How to Deal with Family and Bridal Party Pictures at a Wedding

Family and bridal party pictures at a wedding are important, every couple wants them but none of their families want to be patient and present to take them. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of pressure from mothers and grandmothers to get all the important combinations while at the same time, there’s always a cousin that disappeared to the bar.

This means that family pictures can end up as one of the most stressful parts of the day for a wedding photographer. Unless you love wrangling groomsmen and directing generations of family drama, I know some of you do, it’s important to have a plan for nailing these photos. They make feel like the least challenging photos from an artistic or technical standpoint but the human factor can make them hard.

And, family and bridal party pictures are actually the very photos that end up getting printed the most by a variety of family members. Therefore, if you can learn to deal with family and bridal party pictures at a wedding it will have a big impact on both you and your clients. This article will walk you through tips and tricks that I use to make group portraits a painless part of the day.

Communicate with Your Clients

The first step in solving any work challenge is to communicate with your clients. This means setting and understanding expectations ahead of time. It helps if everyone is on the same page before the wedding day.

Clarifying expectations from both sides will help you know how to schedule time for the photos and ensure they go smoothly. How do you work and what do your clients want?

I personally shoot in a photojournalistic style and am non-directive during the majority of the day except for portraits. I work hard to capture candid moments of my couples with their loved ones so that they can relive real moments of real smiles, laughter, and joy. That is all communicated through everything from my portfolio to what I say during client meetings. Therefore, most of my couples don’t expect nor want me to spend a significant amount of time on posed group portraits, however, I know they are important photos so I do make sure to schedule time for them. But it’s worth double-checking that everyone is on the same page about all of that and adjusting when necessary.

Create a Standard Family Photos List and Customize It

Once you’ve confirmed expectations with your couples, you’ll want to give them some direction. As the professional, you can guide everyone through the process rather than expecting them to know. If you leave it up to the couple you’ll often end up with an unwieldy or disorganized family picture list.

I’m fairly adamant about not being creatively chained to “shot lists” in every aspect of the wedding day except for this one. You need a shot list for family and bridal party pictures and I recommend creating a standard list filled with the various combinations of photos that you think you need to shoot and then customizing it for each family situation. You’ll customize for complicated families and reorder to make things easier on anyone with young ones or those with mobility challenges.

My suggestion is to keep the list as short as possible because every photo takes time to take. As a rule of thumb, take the photo combinations that will get printed and appreciated rather than a ton of random combinations. I have a worksheet my clients fill out with family member names and relationships that I use to create a family picture list and then I review it during a pre-wedding consult to make sure I understand any family dynamics or special circumstances.

Schedule, Remind, Announce

Once you have the family picture list you’ll know who exactly is expected to be present for family photos. Is it just the immediate family or is it all of the extended families too? Then you’ll need to remind your client to make sure all of those people know they need to be present for family photos.

I almost always do family photos right after the ceremony because that’s when I can count on everyone being there. Almost every time we’ve attempted to do family photos pre-ceremony there’s inevitably one brother or cousin missing and we have to reshoot those photos again anyway resulting in a huge waste of time for everyone. It’s super important to me that my clients have an amazing wedding day so I try to schedule photos at a time that they have a high probability of going smoothly.

However, I will often do bridal party photos before the ceremony since the bridal party is often getting ready with the couple anyway. Any photos that you can reliably get done ahead of time count toward time saved during cocktail hour. You can decide what works best for you and how much time you need and then be sure to schedule it, remind your couple to remind everyone, remind everyone yourself, and even have the officiant make an announcement.

Be Clear, Confident, and Efficient while Directing Group Photos

When it comes time to shoot family photos it’s important to be clear, confident, and efficient. I’m lucky enough to shoot with a teammate so for family pictures one of us can focus on directing the family members while the other stays in position and shoots the photos. This has proved to be immensely helpful in making things go quickly and smoothly while also not missing any photos on the list.

I try to shoot the photos in the same efficient and consistent order but often I have to reorder things on the fly and the more organized I am the better I’m able to adapt. That leaves brainpower for other aspects of the day and also allows me to make a good impression during this high interaction time.

This is also why setting clear expectations helps as does scheduling the photos. If you know what photos you’re taking and how long they will take, you’ll feel good about what you get. Some photographers spend a lot of time shooting a ton of bridal party photos while others spend far less, if you know what your couple wants you can be confident you’re meeting those expectations.

Shoot Strong Family Photos

Last but certainly not least it’s important to shoot strong photos. For me this means making sure I don’t crop anyone in weird places and that the faces are all sharp and properly exposed. These photos aren’t really about getting artsy or fancy, they’re about getting clean crisp portraits so double-check your settings, framing, and backdrop. Shoot enough that you get one where everyone’s eyes are open too.

I’ll reiterate that group pictures are about the people, if you can get an epic backdrop that is a great bonus. It’s a bonus I always aim for and work super hard for. But when it comes down to it, people will be more mad if they’re shiny and squinty than they would be about not having what they think is the best view.

Be prepared to bring a lighting setup for family photos if you need to, some situations are really hard such as weddings in a dark church or mid-day on a super bright and hot day. Seek shade or better angles or consider finding a better time for photos if the conditions are really terrible, this is a time to be flexible and adjust or better yet plan ahead if you know you might be walking into a challenging situation.

Dealing with Family and Bridal Party Pictures in Review

In review, here’s the process for dealing with family and bridal party pictures at a wedding. First, be sure to communicate with your clients and set expectations so that everyone is on the same page. Then, take your standard family picture shot list and customize it for this particular wedding.

From there, it helps to schedule the pictures properly and make sure everything knows the who, where, and when by having reminders and announcements as needed. Remember that this is the time to take control by being clear, confident, and efficient. And finally, shoot strong photos.

About the author: Brenda Bergreen is a Colorado wedding photographer, videographer, yoga teacher, and writer who works alongside her husband at Bergreen Photography. With their mission and mantra “love. adventurously.” they are dedicated to telling adventurous stories in beautiful places.