan, Scott
  • Tayler + Micah + Tayler’s parents: Terry and Hank
  • Tayler + Micah + Both sets of parents: Terry, Hank, Gloria, John
  • Tayler + Micah + Micah’s whole family: Terry, Hank, Johnny, Jack, Holly, Amanda, June, Jana, Josh, John jr, Sarah
  • Tayler + Micah + Micah’s parents, siblings, grandparents: Terry, Hank, Johnny, Jack, Holly, June
  • Tayler + Micah + Micah’s parents and siblings: Terry, Hank, Johnny, Jack
  • Tayler + Micah + Micah’s Parents: Terry, Hank

3. After the ceremony, have your officiant ask your family to stay for family portraits.

Family portraits are usually scheduled immediately after the ceremony, while everyone is in one spot. After you, your wedding party, and family have all walked down the aisle; your officiant can announce that the family should stay put for family portraits. Asking them to stay at the ceremony site keeps them all in one place, and gives us time to bring you back to them after the other guests have walked to the cocktail hour. This doesn’t necessarily mean the photos will be taken at the ceremony site. I try to avoid people looking into the sun when photographed (no one likes a photo where everyone’s eyes are closed or squinted). Because of this, I may choose a place nearby that has a more flattering light.

4.BEFORE your wedding day,

Let your family know they are going to be in the family portraits.

There tends to be a bit of confusion as to what “family” means in family portraits on your wedding day. This is fair because it means something different for each couple. Some couples want the entire family in photos, some just the immediate family and grandparents. If you want your immediate family and grandparents, you can have your officiant announce that. If you wish to have the whole family, it’s preferable to have the officiant announce that all family stays.

Letting each family grouping know they will be in photos will prevent a ton of confusion and second-guessing on your wedding day. I can’t tell you how many times a great aunt, god mom, or even grandparent, has walked off towards the cocktail hour because they didn’t think they would be in family photos. It takes time to find these family members and bring them back for photos.
stress free family portraits on your wedding day

Here’s a slightly embarrassing personal story for you.

At my wedding, my OWN Nana didn’t expect to be in photos! It’s an excellent example of expectations. There was never a doubt in my mind whether or not my Nana would be in pictures. She thought family photos meant only parents and siblings. We got great photos with her (once we found her), but I wish I had been clear with her before the wedding day that I wanted her in photos.

After years of photographing weddings full time, I made this mistake at my wedding.

A great way to prevent confusion from happening is to let your family know what to expect beforehand.

Managing expectations beforehand is one of the keys to stress-free family portraits on your wedding day!


If you have any more questions at all, please let me know!


Four steps to help make the family portraits on your wedding day go smoothly