Wedding family photos are an essential part of just about any wedding day! They are so important to your finished wedding gallery, documenting your key family members in a formal, intentional and lasting way.
You know the kind of thing, everybody look at the camera and give me your biggest smile! Some people call them ‘family formals‘, others ‘formal group portraits‘.
Whatever you call them, the best way of approaching your family wedding photos shot list is to create your customized list in advance. Each family is unique, so while this is a general guide it will be different for each individual family.
The biggest advise here is: stick to the essentials. On the day we’ll get them done efficiently so you can get back to enjoying your wedding day.
The key to the family photos at your wedding, like most things wedding-related, is advance planning, so you can be in the moment without having to make any game-day decisions. So, let’s dive in!
How long does it take to do family photos?
I allow 3 minutes per each desired grouping. I ask that you name each grouping you’d like on your photography planning document.
The time is taken up:
- wrangling people
- removing keys from pockets
- putting down bags
- making sure we have everyone’s attention
- adjusting hair & clothing
- getting them into the right spot that fits the size group
- assembling chairs if a large group, or deciding how many rows
- positioning them to turn in towards the couple
- aligning them correctly with the background.
- posing them to look right (hands, bouquets, expressions)
- moving them so everyone’s face is visible to the camera
I’ll then take dozens of photos of each grouping to ensure one with all eyes open, looking straight at the camera and with good facial expressions.
I repeat this process for the two cameras I have using different lenses for variety (full body horizontal/ waist up / full body vertical).
We might also do some fun ones (couple kissing while everyone cheers; everyone walking towards the camera; everyone looking at and chatting with each other)
So, you can see how the time adds up!
How many family formals should we do?
Please aim for no more than 8 groupings at the very most for your formal family wedding photos.
The time allocated and assumed on the timeline for most weddings is half an hour. (I’ve separate guidance for City Hall weddings, just scroll down).
Any more than this is definitely possible, it would just take more time and QUICKLY wear out your – and everyone else’s – patience.
One quick note: I would steer clear of many permutations of the same group. You do NOT need this, it’s better to get the big groups of everyone important to you rather than asking this and that person to step out.
How do we start creating our basic family formal photo list?
I encourage you to start with the basic wedding family photo list (below) then only add in groupings that you really need.
You can definitely keep in mind that perhaps 4 final pictures will end up on an album spread or as a framed print. So, don’t waste time on your wedding day getting needless photos.
Ask yourself the following question when planning your list:
Are the people in this group included in another photo? If yes, does the other photo serve my needs or is this separate photo needed to serve a unique purpose?
Also, unless you have a specific purpose in mind, avoid repeating the same shots singly and again as a couple.
Photographed either singly OR as a couple will generally serve your needs. I highly recommend both partners are present for all photos we take.
If you take one thing away – bear this in mind
I’ve seen the following come up time and time and time again, no matter what the size of wedding. In fact, this issue is more pronounced with smaller weddings of 10 – 75 guests, as they typically don’t have a wedding planner and the day can more easily run off-course.
Nor do they have a true sense of what to expect for the family formals, especially if it’s ‘just’ two small families.
Here’s what you don’t know, even if you’ve been a wedding guest:
Family formals can often be unexpectedly difficult and stressful for the marrying couple. Getting everyone together seems like a piece of cake, after all. There’s nothing much to it!
However, even the smallest party of 10 people required in the family pictures have found it stressful. And difficult to stay smiling for so long. You, as the couple, will be smiling the longest, being in every picture.
Finding people is sometimes the issue. Other times, it’s that people simply don’t listen or want to be in the pictures, even if they know you have requested them.
Next, a person is fine with posing for one picture, but when you make them stand there for 2, 3, 4 photos, they quickly lose patience and it will show.
Almost every wedding I’ve ever shot, especially when I started out shooting intimate weddings, the bride told me ‘wow, that was much harder than I thought it would be. It looked so easy on paper.’
Couples simply don’t realize how much of a task it is to get their family to stand in one place, be completely still, force a smile and stay standing there for several seconds or minutes.
Bottom line: the fewer the pictures you request, the smoother the day will go. The less time we’ll spend, the less stressed you will be, and the happier your family will be.
Oh, and your photographer will thank you, too.
What are we trying to achieve with our wedding family photo list?
The loved ones of your life should be captured in a select number of well-chosen and intentional groupings.
To help with the pace of your wedding day we’ll aim to get through them in about 20 – 30 mins.
For the more casual shots or groupings, you can always catch me at any point during the day and ask for photos.
I will always make sure I have your list of each family formal picture you would like in advance.
That is the case for whatever the type of wedding you’re having.
My sample groupings list – family photos (25 mins)
- Everyone present
- Bride* and groom with both sets of parents plus any siblings with their kids + partners.
- Bride and groom with both sets of parents plus all siblings
- Bride and groom with bride’s parents
- Bride and groom with groom’s parents
- One more family groupings relevant to you
- One more family groupings relevant to you
My sample groupings list – wedding party / friends of your own age photos – THE FUN ONES (25 mins)
- Bride and groom with entire wedding party
- Bride with her wedding party
- Groom with his wedding party
- Time permitting and if you value this and want to spend the time: individual portraits of bride or groom with each wedding party member / friend.
There’s no need to add wedding party pictures to your family portrait list.
The wedding party will typically have its own time in the schedule, usually right after the first look and lasting half an hour.
NB: If you aren’t having a first look the wedding party portion may have to be condensed. It would have to fit in sometime between the end of the ceremony and the end of the cocktail hour, before the reception gets underway.
A note about San Francisco City Hall weddings
At City Hall we are more limited time-wise than for regular weddings. The entire coverage time with your photographer may only be 2 hours, instead of 8 hours.
You probably don’t want to be spending a quarter of your wedding coverage doing the family photos, as there is so much else you will want to do!
For City Hall weddings, I budget for up to 6 groupings, given a guest count of anywhere between 4 – 12 guests.
6 groupings takes about 20 minutes. That will be what’s assumed on the timeline I’ll draw up for you.
Again, if you want to do more than about 6 groupings, that’s totally fine, but something else may need to be trimmed or cut.
It’s possible that more coverage time will need to be added on.
Zoe’s Very Useful Tips for family wedding photos!
Photo of all your guests?
Do you want a photo of everyone that is in attendance? I love it! Just make sure you let me know and I’ll build the 15 minutes that it takes into the timeline.
Biggest grouping first
Start with the biggest family grouping first, typically the one with both sides that includes all parents, siblings and sibling’s partners.
Elderly or mobility-impaired guests
We want to photograph any elderly relatives and people with limited mobility early on. Please let me know in advance so I can make sure pictures with them are up first.
Please appoint one photo-wrangler from each side that knows who’s who. Typically someone who can shout and grab people! Let them know their role in advance, and give them a copy of your photo list.
The importance of planning
Even with the best will in the world, guests’ patience will fray. With careful planning and maximum efficiency, your family will think it was totally effortless.
Consider a first look to save time
A very effective use of time is to have a first look, then you can do all the wedding party & immediate family portraits right after your first look. Plus more couples pictures!
For more information about what a first look is, check out my dedicated blog post linked below:
Be the calm at the eye of the storm!
I advise having you stay put then simply adding in folks around you. I advise both partners stay together for all the pictures, but that’s your call.
Wedding party portraits need longer
The wedding party portraits (or friends of your own age) tend to need a little longer as we want to do some playful, fun ones too. We may use different locations for more variety. There aren’t a LOT of groupings, but there’s more time spent with variety and bringing out people’s personalities beyond just smiling at the camera which we do for family formals.
Changing light means changing locations
The light can change significantly in half ah hour. We may have to change locations part-way through which I will advise on. If you have a strong preference for having them all in one place, let me know!
*I have used the words ‘bride and groom’ at times during this article when writing out ‘partner 1 / partner 2’ would have made the text clunky and hard to follow.
Use it to mean ‘any marrier, for example the bride’. I avoid heteronormativity wherever possible, including my client onboarding & planning process.
Thanks for reading my guide! Big family? Unruly bunch? If you’re looking for a San Francisco Bay Area wedding photographer that can get your through the family formal photos efficiently and with a smile, look no further!