7 Ways to Make Family Portraits Less Painful


You know your mom is going to frame it. Might as well have everyone smiling, right?

by Stephanie Kaloi, Content Manager

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I’m going to share a secret with you guys: family photos don’t have to be a stressful part of your wedding. In fact, with a well-laid plan, they can be downright fun. This might come as a surprise if, like a lot of people, the idea of getting five to forty-five of your family members together and taking a whole bunch of photos kind of terrifies you. Rest assured that just about everyone involved in the process (including yourselves, your photographer, and your family) wants what you want: pain-free and easy family photos. But how do you make it happen?

I’ve been photographing weddings for quite a few years, and in that time have honed a few skills when it comes to family portraiture time. I’m not saying that if you nail everything on this list your photos will definitely take off without a hitch, but… I think the odds will be in your favor.

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1.make a list: If it’s absolutely essential to have certain family members in your photos, then make a list of the family you want a photo with and give that list to your photographer (#lazygirl option: we’ve even got a template for that in APW’s downloadable shot list). It’s also a great idea to save a version on your phone/device and to print a copy for the day of, because some venues have truly awful Internet and no one will be able to pull up the family list. But seriously, take some time one evening and think of who you want a photo with and why, and put that name on a list. Couples and families are always surprised to find out there’s no one way to shoot family photos—some people don’t want any family photos at all! Some people want photos with every single person they’re related to, no matter how distant! And most people are somewhere in between.

2. Put someone in charge: Whenever I start talking family photos with couples, I ask who the Bossy Person is. Everyone has this person in their family—the person who is super bossy and really wants a job at the wedding, but also kind of stresses you out. This person is perfect for rounding everyone up for family photos. Bonus points if you give this person your previously drafted list!

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3. Share your timeline with your photographer: I try to email my couples a month before their weddings to get the timeline rolling. This doesn’t always mean I see a timeline that early, but it means that they start thinking about it, and it’s more likely I’ll see it sooner than later. This is especially helpful when couples don’t have a wedding planner or event coordinator: timelines are everything. An experienced photographer should at least be able to weigh in on what times of days will and won’t work for various types of photos, and should definitely be willing to make sure you’ve allotted the amount of time necessary for photos. Every photographer and every wedding is different, so having an hourly breakdown is beyond helpful.

4.tell chronically late family to get there 30 minutes early: Seriously, though: just do this. A lot of us have family members that are just always late, and sometimes this can seriously delay a ceremony. The last thing you want on the day you get married is to be hanging out behind the venue waiting for a few cousins or your step-dad to show up, especially when you already knew ahead of time he or she would be late. As much as it can suck for family to be sitting around too long before the ceremony, it’s better to have too much time for photos than too little.

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5. Incorporate Post-Its: If you have a HUGE family photo list and lots of set ups for family photos, pick up a pack of post-its and get happy. Here’s something you can try instead of calling out individual names for each photo grouping: create a shot list, write everyone’s name on a post-it, and assign numbers to groups. So instead of yelling “[Partner’s name] immediate family!” and waiting for everyone to assemble, your photographer and/or bossy family member just has to call out, “Group number one,” and they assemble on their own. Much like The Avengers, but without an epic soundtrack.

6. Don’t be afraid to have a little fun: I know most people want traditional family portraits because they want something that will look nice and presentable, but I’m a fan of deviating from the norm and taking more than one version. Sure, take the photo in which everyone is smiling and looking at the camera, and then take photos of your parents both kissing you on the cheeks or your sister laying one on you—whatever your family’s vibe is.
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7. Be patient with children: If children are in your families or wedding party, be prepared to hold your smile just a liiiiittle bit longer. I usually take eight to ten photos of the same setup if small children are involved. It doesn’t matter how many people are behind my head making faces or silly sounds to get the attention of the kids—if they don’t want to look, they’re not going to. If you hold your smile, you might come away with more than one option.

Stephanie Kaloi

Stephanie is a photographer, writer, and Ravenclaw living in California with her family. She is super into reading, road trips, and adopting animals on a whim. Forewarning: all correspondence will probably include a lot of punctuation and emoji (!!! 😊 🎉 🎉).

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  • AGCourtney

    Thanks for the tips! Definitely bookmarking this one.

  • Lawyerette510

    Be sure to tell the family members that you want photos with them! At my cousin’s wedding (200+ people, separate venues for ceremony and reception) neither she or her parents (or anyone else) mentioned they wanted us in family photos after the ceremony, so after going through the receiving line, we went on to the reception. At the reception, my aunt arrived and was upset with us for leaving the ceremony site because and when we asked why she said “clearly we needed to do pictures” but it wasn’t clear because no one had told us.

    • SuperDaintyKate

      Yes, to this. We made a general announcement saying “family hang out back here for photos before going inside”. Lots of people didn’t know what “family” we were referring to. Cue a lot of anxious waiting while my sister was inside trying to round up certain people.

      Also, this is the one place where our “tell, don’t ask” method of wedding planning backfired. We didn’t run through the shot list with our parents first. With divorced parents and a mother who has consciously and awkwardly excluded my dad from photos at all family occasions for 10 years, I planned the shot list so we would do one shot with mom, then one with dad, and none together. I guess this was the one time when mom really wanted a picture of the nuclear family together. So, my approach led to my mother having a temper tantrum in the corner while we finished other photos, and later accusing me of “shutting her out of the wedding”. (There was obviously a lot more going on in her head than just the photos….) Nevertheless, it would have been soooooo much easier if I had have emailed the shot list to everyone in advance for feedback.

      In short, communication is key. We did many of the things listed above, but without the clear communication to everyone to be involved in advance, it turned into the most stressful and awful parts of the day. It was quite a slap in the face and abrupt come-down immediately following the joy overload of the ceremony. It can be really, really intense, and I wasn’t prepared for that…

      • Sarah E

        Ugh, yes to the divorced parents. Sorry your mom leaked her upset all over you. I planned the shot list in order on purpose such that we had photos with my mom, photos with my partner’s parents, then photos with my dad. Any interaction between them that happened made my mom really uncomfortable (which I could see in her face), and I more or less steeled myself to stay the fuck out of however they wanted to comport themselves.

        BUT. For photos, I knew keeping them separated would keep me sane. My dad did ask (as I expected him to) if I wanted a picture with both parents. I said nope, then Bossy Person moved us through to the next shot on the list. Since we were keeping portraits to a minimum already, it was easy to say “Nope, not adding another shot. Next!” If I thought the situation would be worse than just awkward, I might have planned photos with one parent pre-ceremony and photos with the other post-ceremony.

      • Lawyerette510

        Oh I’m so sorry about the divorced parent emotional explosion. My sister went through something similar when she was married (about 2.5 years after my parents divorced and about a year after my dad remarried) and my mom had lots of emotions related to family photos (wanting one with both her and my dad) that she didn’t communicate ahead of time and then at the moment did not communicate well (very similar to your mom it sounds like). I had the luxury of learning from my sister’s experience with our parents plus my wedding about 5 years out from my parents divorce and while my dad was in the midst of his next divorce, when my mom was in a much better place.

    • kate

      YES a thousand times. be even more clear and explicit than you think you need to be with everyone you expect to be in photos – when, where, etc. communicate with everyone in advance and then remind them again in the week prior and even at the rehearsal dinner!
      my SIL’s wedding no one really told any family anything about photos, so we all sort of followed the wedding party around for 2 hrs waiting to be told it was our turn and not knowing if we were even required to be there in the first place. AND i didn’t know i had to be ready early (photos before ceremony) until the day of, which jacked up my day of plans a bit.

    • Lisa

      So much yes!! My sister’s husband’s family practically bolted out of the church after the ceremony ended, and when we went to round everyone up for pictures, the only members of his family left were his parents and brother. They had to try to get everyone together at the reception and take a picture on the dance floor instead.

    • Jules

      It’s true that this is especially important when the reception is at a different site. Otherwise you will have cousins lost to cocktail hour and no prayer of getting them to drive back in a timely manner!

      We spread the word at the rehearsal dinner and that worked really well.

  • Sarah E

    We had considered doing giant family portraits with the whole extended family, since we don’t often have everyone around, and had a balcony available to shoot from and get everyone. But I really Did. Not. Want. to spend tons of time on photos. So we kept it to immediate family and three close friend groups and that was that. I still have photos where I can definitely tell that my smile is forced and I want some damn champagne already.

    We had great success with designated Bossy people and shooting outside with natural light. Also, my favorite ones are when my BFFs got goofy with me for a snap or two.

  • Melissa

    Also keep in mind, it’s okay to NOT have family photos at all. I was hoping for more candids, but when it came time to work out the timeline with our coordinator and photographer, I just took it as a given that we needed time for family photos. We planned them after cake-cutting, but at our small, brunch wedding, when we disappeared for twenty minutes to take photos, everyone started leaving. I would have MUCH rather had time to mingle with our guests, especially since I’ll never do anything with posed family pics showing me all dolled up as The Bride.

    • Totally ok! I’ve shot a few weddings where we didn’t do any family photos for various reasons. It was totally fine.

  • Vanessa

    lol I am the Bossy Person ;)

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  • Ashlah

    Our family portraits were easy because we kept it as simple as possible. Immediate family only, in limited combinations. Even with my divorced parents and his bonus family, I’m pretty sure it was all done in less than 20 minutes. (Husband and I did our portraits before the ceremony). I’ve been to weddings where the newlyweds were gone for 90 minutes, and there was no way I was missing out on the party I’d spent 20 months waiting for!

    My suggestion is to really think about the point of those photos. Do you really need a portrait with mom, a portrait with dad, a portrait with sister, a portrait with brother, a portrait with just parents, a portrait with just siblings, AND a portrait with the whole family? (And multiply that by two if you’re considering ones with just you AND ones with your partner). Or will the last one alone suffice? Will you want to look at all of those photos in a row in an album? Do you have a specific need for all those combinations? If not, cut them. You’ll probably get way more fun photos with them/of them at the reception anyway!

    • kate

      we just started looking at a shot list with our photog and probably 3/4 of them we were like, “uh, why would we need that?”
      i can see it varying depending on family dynamics/relationships, but for us, less is definitely more and i’m glad to hear from the other side that that’s not a regret. :)

      • Ashlah

        It’s definitely a know-your-family/needs situation, but no regret on this side at all :)

    • Eenie

      I really like the advice that you probably aren’t going to hang any formal family portraits from your wedding that doesn’t contain both of you.

    • Jules

      Us too. We took exactly 4 family photos, and only that many because both our parents are divorced. Otherwise we would have taken 2.

      The only regret i have was not having an individual posed photo with my mom and with my dad each, but we had non-professional ones, and the ones of my mom zipping my dress and my dad dancing with me. I just told myself that back in the day, there used to be ONE wedding photo, and honestly I probably wouldn’t have framed those anyway since I have 400 other to choose from.

    • jspe

      I’m feeling the opposite. We went really bare bones on posed photos and now we are regretting that we didn’t do a few more posed shots. I AM glad that we didn’t spend more than 20 minutes on photos because it gave us some time to chill before the ceremony, but for 5 minutes more we would have done a few portraits with our closest friends.

  • Leah

    Jewish-wedding protip: It turns out that for the most part the people you’d want to invite to watch the Ketubah signing (before the ceremony) are the people you want in family photos. We did a first look, then invited close family and wedding party for “photos and ketubah signing” about 2 hours before the ceremony was scheduled to start. It worked out great, we had only the people we wanted photos with around, and it all felt very relaxed.

    • eating words

      that’s pretty much what we’re planning on doing! glad it worked so well.

    • I just shot a Jewish wedding and they did basically the same thing – first look, family photos, Ketubah signing. So, so smart.

      • jspe

        I’d augment that to say first look, ketubah signing, family photos. it’s nice to bring the magic emotion of the day into the ketubah signing. either way, I’m glad we mostly did that (despite any minor regrets I suggested above). we did additional family portraits in between the ketubah and ceremony because I have aHUGE family and didn’t want them all there for the ketubah.

  • Laura C

    We did the big family groups at our rehearsal dinner, which worked really well for me because I just didn’t want to get into it at the wedding and there was so much less to get through at the rehearsal dinner that it felt like less of a distraction. The weird and unfortunate thing is that, because we left it up to them to make it happen, we got my husband’s father’s family, and my husband’s mother’s father’s family, but not my husband’s mother’s mother’s family, which is the one my MIL really cares most about (as in, I have heard her refer to “my father’s family” and “my family”). AND they’re the part of the family absolutely filled with Bossy Ones so you would not have thought this would be a problem. Yet somehow they didn’t round themselves up for it and it’s one of my MIL’s big regrets.

    Then on the wedding day the only posed ones we did were me and my parents, me and my husband and my parents, my husband and brother and mother and grandparents, and that group with me added. So that we could all see how if you put me next to my husband’s grandmother it looks a little like a forced perspective shot, I’m so much bigger than her.

  • snf100

    The shot list is a great idea, but instead of writing Mom/Dad/Grandparents, I listed first names so that the photog/bossy family member could call out names. This helped with my family since I refer to both my step-dad and bio-dad as Dad and have both shared and strange names for grandparents. It makes it a lot easier to know who exactly you mean without consulting you every time.

  • Lauren from NH

    I was thinking we would do some photos before the ceremony and just a couple after. How did other people break it up? Did you do just B/G portraits and WP pictures before and do the family ones after to preserve the magic? Is there some rhyme or reason to how this is broken up?

    • Jess

      I’ve seen this done a lot of different ways in my wedding experience. I don’t think there’s really a system, it’s more what you want to have. Some options I’ve seen, all of which worked out well.

      1) Cousin’s wedding: Wedding party separated before, Family & whole party after
      2) Friend’s wedding: First look/B/G/all WP before, Family after, all WP after
      3) Friend’s wedding: all pictures before + a few bonus shots after at the ceremoney site
      4) Friend’s wedding: all pictures after
      5) Friend’s wedding: Only First Look before, all others after

    • M.

      We did first look, bride & groom, wedding party before, and then family portraits superfast between ceremony and reception (this way everyone had arrived and was in same place, rather than trying to gather family before the wedding start time). Worked perfectly for us, we just asked them to stay after the ceremony. Husband and I took a brief walk after ceremony and came back and everyone was assembled. Took maybe 10-15 min tops for pix.

    • emilyg25

      We did all the photos before. It was awesome because it allowed us to take plenty of time and then to go straight from the ceremony to the reception.

      • Me too. But after the ceremony, there were a few photos to get the people who didn’t show up before. There was also an entire group photo (the first one after the ceremony) and I was really happy to have one photo with EVERYONE in it. This was possible because we had a balcony, but it seems to also be a tradition here that I have seen at other weddings. Everyone files out the back of the church and there’s a group shot. (Helpful for writing thank you notes because you can double check who was there and who wasn’t so you can make sure not to say “thanks for coming” to someone who sent a card/gift with someone else but didn’t actually come because they were sick!)

      • I guess I should say ALMOST all the photos before, since we cleraly had a couple after! Butit was a relief to only have a few photos to get after the ceremony!

    • Sarah E

      I think it depends on how you’d like your day to unfold. We did some bride and groom photos before, which was nice, but I was irritated because we were behind on my having my dress on, and all I wanted was to greet all the guests coming in, not stand there posing. In my dream scenario, with harmonious family members and perhaps a more formal affair (with staff to set up instead of my fam), I would have loved to do all or nearly all the portraits earlier in the day so I could party more.

    • Lisa

      We did all of the photos after the ceremony, which helped to fill our two hour Catholic gap. Our photographers were so efficient and experienced that we were done with family photos (including all extended family) probably within 20 minutes, and then the bridal party took our sweet time getting to the reception (we took the El in downtown Chicago) and took portraits with and without the wedding party along the way.

    • 95% of my weddings go like this:

      -immediate family (each side separate) and the couple
      -all parents and the couple
      -all siblings and the couple
      -grandparents and the couple (sometimes separate, sometimes together)
      -extended fam (usually separate) and the couple
      -big family shot (both sides of family because why not?) and the couple
      -misc family/close friends and the couple

      Sometimes there are extra individual photos (a sibling and her family, one half of the couple and a godparent, etc.), but that’s the usual breakdown!

    • Jules

      Yes, it definitely depends on what your timeline looks like. Our basically flowed straight from ceremony to reception, so we only took 30 mins of pics right after the ceremony. We did-

      – Get dressed, First Look, Bridal party (1 hour, ending 30mins before ceremony)
      – Family pics (4), “full bridal party” (1 pic of all guys and girls), like 5 mins of couple shots at the church.
      – Later we did sunset portraits about 20mins (end of dinner, no one noticed we were gone). These are some of my favorite photos. The first look really wasn’t for us to pose; we were doing it for other reasons really.

      We positively flew through photos and got to spend most of our cocktail hour with guests. Also, I had a shot list but had to give my photographer gentle reminders about some of the combos that I wanted.

    • We did:
      1) post-wedding, wedding party and immediate family (20 mins)
      2) mid-reception, just us two, slipping out for a private cup of tea while photographers lurked nearby and took nice shots, followed by some posed shots on the way back in (30 mins)
      3) end, one massive shot with extended family (10 mins)

  • Kate

    I made a shot list and I don’t think our photographer looked at it, suckssssss. We don’t even have a photo of my husband with my immediate family. The big family ones worked out fine surprisingly. I put some of the cousins in charge of rounding everyone up, which worked. The whole photo time was kind of stressful though. We did it all after the wedding and missed most of cocktail hour. I’m not sure it was ideal, but personally I wanted our wedding photos be of us actually married so we didn’t do them before.

    • I always ask my couples to also print their shot list — I keep them on my phone, and sometimes I can’t pull them up the day of. I also always think family photos feel stressful for the couple, because family.. just can be. But for me, as the photographer, it’s usually kind of fun. I also have a big, Southern family, so nothing surprises me!

  • Eh

    #7 is so very true. At my dad and step-mum’s wedding my step-nephew would not stand still and smile for our big family picture. In an attempt to get one good (or even ok) picture the photographer just kept taking pictures in the hope of catching him at a good moment. This resulted in a hilarious series of pictures that include my step-nephew throwing a tantrum on the ground, hitting his mother, running away in one direction and then again in the other direction. My dad and step-mum printed a series of the pictures and have them hanging in their house.

    At my wedding my (almost 2 year old) niece did not want to be held during the family pictures (because she’s a big girl and can stand all on her own – even if it would look weird with her standing with a bunch of adults). She was fussing a lot and would not smile. Then someone brought out a yellow umbrella and started twirling it behind the photographer. That got her attention and distracted her enough to get a nice family picture.

    • I think having a kid helps on my end, as the photographer – I know that sometimes, the kid just doesn’t care that you’re ready to take a photo. Patience is everything. I Love love love love that they have the series hanging up in their house — I always wonder what, if anything, people do with those photos.

      • Eh

        When kids are involved you need to take them as they are. I am pretty sure that my step-nephew is not impressed that the series of pictures are hanging up in the living room but for the rest of us that was a pretty memorable time.

    • Mary Jo TC

      I really wanted to display the family picture taken at my brother’s wedding, but my 15-month-old son was throwing a tantrum and they only took like two shots. I guess the problem was that the photographer was not patient. I cringe every time I see that picture, and not just because of his hideous tantrum face, but because it reminds me of a night that was disappointing for me personally. My son didn’t ruin the wedding, by any means, but he definitely ruined my and my husband’s experience of the wedding. My husband missed the entire ceremony because he was screaming outside. We spent most of the reception going up and down stairs, which became uncomfortable in my heels. And then he had a meltdown, which was understandable because it was over 2 hours past his bedtime, but the party was nowhere near over, and we had to leave. He was just acting like a typical 15 month old, but I guess I learned that 15 month olds are incompatible with their caregivers having fun at an adult party and taking frame-worthy family pictures.

      I really hope he’s better this fall at my second brother’s wedding. I’m hoping that he’s big enough now to actually run around the dance floor and be fun for everyone to watch. And he knows how to ham it up for a camera now. As long as he gets to see the picture displayed when you’re done.

      • Eh

        It’s unfortunate that the photographer was not more patient. Hopefully in the fall the photographer will be more patient.

  • april

    Uuuugh. This is one of the few regrets I have from our wedding – we didn’t really do any family portraits. Some of it may have had to do with our general discomfort with posed photos (although we got a couple of good ones with our wedding party), some of it may have had to do with our photographer’s relative inexperience (she did an awesome job, but she was a student and hadn’t shot many weddings yet), but I think most of it was that we just didn’t think it through beforehand. I’m still sad we don’t have any photographs with our parents and grandparents all together :(

  • Ashlah

    I don’t know that this can necessarily be framed as a tip, but I noticed that almost all of our favorite photos of each portrait set is the first one or two taken. When Mom first runs up to me and we’re both laughing, as opposed to just a few seconds later when we’ve got our portrait smiles on. Anything you can do to make people genuinely smile will help, but I know that’s kind of a nebulous, difficult-to-achieve thing. I’m glad our photographer started snapping right away, instead of waiting for us all to pose perfectly. This might have something to do with choosing more of a photojournalist style photographer, rather than a portrait photographer.

    • I TOTALLY AGREE. I always take lots of photos during the family photos – when the family is ready for me and when they aren’t. You never know when you’re going to get something really sweet!

  • yotecielo

    We’re working on our shot list right now.. our wedding is one month from TODAY!! (Longtime reader but haven’t posted…. and I’m immensely grateful for the infinite APW wisdom during the past months!!!) We’re working on figuring out the right number of family combinations without doing too much. We’d also love to include a shot of all the wedding guests, did any of you do this?? Any tips or thoughts for the best time to do this? We’re thinking either immediately after the ceremony while people are still together, or have the DJ call everyone onto the dance floor for the photo and start the dancing immediately after.

    • eating words

      i like the idea of a group photo on the dance floor and then starting the dancing! that would also get us out of a first dance spectacle, so: bonus.

      • yotecielo

        Totally. That was out photographer’s idea… something that I hadn’t thought of! The only thing is doing it at the ceremony site would be a way prettier picture than our reception place…. but still, having a reason for everyone to mandatorily be on the dance floor when the dancing begins sounds like something way too good to pass up!

        • eating words

          yes! i immediately emailed this idea to my partner… who said that she wanted to have natural lighting, so can we do the group photo at the end of our outdoor cocktail hour. which is fine, and aesthetically lovely, but not as cool to me as getting everyone literally up and on the dance floor.

          • Caitlin

            Just do both

    • Eenie

      Stealing.

    • Tara Croy

      We did this and it came out awesome! It’s our favorite photo of the night. Our photographers were heading out and they asked if we had any last requests. I was really psyched on the idea of an everyone photo so we gathered everyone up and took it at the tail end of the night – sweaty, intoxicated but also totally relaxed and happy. And way easier than you’d think!

    • I have quite a few couples request that I take a photo of everyone, so I have two tips: first, tell your photographer ahead of time if you can, so they’re prepared. Second, keep realistice expectations. Depending on where you take the photo and how many people are in it, you may not be able to see everyone perfectly. I think it’s always a really fun photo to have!

    • I did this. It was immediately after the wedding, and no one had a chance to get away or go to the bathroom or those things people might go do. I think that timing might be your best bet of getting EVERYONE in the same photo. If you don’t mind possibly missing a couple of people, the dance floor idea is fun!

  • Another Meg

    Our family photo (my side) was kind of a shit show, but I have five siblings and three of them have kids, so…that was pretty much guaranteed. We’re spread out across four states and we don’t see each other that often, so it was important for us to get a shot of all of everyone together.

    It took forever, but it was worth it. The little kids had aviators on and were so goofy looking. It was pretty amazing.

  • Jules

    I’d be interested to see a tip about significant others in the family. Are you going to have everyone’s dates, or engaged/married only, or living together only…? Only if you’ve met them? Do you care? Warn them in advance, or have photographer run interference?

    It made it very awkward that my brother (who I only see every 3 years) tried to drag his girlfriend (whom I’ve never met, and who he had asked me how to dump a year ago) into what was the only picture of me and my brother from my wedding day. On the other hand, I looked back and later realized I’d told my aunt to have her partner in the picture.

    • I would try to get both, with the girlfriend and without. That way, if it doesn’t work out, you still have a photo with your brother. She’s still included, but you have a family-only photo too.

    • Ashlah

      I felt very fortunate that my sister’s boyfriend (who no one likes) and brother’s date (who I didn’t know) couldn’t make it to the wedding. Maybe that makes me a bad person, but I was glad not to have that dilemma. I’m sorry you had that awkward moment. For other grappling, I agree with Jenny: try to get both.

    • JC

      I agree with Jenny, and I would also add that you should never feel bad about making a call about who you regard as “family” at this moment (and no other moment).

      I am in my boyfriend’s aunt’s wedding pictures, and it made me really uncomfortable because I neither asked to be included nor did the brides request me to be in those pictures– someone else kinda roped me into it. I plan to be a part of their family some day, and I’m honored to have been there, but it also would have been perfectly acceptable for me to just be a guest and not a family member. If it felt completely normal to ask your aunt’s partner to be in the picture, but not your brother’s girlfriend, then that’s who your family is.

    • Lindsay Rae

      Both my younger brother and my husbands younger sister had dates at our wedding. It actually wasn’t awkward at all – maybe they just knew to stay behind when we called for immediates? But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want a picture of you and your partner, your parents and your two little brothers. We did the same on his side. I wouldn’t have been opposed to doing another one with the bf/gf, but we didn’t.

    • Sarah E

      There’s no one blanket rule, that’s for sure. I didn’t really have to deal with it in family photos, since my BIL’s girlfriend couldn’t be there. I did include my friend’s date in our college buddy photo, with the attitude if she’s important to him, she’s important to me. If it doesn’t work out. . .oh well? I don’t think an extra person “ruins” a photo, though there are really nasty ends to some relationships that would flout my thinking.

      My perspective is colored by my experience with my SIL’s wedding. It was immediate family only in attendance, before my partner and I were engaged, but after we’d moved in together (and away from everyone). I was the only non-blood relative present, and the only person excluded from the formal portraits after the ceremony. I had a great relationship with everyone in the family (still do) and I did my SIL’s hair for the day, and in general was involved at the same level as my partner was. But still, I was left to pet the photog’s dog while everyone else was getting posed for shots. In the end, we found out my SIL hated the formal family portraits, and her marriage ended a year after it began. Regardless, it was a sour experience for me, and it’s why I err on the side of inclusion.

  • Lindsay Rae

    Having a timeline and letting everyone know their portrait time is KEY.
    After our ceremony we left with the bridal party to take pictures all together in two locations – the second was the venue, which was in a park. We planned to do the family portraits last, after the bridal party walked through the park and finished those pics (during bridal party pic time was pics of me and my husband too, we moved around a lot and our photographers were great at wrangling, plus our bridal party was very cooperative). So we ended up at the venue, and I had arranged one private shuttle for the immediate family members who were all staying at a hotel to get to the venue a half hour before cocktail hour. The only people then at the venue were our immediates who we wanted portraits with. My photographer was CLUTCH in posing us and moving through the groups so quickly. We were done in 30 minutes and it was painless. My husband was so worried about this part (gathering family, yelling, missing people…) but even he said it worked out amazingly!

  • Christina Helen

    I didn’t quite understand #5. I’m sure I’m just missing something really simple. What do you do with the post-its after writing people’s names on them? And how do you let people know what numbered group they belong to?

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      It works like this: make groupings of family. Immediate family is group 1, extended family is group 2, just cousins is group 3. Then you write everyone’s name down on a post-it, and put the group numbers they’re in on the post-it. Let’s say you’ve got a sister who’s in most of the photos, she’ll be in group 1, 2 and 3. But if you’re just a cousin, you’ll only have group 3 on your post-it. It’s really just for huuuuge families with lots of groupings. I once shot a wedding with something like 40 family members, and there were easily 15 different groupings I had to get after the ceremony.

      It also helps if you have complex family situations. i.e. instead of telling your step mom to get out of the photo, you just call out the number number and if it’s not on her post-it, she has to step to the side. It’s sort of saying it without…saying it.

      • Christina Helen

        Right, thanks! So once you’ve written the names and group numbers onto the post-its you then give each post-it to the person whose name is on it, and that’s how they know which group(s) they’re in?

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  • Steve

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  • We had family photos while on vacation, which made it pretty easy because everyone was pretty relaxed.