Tips for Stress-Free Formal Family Portraits: Get Your Best Photos

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Formal family portraits can quickly become chaotic, but after shooting a few hundred weddings I’ve found a few key tips that will make this part of the day stress-free.

If you’ve spent much time browsing through my photos, you’ll notice that I don’t post some of the more traditional posed family groups. That’s not because I don’t shoot them, but rather because I like to feature moment-based documentary photos. Still, I’m often asked (and to reassure parents) that yes, I will absolutely capture the classic formal wedding portraits of various family groups.

wedding party zig zag formal portrait

1) MAKE A (MANAGEABLE) LIST

Having a list of the groups will make the formal family portraits go much smoother! It’s crazy hard to keep everyone focused in the moments after the ceremony. People are chatty and excited to see each other (as they should be!). Having a list means we can have a plan, and we won’t miss anyone that’s important to you. Since every family is unique, I leave the official list making to you, but I suggest keeping the total number of groups to about ten or less. It’s also important to plan the order of the groups so that we move people as little as possible. For example, start with the largest or smallest group and build up/down in family blocks. There’s a well-designed sample at the bottom of this page.

2) SCHEDULE TWO TO THREE MINUTES PER GROUP

I know that sounds like a long time to get a photo of each group. On average it actually does take that long to move the last group out, get everybody into place and lined up, then make sure we have a photo with everyone smiling and their eyes open.

3) DESIGNATE A GROUP PHOTO WRANGLER

Even better if you have one from each side. Make sure they each have a copy of the list and know the family. It also helps if they’re comfortable shouting out and keeping people in order (elementary school teachers are perfect). Or if you have ushers, this is a great place to put them to work.

outdoor wedding formal family portraits

SAMPLE LIST OF FORMAL FAMILY PORTRAITS

The template below includes the most popular formal family groups. It’s easy to adjust for any family and add the names of each person. I always bring at least four physical copies of the list on the wedding day – one for my second shooter (who crosses off each group as we go), two for the family photo wranglers and a bonus/backup copy.

FIRST FAMILY
– Couple + Parents, Siblings & Grandparents (comma separated names)
– Couple + Parents & Siblings (comma separated names)
– Couple + Parents (comma separated names)

BOTH FAMILIES
– Couple + both sets of Parents & all Siblings (comma separated names)
– Couple + both sets of Parents (comma separated names)

SECOND FAMILY
– Couple + Parents (comma separated names)
– Couple + Parents & Siblings (comma separated names)
– Couple + Parents, Siblings & Grandparents (comma separated names)


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