Family Photos on your Wedding Day | Keeping it Simple to Keep you Sane!

I’ll be the first to admit it… the worst part of any wedding day is the family photos.  It was the part of my own wedding day that I was dreading andit’s the part of everyone else’s wedding day that I dread!  Why?  Because it can take over the day if you get carried away!

Yes, weddings are about love and family… I understand that.  My “beef” isn’t about the fact that people want to do family photos on their wedding day, it’s about the fact that most couples get carried away with the combinations of people they want in the photos and the quantity of combinations they ask for.  The reason this has caused such a heartache for many a photographer is because on top of the mile-long “must have” list, the couple rarely allows enough time to properly take family photos which causes a massive rush during an already stressful day.


A real life example….

For the past 2 seasons, brides and grooms have been coming to me with incredibly intricate lists of “must-have” family photos.  I thought I had seen it all until a certain couple, for the sake of argument, let’s call the couple Marge and Homer (since I’m a huge fan of the Simpsons), met with me a few weeks before their wedding and showed me their list.

Both of them had incredibly large families.  Homer’s parents were still together and he had 4 brothers and 1 sister – all of which had their own children.  Homer had a set of grandparents attending the wedding, too.  Marge’s family was a bit different.  Her parents were divorced and each remarried, however, since it had been almost 2 decades since the divorce, her parents were very amicable with each other.  Marge had 1 biological sister, who is married, and 2 half brothers from her mom’s current partner.  One of those brothers is married, and the other is married with children.  Marge had 1 grandfather attending the wedding and her godparents (with their children).  The list they provided me with had over 35 combinationsof family photos – and some of these groupings included extended  family such as “really close cousins” and the godparents.  There was no time pre-ceremony to get any of the photos done because the family was all getting ready on their own agenda and couldn’t all make it to the bride’s location on time for pre-ceremony pictures so everything had to be done during their allotted 2-hour time slot they had in the afternoon for “formal photos”.

Taking a look at a day a little more closely: there was 2 hours post-ceremony and pre-reception for “formals”.  Luckily the bride already factored in travel time to and from that location so I was confident in knowing that we most definitely had 2 hours of shooting time to get these pictures done.  At first, 2-hours seems like a lot… but then you have to factor in that wedding party pics + bride and groom pics need to be done during that 2 hours, too!  Time to do the math…

We calculated that her 35 combinations of photos would take approximately 2.25 hours!  WOW!  Seriously?  Yep.  Not only would her list of must-have shots taken up more time than we even had… it left zero time for bride + groom shots!  Time to rethink things…

I presented several options to the bride, including: asking her family is they can change their getting-ready schedule to allow for pictures in the morning, trying to combine groups to avoid repetitiveness and to save time and even doing the bride + groom formals in he morning, before the ceremony, so that the afternoon can be just for formals.

She took some time to think about it and we met a week later.  After following my advice, she managed to not only convince her family to  get some of the pics done in the morning, but she also omitted many of the ‘repetitive’ photo groupings. In the end,  we ended up with 1 hour of family pictures and we had the rest of the time available to take stunning bride & groom photos!  And you know what the best part is?  The bride and groom were happy with their decision! They were able to use their day much more efficiently and still got the important photos they wanted.


When I gave Marge her advice… these are some of the things I told her:



Do the Math!

If you have hired a good photographer, they should be able to tell you how much time you should budget for for family photos.  The general rule I follow is:

Groups of 2 :   3 minutes per grouping

Groups of 3-10:   5 minutes per grouping

Groups of 10-20:   10 minutes per grouping

Groups of 20+:   15 minutes per grouping

This “time estimate” takes into account not only the amount of time it takes to pose people but also the time it takes to adjust all your camera and lighting settings, check your work for blinkers, and most importantly, find that stray person who has managed to wander away just before their group is called.

These estimates may seem high to you (especially if you are a bride who just glanced at her “must have” list!) but it’s important to remember to be pessimistic about the amount of time you require to complete a task.  Maybe… just maaaaaybe, if your family is well behaved and well wrangled, you can shave off a minute or two per grouping, but I have rarelyever seen this happen (despite the bride trying to convince that it will during our pre-wedding meetings).  Most weddings will run late at some point in the day and the thing that always has to ‘give’ in order to get back on time is the photography!  Remember: if you are choosing to do your bride + groom formal pictures after your family pics are taken, you will lose out on the amount of time you have for photos with your husband/wife if your family photos run late.


K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Sweetie!)

I can’t stress this enough!  Keep your family photos simple!  Try to combine groups in order to save time.  For example, instead of doing something like this:

Bride + Groom + Bride’s Parents

Bride + Groom + Bride’s Parents + Bride’s Siblings

Bride + Groom + Bride’s Parents + Bride’s Siblings & their Significant others

Bride + Groom + Bride’s Parents + Bride’s Siblings & their Significant others + their children

Bride + Groom + Bride’s Parents + Bride’s Siblings & their Significant others + their children + Bride’s Grandparents

Bride + Groom + Bride’s Parents + Bride’s Siblings + Bride’s Grandparents

Total: Approximately 35 Minutes


Why not try something a bit more streamlined:

Bride + Groom + Bride’s Parents

Bride + Groom + Bride’s Parents + Bride’s Siblings & their Significant others + their children + Bride’s Grandparents

Total:  Approximately 15 minutes


Not bad, eh?  You just cut the amount of time by more than half!  Now do the same thing with the groom’s side of the family and we’re set and ready to go!  Oh wait…. but what about….


Dealing with Divorced Parents and/or Family Feuds

Oh dear… this is a tough part.

It’s a fact of life that some people get divorced.  Some of those people go on to to re-marry and next thing you know you your family tree seems to be more like a family forest!  You may be lucky enough that all the family members get along in which case that can make photos a lot easier; however, if there is a lot of … uh… drama… in your family (to the point where certain people refuse to be in the same picture as others, etc.) then you have two choices: lay down the law and ask your family members to be civil for just a few minutes (after all, it is your wedding day) but if they refuse to do so, then I suggest keeping your groupings as simple as possible even though that may require you to add more time into your family photo schedule.

From my experience, most family members can be mature about their conflicts and work things out for the sake of your wedding day!


Using your Time Creatively

Most couples assume “family photo time” means that that is the time in which all family photos will be taken; however, if you’re creative with your timing, you can actually get a lot of it done early on in the day.

For example, the shots that consist of just the bride + parents (individual and together), don’t have to be done during the “family photo time”.  Those types of shots are best done pre-ceremony (since you don’t need the groom there!).  Same goes for the shots of the groom + parents – those can be taken shortly before the ceremony, too!  This saves a lot of time later on in the day.

That being said, I strongly suggest keeping the K.I.S.S. strategy in place still!  Just because you’ve found a pocket of time to do some extra shots doesn’t mean it’s an excuse to add in more combinations than you would have had, had the photos been done later in the day.  The fact of the matter is simple: photos take time and if the amount of time that’s needed to get the photos you want doesn’t exist, then you won’t have the time to get the photos you want.  Simple.


Extended Relatives – Yay or Nay?

Quite often I hear “It’s tradition to take ( insert random combinations of people here ), we do it at all our family weddings.” and I always cringe, especially when I know that the bride and groom are running on a tight  schedule as it is.  Quite often, these extended-family shots require an immense amount of people to be present. Furthermore, these extended-family members only need to be present for one or two shots so they have a tendency to wander and are the toughest to  track down.

It’s always nice when you can get those nice big “tradition” type of shots in during your wedding day because it helps make your day more memorable; but don’t forget that you need to budget the correct amount of time for these shots to be done (and to be done properly!) or you risk losing precious time that’s meant for other shots (like bride and groom formals).


Pick an Appropriate Location

Choosing  an appropriate location for photos is crucial!  If you are planning on having large groups of photos taken you need to find a location that fits everyone!  The foyer at the reception hall may not be the most appropriate place for a group shot of 20+ people.

Pick a location that has plenty of natural lighting – photos taken with the help of natural light always look so much nicer than those lit mainly by flash.  Also, you should consider a location that has stairs or at least, access to chairs, as this helps create different rows of people and the photos will look much nicer!  (You don’t want a big straight lineup of 20 people, do you?  That looks more like a sports team picture than a family photo!)  Although most photographers will have one or two portable stools (to help with those relatives who may be unable to stand for a long time) the photographer is not responsible for bringing all the needed props such as multiple chairs, stools or risers.

Finally, if you’ve chosen an outdoor location for photos, visit the location at approximately the same time of day that you will be taking your pictures.  Do you have your heart set on a certain background?  What if the sun is blinding you in that location?  Is there another place, within the same location, where you can have the sun at your backs (or be in the shade) and still have a nice looking background?  These are all things you need to think about.


Consider asking for Privacy

Although you may have only a small list of family photos, your simple little photo session may become quite chaotic as your friends and family members start jumping in front of the photographer to take their own photo.  Although a few snaps from your grand-aunt’s digital camera isn’t going to cause a fuss, having an “audience” while you’re doing your family photos can lead to quite a chaotic experience.

I wrote a big long article about ‘Getting the Most out of your Wedding Photography’ where I touched heavily on how the presence of ‘an audience’ can affect the quality of your photos, so I won’t repeat myself here, but in terms of keeping family photos simple, just keep in mind that asking for privacy for family photos will help move the day along quickly without any added stress.


Share the Schedule with All Involved

One of the biggest mistakes couples make, in terms of having correct timing for their formal shots, is that they simply tell their parents/siblings/wedding party “Photos are from 1 until 1:45” but they never actually share the itinerary with those involved!

If you don’t share the itinerary with those involved you will more than likely hit 2 major problems.  First – the friends/family involved in the shots may start asking for additional combination of photos to be taken.  If your mom has her heart set on a photo of her and her daughters she may very well ask for it during the photo session if she worries that it may not be on the roster – this new combination will not only cause a delay but will also lead others to believe that it’s okay to ask for additional combinations.  Second – your friends and family may have no idea just how long proper portraits can take unless you show them your schedule.  Most people have no idea just how much time portraits take so unless they see a schedule they may not truly understand the importance of sticking to that schedule!

Finally, the more involved your friends and family feel in the day the more compliant they will be in terms of sticking to your schedule.  Friends and family don’t like to feel like they are being ‘ordered around’ by the bride and groom so involving them a little more (even if it’s just something as simple as giving them a copy of the photography schedule) will help everyone feel a little better.


Listen to your Photographer

Even the most well planned wedding days can have unexpected delays and as I’ve said many times throughout my articles, when your wedding day runs late, the thing that always has to give is the photo time!  Never, in my experience, have I stumbled upon a caterer that is willing to push back the start of dinner to accommodate for a delay, nor have I ever seen a pastor willing to speed through their ceremony simply to make up for lost time.  That won’t happen.

When you are budgeting time in for your wedding photos, it’s crucial to listen to your photographer.  If they estimate that your list of family photo requests will take 60 minutes, then it’s going to take 60 minutes!  Don’t think “Oh, they are probably just adding extra time just in case… I’m sure we can squeeze a few more combinations in.” or you will disappoint yourself when there is no time left for those combinations to happen.  Your photographer is a pro – you’re paying not only for their talent and their time, but also for their experience and knowledge.


Accepting your Time Constraints

By now you should have a full understanding of the fact that family photos take time!  The more combinations of family photos you add in to your allotted “photo time”, the less time is left over for bride and groom pictures.  If you’re okay with that then so am I, but the fact of the matter is you cannot expect more to be done during a timeframe than is physically possible.




As a bride (or groom, if you happen to be reading this) you initially have all the control over your wedding day schedule.  You have millions of choices to make in terms of how you schedule your day.  Of all the decisions you have control over, some of the most important (in regards to family photography) include:

  • Choosing to do your bride & groom formals before the ceremony or after the ceremony
  • Choosing to do a plethora of family photos or you can choose to streamline it
  • Choosing to budget the appropriate amount of time for your photos
  • Choosing an appropriate location for the photos (with an appropriate backup location if necessary)
  • Choosing to have privacy in order to keep the stress levels at bay
  • Choosing to share your schedule with all involved
  • Choosing to listen to the advice your photographer is giving you in regards to scheduling options
  • Choosing to accept the time constraints you may have

With the proper advice and a little creative scheduling, I’m confident that any bride can not only have a successful family photography session on her wedding day but love the resulting photos too!

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