Standing in one place and smiling for the camera while your family line up for photos on your wedding day doesn’t sound like the most fun ever, I get it. When you’ve just exchanged rings and sobbed through your vows, the last thing you want to do is take a bunch of stuff family photos – but they’re actually a super-important part of the day. Even if you’d be happy to skip them right now, they will become more and more important as time passes.

There’s a pretty standard list of family formals that most couples capture on the day, and it usually looks something like this:
Bride’s parents
Bride’s family
Bride’s extended family
Bride’s and groom’s parents
Groom’s parents
Groom’s family
Groom’s extended family

It can vary based on your family circumstances – you might have step-parents, great-grandparents, very close aunts and uncles, or bands of friends who are more like family. No two lists are ever quite the same. Sometimes these lists get really long, and family members can be hard to round up – but we can keep the family photos running smoothly and painlessly with a bit of preparation.

First, let’s talk about why you need formal family photos on your wedding day. Think about your grandparents’ side board, or walls, or mantelpiece. Which photos are the ones you saw displayed there, and looked at hundreds of times as a child? Chances are, family groups were the most represented. They weren’t just decorative – they were a fond way to keep those family members close and remembered – especially the ones who’d passed away.

Your wedding day family photos become a historical record, and they become more valuable as they age. In ten years time your grandma might be gone, your brother’s kids grown up. In forty years time you might be reflecting on how your parents must have felt on your big day as you help your own child prepare to walk down the aisle, and in a century your great-grandchildren might use these pictures to trace back their family tree. Without them, of course you’ll still have a collection of moments from your wedding day – but they’ll be fragments of your story. Your family formals introduce the characters of that story. If in 100 years time your descendants are looking at pictures of you, you’ll want them to be from a day you looked great – right?!

These family pictures don’t have to be an overwhelming task. You can make family formals much more manageable by helping me (your photographer, hi!!) your family and your friends prepare. Here’s how.

1. Make a List.
Get detailed – include the names of each family member in the group so I can call them out. I’ll organise the list to make it a streamlined process – starting with the biggest group on one side of the family, either bride’s or groom’s, and paring it down to just the parents, then building it up to the whole group on the other side. It’s more efficient this way than switching between groups and generations at random – if you need your mum in 6 photos, we’ll take those 6 photos in a row. Including names means no camera-shy aunties can slink off, and most people always respond to their own name even in a crowd, which can help in noisy post-ceremony situations.

2. Allow enough time.
Once we have the list organised we’ll know how much time we need to allow – generally around 3 minutes per group, unless we have a few really big groups to corral, which will need more like 5 minutes. Lots of couples allow 15 minutes for photos and then are shocked at how slow their family members can be to get into position… and then they want to have a chat… and then they want the shot on their own camera too… for a ballpark figure, half an hour is more appropriate. Better to allow too much time and be ahead of schedule than to be running late and stressed!

 3. Consider pre-ceremony family shots instead of post-ceremony.
This one is a little controversial, if you’re a fan of the tradition where the groom doesn’t see the bride before the ceremony, but consider having your family formals BEFORE the ceremony. This way you can ask only the family members you’d like in each picture to arrive a little early and avoid the time-sucking crush of well-wishers who will want their own photo with you (whether they’re on the list or not).

4. Tell your family they’ll be photographed.
Try letting your list members know you’d like them to be in your family photographs – and when they can expect to them to happen. Most people don’t actually know much about weddings, unless they’ve planned one themselves, so letting them know they’ll be required after the ceremony, after everyone has hugged and kissed your lovely newly-married selves (or before the ceremony if you decide to go that route) will really help to keep them from disappearing to the bar for a drink right when you need them. If you do opt for pre-ceremony photos, please stress to these family members that they must be on time – we can’t delay the ceremony to accomodate them.

5. Assign bridesmaid and groomsman “wranglers”. Pick a member from each side of your bridal party (or a family member or friend) who knows your respective families well, give them a copy of the list and task them with rounding up the relevant family members for each photo. As much as I feel like part of the family on the wedding day, I don’t know who’s who and I won’t know if someone’s missing from a shot. Your wranglers will know someone’s missing, they’ll be able to say ‘hey wait, where’s uncle Jim?’ and track him down for the shot!

 6. Plan the family formals location at the rehearsal.
I love coming along to the wedding rehearsal for a bunch of reasons, and planning where to take family shots is definitely one of them – ESPECIALLY if you’d like to have a group photo featuring every guest. These are so hard to do well and require a lot of preparation and forethought! If you have a lot of guests it can be best to snap this whole group shot before you greet them and they start to drift off.

7. Ask your celebrant to help.
Since they’re the ones with a microphone and PA, it often helps to ask your celebrant to remind your guests about group photos, especially the all-in shot. Ask your celebrant to address your guests before you walk back down the aisle about where they should go for the photos and to please be mindful that they aren’t standing behind a group being photographed, and your well-informed guests will help make the process much swifter.

It might seem a little neurotic to go to so much effort for what seems like a small part of the day, but this is consistently the area that I see losing time and causing stress for couples, so a little extra effort now is well worth the payoff when you sail through your photos on the day.