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5 Steps to Organize Family Photos

5 Steps to Organize Family Photos

Ah, yes, the infamous group family photos on your wedding day. If you are currently having flashbacks to Father of The Bride or past experiences you may have had from weddings you were a part of, you know well that organizing both families into one place at one time can be a challenge.

However, after shooting hundreds of weddings I can promise you that these are the most important photos of the day.

You heard me right. After the wedding, the most viewed, printed, requested, and ordered photos are not the amazing candid shots of emotional moments that you’ve likely seen all over my website. They are traditional, posed, family photos, often taking place in a church or at the altar.  

While we all love the emotional fairytale images from the day, the family portraits are essentially why you hire a professional photographer. Our job is to make sure that they go off without a hitch and that all parties are satisfied. So, here you have it — five steps that will get your family photos organized, and ensure that mom, dad, bride, groom, and Aunt Debra all leave your wedding happy.

Step 1: Create a shot list

The first step to organization is creating a family photo wish list. Here is what I suggest for the first pass — focus on your immediate family only. Think about your parents (and stepparents), your siblings (and their spouses). If there are any divorced parent situations that might be uncomfortable, make note of it for your photographer! To help, I have listed examples of how to write out your photo requests that will be easily digestible for your photographer to understand in a glance.

EXPERT TIP: be sure to include names and relations to the bride and groom.

START WITH THE BRIDE’S SIDE ONLY, then repeat for the grooms side.

  • Bride + Groom (Katie, Chad)
  • Bride + Dad (Katie, Dave)
  • Bride + Mom (Katie, Sue)
  • Bride + Parents (Katie, Dave & Sue are married)
  • Bride + Groom + Parents (Katie, Chad, Dave, Sue)
  • Bride + Groom + Parents + Siblings/Spouses (Katie, Chad, Dave, Sue, Kim/John, Tyler)
  • Bride + Groom + Siblings (Katie, Chad, Kim/John, Tyler)
  • Immediate family with all grandparents (Bride, groom, parents, siblings + Grandpa Bill/Verna, Grandma Louise)
  • Bride + Groom + Grandparents Bill/Verna
  • Bride + Groom + Grandma Louise

Now add in anyone that you want to be in the larger family groups (keep in mind that these are optional). The longer your list becomes, the more time and energy will be spent on these photos. I am one of the few photographers that will recommend opting for bigger groups if you have the time. After all, when will you have all these people in one place together again?

For this part, list the names or the number of people in each group so the photographer can call it out when it is their turn.

EXPERT TIP: This can be super chaotic, and know yourself best — only add in all these family members if you feel like you can handle it on your wedding day.  It is YOUR day after all.

  • Brides immediate family (5) + grandparents (3) + Bradley family (5), + Smith family (6)

Repeat the above steps for the groom’s family. I suggest keeping these as two separate lists, rather than trying to combine them from the start.  

Step 2: Organize your list

Start by organizing from the biggest group down to the smallest. It’s easier to peel off members than to add/subtract them multiple times. See if you can start with the biggest family group and then figure out a way to organically remove people from the photos to whittle away at the list.

This will also allow time for the mass amount of people to exit the church before starting the smaller group photos, so it is suddenly calmer and quieter as we work down the photo list. A.k.a. Let’s keep it moving so we can send all your crazy fun cousins onto the reception ASAP!

Step 3: Consider the logistics

Where and when will the photos take place? Have you organized this time with the church? Have you communicated to your family what time they should arrive? Usually, the reason this part of the day can be stressful for the Bride & Groom is when their family doesn’t show up on time, or in the correct place. We are always in a hurry to knock these photos out, either because the church is trying to kick us out, or because we are eager to move onto the photo tour before heading to the reception.

To avoid this stress, I suggest telling your entire family to be there early. Give yourself some padding if you’re not doing family photos directly after the ceremony. The hope here is that you can walk in, and they are all there waiting for you. Tell them, email them, text them — over-communicate with them! Then all we can do is hope for the best. if someone forgot or is late, we move on. After all, you can’t control everything on your wedding day, especially family 🙂

Step 4: Communication

Before the big day, be sure to talk with your family and photographer about any potentially sticky situations. E.g. a family member in a wheelchair, or divorced parents who can’t stand each other. If you have a sticky situation, you most likely know what I am talking about. If you are racking your brain trying to think of something, then you most likely don’t have anything to worry about.

For anyone that might be in a wheelchair, or have difficulty walking up stairs, this is super important to communicate to your photographer so that they can plan accordingly and aren’t faced with this surprise on the day of.

Step 5: Getting the shot

Why do all family photos look so boring and formal? Well, it’s a simple cause and effect — most couples and their families want to rush through this part of the day, so we quickly move through the list without much time to be creative. I can tell you from experience that the more people involved, the more difficult it is to make the photo look aesthetically pleasing.

Here are a few ways to create a nice group shot:

  • Try using steps or chairs to create layers in groups with over 10+ people.
  • Try taking the photos in an outside location (or ask your photographer for advice on a location).
  • Plan ahead with your photographer so they can be creative with these shots.

With a little bit of planning and a healthy dose of creativity, family portraits can be beautiful photographs that live on as treasures for your whole family to keep.

What about your college friends and work colleagues? I suggest saving these for the cocktail hour or reception.  Add in a college flag and have your musicians play the school fight song to really make it a fun moment.

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Featured Question

Q: Is there really a wedding mark up?

Do you feel like the industry charges more “because it’s a wedding” and they know it’s an emotional purchase?

Do companies think that they can charge more for weddings since the bride and groom may be willing to spend more on their dream wedding?

Hey wedding pros – is this higher price tag justified? Why? Do you charge more for your service if it is a wedding?

This is a taboo topic, whispered but not discussed… until now.

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2 comments

    Robin Sloan, The Uncorked ProjectVerifiedRobin Sloan, The Uncorked Project

    I have been asked this so many times... does the wedding industry inflate prices when they hear it's a wedding?

    Here is my honest answer (as a former wedding photographer)... NO. Did I charge more for a wedding than a 50th birthday party or a family portrait session? Yes, absolutely. I charged A LOT more for a wedding.

    Was I taking advantage of the emotional sell? Absolutely not.

    The main reasons I charged more for a wedding were: the unseen amount of work involved in the 12+ months leading up to the wedding, the skill level needed on the day, the INTENSE pressure to create perfect "portfolio level work" no matter what the reality of the situation- but mostly it is to compensate for the time AFTER the wedding in post production.

    Little known fact about wedding photography - the real job is sitting at a computer editing photos. Photographers spend many hours behind the computer carefully selecting and editing photos. They make adjustments, crop, and adjust colors to ensure each image it's best. Don't forget the time it takes for batching, renaming, importing, exporting and uploading the photos and preparing them for delivery.

    Do you think this justifies why photographers charge more for weddings than for other types of shoots?

    AvatarCody Pettengill

    Couldn’t agree more! And on the videography side its an absolute ton of data + editing discipline.

    Its a double sided coin- weddings are extremely high pressure but also high reward when we nail it.

    Our products (photo video) in particular are the only thing that genuinely will last forever . Having fun and ALSO nailing the product is worth the price of entry and frankly more.

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