When we were first getting started (and oh who am I kidding, several years in!!), one of the things that we dreaded the most about shooting the wedding day was documenting the family portrait combinations.
Please do not get me wrong here.
I think the family portraits are super important. They create a record of that group of people together for what could be the very last time. And each of those families is responsible for helping to make our awesome Brides & Grooms the amazing people that they are today. So we owe a lot to them. Those pictures matter.
So understand that it wasn't from a lack of wanting to shoot them. It was from just not knowing the best way how.
As any of you who have shot even one wedding can attest, gathering everybody together for the family pictures can be tricky at best. And like one wedding guest put it perfectly, it can be a lot like herding cats. :) There's a lot going on that day, so everyone can (understandably!) be a bit distracted. People are pretty slow to move on the wedding day, so you might have to ask them to do things a couple of times before you actually get them in place. And then just when you think you have everybody and you're ready to take the shot, you realize that you're missing that one person. So somebody in the group goes to get them, and now you're missing two people. So somebody goes to get them! :) And so on.
It can turn into a real disaster. And the longer those family portraits go on, the more frustrated everyone gets.
Hence the dread.
But one day, we had the realization that if we wanted those family portraits to go better then we were going to have to be better. We needed a system, and not just a system....but a whole way of being. One where we could be in charge, but friendly. Organized but flexible. And where we could give people who were just meeting us for the very first time that day, firm direction while still making it feel like they were having fun.
So I thought about how we go about tackling the family portraits and I boiled it down into my top 5 tips for you. Here we go!
1. Use the Family Photo Football The common wisdom on family photos is to start with your largest group and pare away. Which makes a lot of sense....in theory. The problem with this approach though, is that in reality very rarely do you have everyone who would be in that largest group all together at the beginning of family pictures. So there was always a lot of lag time waiting for them to be gathered up. Justin & I realized that was precious time where we could be knocking out some of the other smaller combinations. But we also wanted to do it in an organized way where we wouldn't end up forgetting one of the combinations. So we came up with what we call the "Family Photo Football." That's because we start small in the beginning, get big in the middle, and then get small again....like a football. So our combinations go a little something like this: Bride/Mom, Bride/Dad, Bride/Mom/Dad, Bride/Groom/Mom/Dad, Bride/Groom/Mom/Dad/Siblings, Bride/Groom/Mom/Dad/Siblings/Spouses/Kids, Bride/Groom/Mom/Dad/Siblings/Spouses/Kids/Grandparents, Bride/Groom Grandparents. And then that whole side of the family can go. We intentionally do the Bride's family first because it then allows her parents to get off to the cocktail hour and play host, which by etiquette & tradition they are. Then for the Groom's side, we do the exact reverse order, starting large and going small. And as we're paring away people, each of them can then be released to the cocktail hour.
2. Put people on deck Since we have a pretty set order in our heads, I now know who is coming up next in the combinations. Which means that as Justin is shooting one group, I can go up to the next people to be added in one or two shots ahead and let them know that they are "on deck." I'll tell them to reapply that lip gloss, make sure they have the flowers for the flower girl, and go grab their spouse if he isn't already there. So now, when their turn comes up they are ready to go!
3. Get them done BEFORE cocktail hour (or away from cocktail hour) We used to do the order of shooting after the ceremony this way: Bride & Groom portraits because we really wanted to get those in, bridal party and then families. Which of course was a rookie mistake (don't worry, we all make them!) because it meant that as those other groups were waiting around, one by one we would lose them to the cocktail hour. It's so totally understandable! They're hungry, they want a drink, they want to talk to people. And now the families & bridal party end up taking, no joke, three times longer because for every single group we want to shoot....somebody is missing. Now, either by getting them done during the first look time or by doing them first at the church, we get try to get those family pictures knocked out long before we get to the cocktail hour or there are other guests around. And now everyone can just enjoy the party, stress-free.
4. Speak up, call them by name. Just like we talked about on the Pancake Session about directing the bridal party, it's very important for us to both speak up/take charge early and call people by name. As soon as the family photos start, I need to make sure that I'm out there speaking loudly (a hard task for an introvert like me!) but friendly and articulating a plan for how things are going to go. People just need to know that somebody is taking charge, and then they can relax and go with the flow. But if I wait too long to jump in and someone starts asking "what are we doing," then I can lose people very quickly. So right at the beginning, I jump in and start calling out the combinations, I'm smiling a ton so that it still feels super friendly, but I make it clear that I've got this. As I'm calling out those combinations and directing people on their posing, I make a conscious effort to try to call them by name. It's more respectful, they tend to listen to me more, and it just makes the whole thing feel less bossy.
5. Don't forget the witty banter. As I'm going through and setting up those combinations/poses, I make sure to add a little witty banter into the mix. I'll tell Grandma to work it, I'll high five with the ring bearers, I'll tell Dad he's looking sharp. People will remember how you made them feel, so if you can make it fun & painless and get through those combinations quickly....then it won't just be the Bride & Groom who are referring you. It will be their whole families!
I hope this helped! And that if you have a wedding this weekend, you'll go into it those family pictures ready to rock them out rather than feeling that all too familiar dread.