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.

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 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. 

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 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.

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 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!

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 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.

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 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.

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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!

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Helping your Photographer Capture Beautiful Getting Ready Photographs

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 The getting ready portion of your wedding day is often when some of the most intimate moments occur between you and your best friends and family who are there with you.  Your photographer can capture these beautiful moments no matter where you are, but it helps to put a little bit of time and effort into making sure that your ‘getting ready’ spaces will look just as good as the rest of your wedding photographs.

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Clean Up

Cleaning up the rooms you’re getting ready in will go a long way in helping your photographer create gorgeous photographs of the morning leading up to your wedding.  It helps to ask your bridesmaids and groomsmen to keep their bags and clothing stored in a separate room where you won’t be taking photographs,  request that your hair and makeup team keep a tidy workspace, and generally remove any clutter that’s housed in the room you’ll be getting ready in.   As a photographer I absolutely don’t mind doing a bit of tidying and re-organizing, but the more time we spend doing this the less time we’ll spend capturing candid moments.  A clean background brings an emotional photograph from touching to visually stunning. 

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Choose a Bright Location

People often spend so much time selecting a beautiful ceremony and reception space, but don’t think about where they will be getting ready.  I often spend several hours photographing the getting ready portion of the day with couples, and usually shoot important photographs during this time such as bridal and bridesmaid portraits, detail shots, and father/daughter reveals.  Make sure to do these photographs justice by choosing a location that has as much natural light as possible.  The brighter and airier the better!  Don’t count artificial lighting such as floor lamps and pot lights when considering how bright a location is.  These lighting options create a yellow/green skin tone and cast awkward shadows, so your photographer will likely turn them off to shoot anyways.

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Set Up Close to a Window

No matter where you choose to get ready, the best light for your photographer to work with will almost always be next to a window.  See if your hair and makeup team can set up close to a window with the natural light falling across your getting ready scene.  Try to clear a space close to a window or in a well-lit room for photographs such as putting your dress on, and spending some time with your wedding party and family members. 

Create Time and Space for Moments to Unfold

The best way to create great photographs from your wedding morning is to allow yourself to enjoy the time without feeling rushed.  You’ve picked a beautiful space to get ready in and cleaned it up; now make sure you create time to spend there with your favourite people.  If it’s important to capture some meaningful portraits with your grandmother, invite her to sit and chat with you for a while.  If you want to capture images with your mother, ask her to get dressed early so she has time to help your into your dress.  Don’t worry about the camera being there, don’t hold back on hugs, and make sure everybody there knows how important they are to you.  

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