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December 8, 2016

The Open Book Club: Achieving Successful Wedding Day Family Portraits

It’s been a while since I’ve done an Open Book Club post! I created this blog series as a resource for fellow photographers, because when it comes to my business I want to be an open book and help other photographers be successful in theirs. Today’s post is all about family portraits on a wedding day. I always tell my couples that family portrait time is not necessarily the most glamorous time of their big day, but it is such an important part of photographing a wedding day. Family photos are some of the most likely to represent your work in frames in homes for generations to come.

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Be Prepared: If family portraits aren’t well organized on a wedding day, it can become a huge time-suck in the day when it absolutely doesn’t need to be! The bride & groom and their families are going to be looking to you for direction, and you need to be prepared to give it. Before the wedding, I collect a family portrait list from my couples (using a questionnaire form from 17Hats). In that list, I ask them to give me the first name & relationship to that person, so when I’m looking at a list of names I know what I’m looking at.

Be Organized: After I receive the list from my couple, I organize it in a way that will be the most efficient. It is easier to invite people into the pictures than it is to ask them to step out, so I always start small and keep adding people in. It feels more inclusive to people and allows you to avoid a potentially awkward situation. For example: If a bride wants a photo with just her immediate family and also one with her immediate family & all significant others/children, start with the immediate family and then add in everyone else, rather than starting big and having to ask people to step out of a photo.

I print out two copies of my family portrait list (one for me and one for my second photographer) and we’re good to go! I’ve found that people respond very well to a printed list in hand. It makes it clear that you are organized and know what you’re doing. People know that they can expect you to direct them and will be waiting for your cue.

Respectful: Wedding days are filled with many different dynamics, and being in charge of organizing families can put you in a delicate position. Remember that a “family” can come in many shapes & sizes, which is why I always ask my couples in our pre-wedding meeting if there is anything I should be aware of as far as family dynamics, deaths in the family, anyone with disabilities– or just anything they can think of that would be useful for me to know. That way, I know if there is a situation that I need to be delicate with, whether that’s a parent who is no longer with them or divorced parents who don’t get along.

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Picking the location for the family portraits is the first thing I do when I arrive at a venue on a wedding day. A lot of factors go into deciding the perfect spot, so here is what’s going through my mind as I’m looking around…

Easily Accessible: It should be somewhere that the family can easily get to & find. Having to walk a little is okay, but if you’re eyeing a spot on the top of a hill you may want to reconsider for grandparents, ladies in heels, parents who have to carry small kids, etc.

– Even Lighting, Simple Background, Plenty of Space: I prep my couples ahead of time that the spot I pick for family pictures may not be the most breathtaking view at their venue. I instead search for spots that will have the best, even lighting (often a big spot of open shade) and where the family, not the background, will be the focus of the photo. My main objective for a family portrait is that you can see everyone’s face and everyone is evenly lit. The best view might be overlooking the ocean or mountains, but if it’s in glaring sunlight everyone will be squinting into the camera and some will have harsh shadows falling on their face. I always reassure the families that we will get plenty of photos with that spectacular view with the bride & groom :) It’s much easier to wrangle that harsh sunlight with 2 people rather than 10. Plus if it’s a hot summer day, people will be much cooler waiting in the shade rather than out in the hot sun.

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– Hidden Away from Guests: Whenever possible, you want to try to pick a spot that isn’t going to be right in the middle of everything. If a couple does a first look, sometimes they don’t want guests seeing them before the ceremony, so maybe shy away from picking a spot in the front of the venue where all the guests will be arriving. If family portraits happen after the ceremony and you don’t lead the couple & their families to a spot that is tucked away, it can be hard to separate the bride & groom and their families from guests who are anxious to see and congratulate them (understandably so!). Picking a spot that’s low traffic will help keep everyone focused and will prevent people from walking in & out of the background of your photos.

(One of my favorite memories from family portraits at a wedding is asking some of Lindsey’s bridesmaids to help steer guests away from the courtyard where we were taking family portraits. Next thing I know I look over and the bridesmaids had creating a wall to block people from coming in… loved these girls!)

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Family portraits might not be the most exciting photographs you will take on the wedding day. They may not be the ones that end up on your blog or social media, but they WILL be the ones that end up in frames at grandma’s house or a spread in their album. That is why when I’m taking family photos I always try to get multiple versions for them to choose from– horizontal, vertical & close-up. Sometimes in a big group, it can be challenging to get anything other than a horizontal, but if it’s 5 people or less you can easily get a horizontal full-body, horizontal close-up, and vertical version. That way when the couple or family is picking a photo to print, they can choose what best fits their frame (or when you’re designing their album you have orientation options to choose from).

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I hope this helps you go out there and rock your family portraits at your next wedding! Have any follow up questions? Leave them in the comments below!

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