Formal Family Portraits On Your Wedding Day
Making The Most of Your Formal Family Portraits
Every time I visit the home of a friend or client, the first thing I notice are the photographs they choose to display.
The wedding photos that I most often see hanging on a wall or framed on a shelf are beautiful group shots of the family together. It brings me joy to see these wedding photos on display, and it serves as a constant reminder that these are truly valued moments in everyone’s lives.
As a wedding photographer, I take pride in making beautiful formal family portraits. Choosing a clean background and arranging the family well makes for a great picture. One that you will want to display and love to look at every day.
Making beautiful pictures is important, and making them requires an efficient flow. An efficient flow makes sure your family feels good and taken care of and that your photographer is using their time wisely on a day when time is of the essence. After photographing hundreds of weddings, these are some of the practices I put in place to make family portraits an easy-flowing, organized part of your big day.
Tip #1: Write It Down
About 8 weeks before the wedding, I ask my clients to put together a list of the Formal Family Portraits they want me to make for them.
Writing things down requires that you are thinking something through. I always encourage a couple to write down which portraits they are set on making on their big day.
Bride, Groom + Mother of the Bride
Bride, Groom + Father of the Groom
Bride, Groom + Mother and Step-Father of the Bride
Bride, Groom + Father and Step-Mother of the Bride
This way, you can consider the different variations of portraits with all of the people you may want to honor by having them be in a special photograph with you.
Bonus: Having your ideas written down gives me, your photographer, a clear idea of what’s important to you. This way, we can make sure to make all of the photos you are excited about and not waste any time doing photos that are NOT important to you.
Ask a Wedding Pro:
Are there any groupings for family portraits you don’t see often but think a couple should consider?
Often times, couples will do individual photos with each group of their family members (cousins from dad’s sister, cousins from dad’s brother, aunt #1, aunt #2), but rarely do I see one large group photo with EVERYONE in it.
Think about how great it would be to have one picture with your entire family from both sides, where you can really embrace the family as a whole. (Definitely let the photographer know in advance if you plan to do this so they can prepare accordingly and have a stool if needed.)
Tip #2: Fitting It All In
Ultimately, It’s Your Choice How Much Time You Want To Spend On Family Portraits!
Some of my clients express right away that they are not interested in doing formal family portraits, but after they take a moment to write things down, they realize they have an entire list of portraits that they want to make to cherish for years to come.
I have worked with couples who decided to only include their immediate families and grandparents in the formal family portraits. These sessions are short and sweet and typically only take up to 15 minutes, which means more time spent visiting with guests and enjoying cocktail hour.
Some couples have huge wedding parties and want many different configurations of their honored guests in portraits. Once we see the full list, we’ll be able to make time for it in the wedding day schedule. This can be as simple as a pre-wedding call or conversation with your photographer. (We know about how long it will take to get your whole list and can advise on timing with you and your planner if you have one!)
If a couple has a really hard time making these choices, I work with them on it and suggest keeping the list as brief as possible. Most of my clients choose to work with me for my photographs that are more in-the-moment. Capturing the beauty of the atmosphere and the interactions of everyone is my forté and something that makes even my wedding portraits have a different, more relaxed vibe.
Tip #3: Yes, Your Mom Can Make A Request
When a Family Member Makes a Request for a Portrait, I’ll Always Honor It.
Sometimes Mom wants a formal portrait with her girlfriends from work, looking all fancy and glowing at your wedding. Sometimes Dad has all his college basketball buddies there and wants an image to have beside one they made 20 years ago.
I will usually give these notes to my second photographer to capture the requests so I can focus on the couple’s requests. As the photographer, I want to do my best to make all of the desired photos, but the couple’s wishes are always my number one priority.
Ask a Wedding Pro: What advice do you have for family members outside of the immediate family or wedding party when participating in the formal portraits?
For family members: Eat a snack before heading to the wedding. Inevitably you’ll need to be there earlier than the scheduled wedding start time for family photos, and especially if the ceremony is before the cocktail hour, you’ll be in a better mood if you’re not starving while photos are taking place. And the bride and groom will have one less thing to worry about without feeling bad about asking you to come early!
It seems simple, but more often than not, family gets antsy and frustrated because they’re at the venue early and just want food.
Going the Extra Mile: The couple can also consider having a cheese and cracker platter out for this portion of the day. Or you can bring one and be the most thoughtful family member ever!
If you’re still deciding which formal family portraits you want to make on your wedding day, I hope this helped you in your planning!
All of these thoughts are based on my own experience and feedback I’ve gotten from clients from 400+ weddings I have photographed. Every couple’s priorities are different, and I always abide by their plan and listen to their wishes. No matter who you hire as your wedding photographer, they should honor your plans!
We are so grateful to Daniela Grafman for taking the time to share her thoughts and expert feedback on formal family portraits! =)