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7 Ways to Make Family Portraits Less Painful

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

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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.

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