You Can’t Choose Your family. But You Can Choose How To Photograph Them!

by | Photography Wisdom, Wisdom


Jerome Cole

“Ok – family photo time!” Cue eye rolls, toilet breaks, and lots of dragging of the heels…
Just when everyone was having a lovely time celebrating the end of the wedding formalities, the wedding photographer shows up with a list as long as their arm, corralling family members away from all the fun… GROAN.

Ain’t nobody got time for that on a wedding day! But…there’s absolutely no need for it be a total drag – in fact, quite the opposite! And the resulting photos don’t have to be boring groups of stiff-necked rellies with plastered on smiles either. Think outside the box in terms of the location, positioning of the family members – and have a laugh about it!

Here are a few simple tips to make it a fun, even ‘bonding’ time, for the family to share:
Get organized…
Before the wedding day, make a (concise!) list of the groups you want to capture, being mindful of any family politics and being realistic on your priorities (is it really worth your precious time and effort to round up the 17 cousins you haven’t seen since Summer ’09..?). Rather, the sweet spot tends to be between roughly 6 and 10 group combinations (I make the list with couples in our final meeting a few weeks prior).

For example, start with your parents, add siblings, then partners and kids, and possibly grandparents. This can be repeated two to four times depending on the structure of each family.
Then – choose a photographer who’s a good fit for you and your family – as they will then strike the right balance of friendly assertiveness and organisation (and will hopefully throw in a few laughs along the way – because, no, it doesn’t have to be so serious!). Surprise the family by making it much less painful than they were imagining.

The best time to take family photos is typically right after the ceremony. After a ew congratulations from family and guests, seize the moment before people start to disperse. Your photographer will likely choose a location close by with the best light and a suitable backdrop.

I like a simple background to ensure the outfits and colours stand out, without becoming too busy. Couples can sometimes feel obligated to start directing their family immediately, but resist the urge, and allow your photographer to move you into position…and the family will follow!

Just word up the relevant family members prior, that this will be happening. Family members will enjoy watching and chatting as you begin, and can then easily pop into position when required. If you have a pro-active, loud friend or family member, you might want to give them “rounding up” duty, to help work through the list – but this can sometimes get a bit confusing.

Have a chat to your photographer, as they might find it easier to take control and therefore keep a closer track of things (this is my approach). This allows them a little more flexibility to make decisions on the fly if needed.

Enjoy it!
OK, so you’re JUST married and all you want to do is relax and celebrate…but once we get started, the family photos can take as little as 10 minutes to knock out. And then you’re free to mingle and the family is released for the rest of the night! Again, this is where it’s important to choose the right photographer for you. They need to be organised and appropriately assertive, without being in a rush. They will also help to set the tone, and ensure that everyone is relaxed and comfortable. Family photos can actually be a great opportunity to spend some quality time with your crew – enjoy it!

The ‘whole group’ photo
Is the group photo worth it? Well, it depends. Logistically, it can be a helpful way of creating a focus point to then direct family members to photos and the guests on to drinks, particularly if the timing between the ceremony and reception is tight. However, it can really break up the flow of congratulations and well wishes, which is such a joyous part of the day. So if you feel luke-warm about it – then give it a miss, and enjoy the moment! Otherwise, if you really really want a shot of your whole group in a single photo. ensure you have a photographer who can work a large crowd.

Ah, working with kids. Only one suggestion here: be flexible! If the kids are good to go – grab the opportunity before it passes, and if they aren’t, try to change up the order of things until a more suitable moment arises. Well-meaning family members can often make things more difficult by trying to cajole the kids into looking at the camera, which results in said child eventually looking at the camera…while everyone else looks at the kid! Try to just stay in your own lane and let the photographer use their tricks to make it happen.

Get creative
To work through the list of family photos in a timely and enjoyable fashion, there’s really only time for the classic line up – neat, flattering without being to staged and fussy. However, if you have a bit of time up your sleeve and have a fun, accommodating family or bridal party, you can really get creative!

One of my favourite ‘twists on tradition’ is what I call the ‘Vanity Fair’ style spread. They can take a little extra pre-organising, but are so much fun to do and the result can be quite spectacular.  I often finish my coverage with an outdoor night ‘hero shot’, and I’ve had couples bring their family or bridal party to be a part of it. This could include light painting, an epic rural or urban backdrop simply lit by stars or streetlights or a champagne spray. What a finale!

The real family photos
At the end of the day, remember what it’s all about – celebrating your marriage with family and friends. More than likely, your favourite images will be the ones you don’t even notice being taken; a kiss from dad, a cuddle from your bestie or that glance from your new spouse. So don’t get so wrapped up in getting the ‘perfect’ shot, that you miss the real moments.

Jerome Cole is a Melbourne based photographer who loves shooting real, documentary-style images as well as epic, cinematic portraits. When he’s not photographing weddings, he’ll likely be chasing his 2 small kids around with his camera – so he has a few ideas to share when it comes to approaching family photos! He has a Fine art background and has been photographing weddings all over Australia for the past 10 years.


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