How to Shoot a Wedding (Pt. 6): Family Photos

How to Shoot a Wedding (Pt. 6): Family Photos

In this blog series, How to Shoot a Wedding, we’ll be exploring, one by one, all of the “must haves” that need to be captured throughout the wedding day to create a well-rounded shoot. We’ll discuss the reasons each is important, examine some common challenges wedding photographers face in these situations (and how to overcome them), and provide a few insider tips for how to shoot like a professional. So grab your camera bag and let’s dive in…

Click here for part five: The Ceremony

After the ceremony, you should have around 20 minutes or so for the formal family photos.

J. La Plante Photo | Boulder Wedding Photographer | River Bend Wedding | Family Portrait

Herding Cats

These are relatively simple to execute, but extremely difficult to coordinate. The reason is that everyone in attendance seems to disperse to all corners of the venue immediately following the ceremony. Some family members know that they’re needed for photos, but many do not, and it’s on you, the photographer, to gather everyone together in one spot.

When Moira and I shoot a wedding, I find a good backdrop and set up my lighting while Moira rounds up the stragglers. This is easier said than done because everyone’s getting drinks and engaged in conversation with friends and family members they haven’t seen in a long time. Here’s the thing with family photos: everybody wants them, but nobody really wants to do them.

I should note here, that doing these photos will be exponentially easier if you have a shot list outlining the specific groups/names of family members that the bride and groom would like included.

Like this:

  • Bride and Groom with Bride’s parents (Shirley and Dan)
  • Bride and Groom with Groom’s parents (Alice and Steve)
  • Bride with Bride’s siblings (Sarah, Ben and Zach)
  • Groom with Groom’s Grandparents (Patti and Harold)
  • Bride and Groom with all cousins (Katie, James, Justin, Julie, John, Sam, Aidan, Bobby and Ron)

And so on…

This way, you can call out specific names, which will more efficiently streamline the process.

Now that you’ve gathered everyone together, it’s time to pose your subjects. It’s generally good to avoid perfectly straight lines. Try staggering family members or having them stand in a three-quarter pose so that their bodies are pointed slightly toward the center of the group. Keep in mind it’s going to be tough to get everyone to listen to you, so if you have a lot of groups to check off and a small time frame in which to do so, you might have to get a bit loud. A good rule of thumb while shooting a wedding is to be polite, but assertive.


Okay, now it’s time to take the shots. If it’s an overcast day, you’re probably fine using ambient light, but if it’s a sunny day, you’ll want to position the sun behind your subjects and use fill flash. Once every few weddings or so, someone will inform me that I should turn everyone around so that the sun is hitting their faces. This is the absolute last thing you should do in this situation. First of all, direct sunlight is very harsh and creates unflattering shadows that people don’t like to see in portraits. Second, when people look into the sun, they squint. So if Uncle Jim tries to start directing your photo shoot, you tell Uncle Jim to stick to accounting or whatever and let you get on with it….politely, but assertively, of course.

You can also make things easier on yourself by finding a nice shady area. I still recommend lighting the group because it adds that extra professional quality that you can’t get when you’re just shooting ambient. If it’s not too bright out, you can probably get away with a Speedlight or two, but if it’s bright and sunny, you’ll need a more powerful strobe to balance with the sun. But be sure not to use bare flash heads! You’ll want to use some sort of modifier to soften your light, like an umbrella, a soft box, a beauty dish, etc.

For smaller groups (approximately seven or eight – or fewer), one light should suffice, but for groups much larger than that, you’ll probably need to use two lights. And in those rare cases where the mother of the bride requests a shot of “everybody,” just go ahead and shoot with whatever ambient light is available. There isn’t enough time in the wedding day to set up professional lighting for a group of 100-plus wedding guests.

J. La Plante Photo | Denver Wedding Photographer | Chatfield Botanic Gardens Wedding | Bride with Brother

J. La Plante Photo | Colorado Wedding Photographer | Spruce Mountain Ranch Wedding | Family Portrait

J. La Plante Photo | Denver Wedding Photographer | Mile High Station Wedding | Family Portrait

J. La Plante Photo | Boulder Wedding Photographer | Shupe Homestead Wedding | Family Portrait

J. La Plante Photo | Denver Wedding Photographer | Chatfield Botanic Gardens Wedding | Family Portrait

J. La Plante Photo | Estes Park Wedding Photographer | Black Canyon Inn Wedding | Family Portrait

A Few Last-minute Tips

When shooting formal photos like this, it’s good to count to three before taking each shot. This will help minimize blinking. Also, be sure to take at least three frames of each group so that if you do have a blinker, you’ll have several images to choose from.

When shooting larger groups, cross light the scene. In other words, if your light is off to camera left, it’s best to point it toward the right-most person in the frame. If your light is off to camera-right, point it toward the left-most person in the frame. The same goes if you have two lights, one on each side of the camera. Cross lighting will create a more even light spread and help to reduce hot spots and underexposed areas.

When shooting family portraits, it’s also important to keep in mind that, while it’s probably not going to be the most artistic thing you’ve ever done, these images are very important to the bride and groom and their families. This is going to serve as a document of multiple generations of their family members, many of whom haven’t seen each other in a very long time, and may never all be together in one place again. So be sure to do a good job!

Keep your eyes open during the “in between” moments. There are some great candid shots that can be captured during the short transitional periods when one group is finishing up and the next is moving in.

J. La Plante Photo | Denver Wedding Photographer | Chatfield Botanic Gardens Wedding | Groom with Grandmother

J. La Plante Photo | Evergreen Wedding Photographer | Brook Forest Inn Wedding | Bride with Ring Bearer

Finally, take a deep breath, count to ten and, if all else fails, think about the beverage that’s waiting for you when you get home. This can be the most stressful part of the entire wedding day and it’s important to maintain a calm and pleasant demeanor even if you’ve had it with the hecklers. Remember: polite, but assertive.

So once you’ve made that last check mark on your shot list and excused the families of the bride and groom to the cocktail hour, there’s just one more portrait session to knock out before heading to the reception: the wedding party.

Click here for part seven: Bridal Party

About the author
Jesse La Plante and Moira Kennedy are husband and wife wedding photographers who have been shooting weddings in Colorado since 2008. Located just outside of Boulder in Lafayette, they specialize in vibrant wedding photography for couples getting married in Colorado's most breathtaking venues. The duo works primarily in Denver, Boulder and the Rocky Mountains, but travels all over the country - and abroad - to shoot weddings. Get in touch today to find out if they're available for your wedding!

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