How to Capture Great Family Photographs on Your Wedding Day

Let’s be honest, formal family photographs are likely not a part of your wedding day that you’re most looking forward to (you might even wish you could skip them entirely), BUT at the end of the day these photographs are so important.  Family photographs are the images that will receive the most love, be shared between your family and friends the most, and be printed to hang on the fridge, on the mantle, or on the back of phone cases.  Even though there’s nothing glitzy or ‘fun’ about these photographs, it’s important that we do a bang up job of capturing them, and plan it all out so that things are as efficient, fast, and painless as possible.  Take the following steps to heart as part of your wedding planning, and let’s make sure to create photographs that will make you, your parents, and your grandparents happy.

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-taking-great-wedding-family-photographs7.jpg

 Create a family photo list

This is the one part of the day that has the possibility of dissolving into chaos and taking way longer than it needs to.  Keep things organized by creating a list of all the family photographs you would like your photographer to capture.  Write this out in list form, use people’s names (so your photographer isn’t searching for ‘uncle #2’), and think about the most logical order for this list to flow from start to finish.  For example, start with larger groups first so that we can disperse cousins, aunts, and uncles, and try to take your grandparent photographs early if they won’t be comfortable standing around for a long time. 

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-taking-great-wedding-family-photographs3.jpg

 Email this list to the people included

Nothing slows down a family photo session than an uncle who didn’t know he was needed for photos and has disappeared off to the bar.  Make sure that you email (or otherwise contact) everyone who we will need to have present to let them know that you would love to have them in your family photographs, and that they should meet us at the given time and given location (do not pass go, do not go get in the bar line).   Often, having your officiant announce this post-ceremony helps remind people.

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-taking-great-wedding-family-photographs5.jpg

 Designate a ‘runner’ to help your photographer

For your photographer, family photographs involve managing a large crowd, and having a psychic ability to know which of your many aunts is Aunt Mary.  Choose a member of each family (a brother, sister, or close cousin usually works best) who knows the members of your family, and will be able to help your photographer pull the right groups of people together, or locate any family members who have disappeared into the crowd.  Again, let these helpers know that you would like them to assist with this, and I will bring an extra copy of the family photo list for them to help out!

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-taking-great-wedding-family-photographs1.jpg

 Choose the right space for the photographs

While your photographer will ultimately choose the location with the best light and space available for family photographs, make sure you consider the options ahead of time.  Think about the largest group that you would like to have photographed, and make sure it is feasible for the photographer to fit everyone into the available space.  Make sure the location is accessible to everyone (grandparents in wheelchairs find forest photo sessions a tad difficult), and most importantly make sure the space is available at the necessary time.  Often the church will have booked for another wedding shortly after and will ask us to leave, or the room you thought we’d use is actually being used for the cocktail hour at that time.  Shooting outdoors is always a great option if possible, just make sure we have a backup rain location just in case.

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-taking-great-wedding-family-photographs4.jpg

 Think about lighting

As we’ve already established, these photographs are important, and deserve to be taken in high quality locations just like your bride and groom photographs.  Light is the most important part of any photograph, so don’t relegate your family photographs to the windowless room in the basement to make sure we’re out of the way.  If we’re not shooting outdoors, choose a location with as much natural light as possible.

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-taking-great-wedding-family-photographs2.jpg

Remember to eat!

Couples always forgets to eat on their wedding day, and family photo sessions right after the ceremony are often when people start to feel reallyyyy hungry.  This isn’t helped by family members having their photograph taken with a samosa in hand, or hiding their glass of bubbly behind your back.  Designate a member of your bridal party to go get you a drink, glass of water, and a full plate of snacks from the cocktail hour.  While you’ll be a star member of all your family photographs, there’s always time to take a drink and snack on a piece of mushroom toast between shots while I’m getting everyone organized and in place.  Pro tip: glasses of bubbly can hide perfectly behind your bouquet. I promise, everyone will respect that you need to eat and drink, and I won’t take a photo of you chewing!

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-taking-great-wedding-family-photographs8.jpg

Creating Your Perfect Wedding Day Photo Timeline

The number one question I get asked is ‘how much time do we need for our photographs’.  My answer to this is often quite varied, depending on what type of coverage individual couples are looking for, but I thought I would outline a general guideline for planning time for photographs into your wedding day.

            The photographer in me instantly says, ‘the more time for photos the better!’, BUT the WEDDING photographer in me says that we want to plan enough time for your photographs, while making sure that it still feels like the photographs are about your wedding day, rather than your wedding day being about the photographs.  Consider the guidelines below for each series of photographs you would like to have taken, and feel free to get in touch to talk about creating your timeline together if you’re unsure!

Getting Ready Photographs

These are some of my favourite photographs of the day, and make for some amazing candid images of your family and friends spending time together.  Even though I often work with a second shooter, I like getting to stop in with the guys and the girls in the morning if possible.  I usually spend about 30 minutes with the guys, then head to the girls location for about 1 to 1.5 hours.  30 minutes to an hour of candid and ‘makeup’ shots is plenty, and I usually find 15-20 minutes to put on your dress and finishing touches is enough.  I love getting to spend a quiet 10 minutes after you’re finished getting dressed to capture a few really beautiful and fresh bridal portraits before the day truly begins.  Make sure to plan enough time to get packed up and into the Uber after this, while I hop in the car and head to our next destination early.

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-ideal-wedding-day-photography-timeline1.jpg

 

First Look Photographs

While this is called the ‘first look’, this is actually when we get the bulk of the photographs done for the day.  Plan approximately 1.5-2 hours for this depending on what photographs we will be taking.  Plan around 10 minutes for your first look, 30 minutes for bride and groom portraits together, 30 minutes for wedding party photographs, and 30 minutes for immediate family photographs.  If possible, 2 hours is ideal for this, as it gives us some extra buffer time if anyone is late, and allows everyone a bit of room to have more fun instead of having to run your photographs like a drill sergeant.  Try to plan in an extra 20-30 minutes after these photographs to take a rest before your ceremony.  This can be some quiet time, a little champagne celebration, or simply time to eat a sandwich and drink some water.

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-ideal-wedding-day-photography-timeline7.jpg

 

Post-Ceremony Photographs

Immediately following your ceremony I will grab you for 5 minutes to take a few quick ‘just married’ photos, because at this point you’re going to be feeling on top of the world, and we want to document that!  During this time it’s best to have a designated family member making sure that your extended family is all gathering in a set location, so that we can dive right in to taking photographs with your grandparents, cousins, uncles etc.  Try to schedule about 30 minutes for these extended family photographs (depending on how many shots you would like to have).  I can usually move through them pretty fast with an organized list and roll call. 

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-ideal-wedding-day-photography-timeline2.jpg

 

Cocktail Hour Candid Photographs

If we’ve finished most of our photographs early, this means that you’ll have time to head to your cocktail hour!  Yay!  I use this time to capture candid photographs of you, your guests, and the many, many, many hugs that are shared!  I often disappear for a few minutes to get some photos of the reception décor before guests enter.  I find that spending around 30 minutes at the cocktail hours after family photographs is enough to capture some beautiful candid moments. 

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-ideal-wedding-day-photography-timeline3.jpg

 

Sunset Photographs

If you want to have a variety of beautiful photographs with your partner on your wedding day, sunset photographs are a must!  I try to convince everyone to schedule time for sunset photos into their day, no matter what.  The light at this time of day is beautiful for portraits, it’s a lovely quiet time to slip off together for a few minutes of privacy, and it creates one more ‘buffer’ time into the schedule in case things ran later than expected and we haven’t captured enough photographs of the two of you together yet.  I recommend scheduling in at least 10-15 minutes for these, and the beautiful photographs we can create if we have a relaxed 20 minutes to half an hour to work with will blow you away!

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-ideal-wedding-day-photography-timeline6.jpg

 

Reception Photographs

It’s always important to make sure I’m there late enough to capture some of the fun stuff too!  Once the band kicks in and your guests hit the dance floor, we have an opportunity to capture a few more great candid moments to end the night.  I find that usually about a half hour of dance floor coverage is enough, but schedule in an extra half hour to make sure that we have enough time to capture the party if it doesn’t start on time (which, chances are, it won’t).  If you’re wondering what time we should finish photography coverage, there’s definitely a point about an hour or so into the party when the bar has been open for long enough that I recommend switching to photo booths and iPhones to capture the remainder of the evening.  People have much more fun with a photo booth anyways! 

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-ideal-wedding-day-photography-timeline4.jpg

 

The Grand Exit

Sometimes people have a grand exit planned that they want to have photographed, but don’t necessarily want to hire me to stay until 1 am.  If this is the case, there’s absolutely no problem with having some fun and having your ‘exit’ ahead of time.  Sparkler photographs don’t have to happen right as you’re leaving, and photographs getting into your getaway car can happen at any time in the evening.  My favourite ‘grand exit’ moment happened when the party was going much later than expected, and the couple wanted their grandmother to feel that she could go to bed, so they took off in their getaway car, and drove around the traffic circle a few times while their grandmother was escorted upstairs to bed.  They came back to join the party, we captured fantastic ‘get away’ photographs, and family members could go to sleep not feeling like they were missing anything.  It was a win-win plan!

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-ideal-wedding-day-photography-timeline5.jpg

I value working closely with every couple I get to photograph, to make sure that we create a photography coverage plan that is uniquely suited to their wedding day, and the photographs they value most.  While this is intended to serve as a guideline, I’m always happy to sit down for coffee or a phone call to over your individual timeline in more detail, to make sure we create the perfect balance for your wedding day!

 

8 Reasons To Plan a First Look on Your Wedding Day

Planning a first look is the number one way I recommend for couples to create a wedding day timeline that helps them feel relaxed, unhurried, and stress-free on the big day.  A first look helps your day flow smoothly, makes for a great photo opportunity, and gives the two of you a chance for a private moment together in a day that will otherwise fly by. If you’re on the fence about whether you want to do a first look, or save this moment for when you’re walking down the aisle, here are 8 reasons why I find couples always love including a first look as part of their wedding day.

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-planning-first-look6.jpg

1. It helps get rid of your jitters.

As soon as the last button is done up on your wedding dress or the bowtie is straightened on your tux, things will really start to feel real.  Inevitably, some nerves start to emerge at this point, and everybody (I mean everyyyybody) finds that a first look helps them calm down.   It’s a chance to see your other half, hug it out, remember what this amazing day is supposed to be all about, and get excited for it together.

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-planning-first-look7.jpg

2.     It’s a rare moment of privacy together on your wedding day.

It can be hard to even find a moment of privacy for yourself on your wedding day, let alone spend a peaceful moment with your partner to soak it all in.   The first look is one of the only moments when you can send everyone away and enjoy a few minutes of solitude together laugh, cry, hug, and generally take a step back to enjoy the momentous occasion that this day will be for the two of you.

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-planning-first-look1.jpg

3.     You’ll get to enjoy your cocktail hour.

Adding a first look to your wedding day timeline means that we can create time and space before the ceremony to get a whole whack of photographs out of the way.  Photographs that we would otherwise have to capturing during your cocktail hour. We often try to do a series of bride and groom photographs during the first look, as well as your wedding party portraits, and immediate family portraits.  This means that, after the ceremony, the only photos we’ll have left to take are your extended family photographs, so you’ll be able to get back to your cocktail hour, guests, food, and drinks in no time!

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-planning-first-look3.jpg

4.     It’s the perfect chance to capture so many great bride and groom photographs.

If creating great photographs of the two of you together is a priority for your wedding day, this is often the best moment to really spend some time crafting beautiful photographs together.  You will be able to feel fully present and enjoy this time together without feeling like you have to get back to your guests, or fielding a flurry of questions like who has the napkins and where the card box goes.   Plus, earlier in the day you’ll still feel like your hair and makeup is fresh, your feet are comfortable, and you won’t be too hot inside of your suit, all things that make having your photograph taken feel so much more comfortable and fun!



Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-planning-first-look2.jpg

5.     It builds some buffer time into your day.

This is my favorite reason why first looks are so great. Scheduling an hour or two in for photographs pre-ceremony photographs will automatically build some much needed buffer time into your wedding day.  When things start to run behind (which they inevitably do at some time) you won’t have to worry about being late for your ceremony, or losing all your time for bride and groom photographs together.  In addition to the first look, we schedule several other, shorter, photo sessions into the day, so we can always get back on track and never have to worry about running out of time.  Could it get any more relaxing?!?

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-planning-first-look5.jpg

6.     Get your family photographs finished early.

Some of the most important photographs of the day are your family photographs, but they’re also everybody’s least favourite part of the day.  I love getting to take the bulk of your family photographs ahead of time, during the first look photo session.  This means you won’t have to spend as long taking photographs instead of going to your cocktail hour after the ceremony, helps us make sure that all family members are present and accounted for in photographs, gives us a chance to take photographs of everybody before they get too hungry, hot, and bothered. Seriously, this is how to make family photographs not suck!

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-planning-first-look4.jpg

7.     Create space for a great emotional photograph

Most people have a much easier time showing their emotion when seeing each other for the first time during the first look, rather than walking down the aisle in front of everybody.  Some of the favourite photographs of every wedding day are captured during the first look, when couples feel free to gaze at each other, hug, kiss, twirl, and laugh without the pressure of hundreds of eyes on them.

Toronto-Collingwood-Muskoka-Wedding-photographer-planning-first-look8.jpg

8.     Never worry about being late!

Alright, I may have already said this earlier, but this point is SO important!  The number one thing that I see causing stress on a wedding day is the timeline and running behind. Take advantage of the fact that YOU get to create your schedule, and use tools like a first look to schedule in extra time, buffer time, and generally far more time than we actually need for photographs.  I can guarantee that some of this time will get used up by other parts of the day running behind, and if we find ourselves with a few extra minutes here and there then you just get to relax, eat, and maybe pop a bottle of bubbly early to celebrate!