When I wrote about shooting wedding day family portraits nearly a year ago, I mentioned how we never went over the specific location for family portraits with our own wedding photographer. But there’s something else we didn’t do that was an even bigger issue: We didn’t have a list of the family groupings that we wanted photographed. (I take the blame on that one! I promised to make a list . . . then got crazy-busy with other wedding tasks, and never did.) As a result, we spent far, far too much time shuffling around the front of the sanctuary, taking portrait after portrait with just about every family grouping we could think up on the spot. And by the time we were ready for bridal party and bride and groom portraits, I had to force a smile onto my face because I was so exhausted.
That isn’t the way I want our couples to experience their family portraits. I want them to feel relaxed, stress-free, and happy. Cheery. Jubilant. Tickled, if you will.About a month or so before a couple’s wedding, we send over our standard shots list — the list of family portrait groupings we always make sure to try to capture at a wedding. We ask the couple to revise the list to their liking, adding and removing groupings so they get just the groupings they want.
But here’s the thing: When it comes to wedding portraits, arranging family members — who are excited about the ceremony they’ve just witnesses, or who are reunited with each other for the first time in months or years, or who really just want to get to the bar to get a drink — can be astonishingly like trying to arrange a group of kindergarteners. They don’t always have their listening ears on. “Lining up” turns into “standing in a clump.” Inevitably, someone disappears to the restroom right when you need them to take their place in a picture. And so the portraits drag on for much longer than any couple would expect.
If a couple has a list of ten or more groupings they would like for portraits, it is not at all uncommon to need 20-30 minutes or more to complete family portraits. By which time, most of the relatives are getting tired — and cranky with the photographer for keeping them standing around so long.
So we’ve come up with some tips for our couples to help keep the portraits moving quickly and make sure everyone enjoys them.
Here are a few of our suggestions:
- Go over the suggested shots list carefully, if your photographer provides one. These groupings might be exactly what you want. If there are any shots you don’t care to have, please delete them as this will save both time and your relatives’ patience.
- Whenever you want to add a family grouping to your formal portraits, keep in mind that each grouping will probably take roughly three minutes of time, if all the people needed for the shot are ready to be posed quickly, so you will need to schedule your timeline accordingly.
- For each family grouping that you want to add to your shots list, consider this: Is this a portrait that you would frame on your wall or keep on your nightstand? Is this a portrait that you will want in your wedding album? If not, it’s probably best to leave it out and simply include those family members in a larger family photograph, or get pictures with them during the reception.
- Designate a relative from each side of the family to help organize people for the portraits and make sure everyone is ready when they are needed.
Our goal at each wedding is to make sure the couple receive the pictures they’re hoping for and have a wonderful time in the process. Family formals can be one of the most stressful parts of a wedding day, not only for the photographer but for the couple, too, so we do our very best to streamline it as much as possible.
Just remember this: Having an individual picture with each and every relative isn’t something you’re going to care about years down the road, so don’t tire yourself out trying to marathon your way through portrait after portrait that you’re never going to frame. After the family portraits, you still have your bridal party and bride and groom portraits to get through before you can head into the reception for food and dancing — so pace yourself! And make sure to discuss your expectations and priorities with your photographer so your photographer can help you figure out exactly what you want on your wedding day.
But most of all, try to soak in this short time with your family, even if you’re carefully scooting over a few inches here or moving up or down a step there. Your wedding day will fly by. Your portraits will last a lifetime. Try to make sure the memories of those portraits are as beautiful as the pictures themselves!