Morning home engagement session with incredible light + coffee + amazing couple that was absolutely in love with each other = YES!! Sammie & Zach invited me into their beautiful DC home a few weeks ago to celebrate their engagement. We spent the morning there before walking a few blocks through the neighborhood to Dupont Circle.
Sean & Kellie celebrated their engagement session in Washington DC around the National Mall and the banks of the Potomac River. They'll be married later this year in Illinois!
Weddings have the unique ability to bring entire families together. This creates an incredible opportunity to document the people that are most important to you, often spanning multiple generations.
However, let's be honest that not many people really enjoy taking large group portraits, no matter how much they want them. Kids have short attention spans and don't like to look at cameras. Adults want to move along to the cocktail hour. The bigger the group, the more challenging to organize. All of this to say, formal family portraits can be a giant stress trap right in the middle of a wedding.
We want to share some of our best tips to plan around that and hopefully avoid that stress altogether, and to create a better experience for you and your family. You should be able to get the amazing and beautiful group portraits to capture your family legacy while also creating an atmosphere that is efficient with time and stress-free.
1. Organize Your List Ahead Of Time
We send out a planning guide a month or two before the wedding and ask all of our couples to send us every combination they want during formal portrait time. There's no one-size-fits-all template here. We have some weddings that might have five combinations, while others have thirty. The key thing is that you don't want to be figuring out which people should be in which photo the day of your wedding.
We would also suggest that you pass along critical info ahead of time if there are sensitive factors with any of the portraits. We would hate to make mom and dad stand next to each other and smile nicely for every photo only to find out later that they are divorced and haven't talked to each other in years and were completely uncomfortable the whole time. We certainly don't want to stir up any drama that overshadows the beauty of the day. Every family has its quirks but when your photographer knows about those things ahead of time, it mitigates any chances of committing an avoidable faux pas.
Figure out the combinations, consult your family as needed, and then lock the list down! Family members will always find a way to come up with infinite other combinations for family portraits that they want on your wedding day, but we'd suggest that you stick to your planned list. It's easy enough to capture other ad hoc family portraits during the cocktail hour or reception. If a family member starts getting aggressive about the portrait they want that is not on the list then you can kindly let them know that the photographer will be able to grab other portraits during the cocktail hour or reception and will take care of them at a later time.
Planning all of the combinations ahead of time will likely cut the time needed in half and get everyone on to the next event quicker.
2. Understand How Much Time You Need
Formal portraits generally take between fifteen minutes to thirty minutes. There will obviously be exceptions to that, but that's a good average. The time needed is largely dependent on the number of combinations, and also the size of the combinations. A portrait with five people will be much quicker to organize than a portrait with fifty people. Once you've completed the list of combinations you should be able to get a good ballpark for the time needed and plan it into your timeline accordingly.
3. Decide When
The easiest time for formal portraits is right before or immediately after the ceremony. This makes it simple to ensure that everyone you need will be there. Before the ceremony is great if there's enough time, and you're if already planning to do a First Look. The advantage of doing portraits before the ceremony is that nobody is missing out on another event such as the cocktail hour. If you're not doing a first look, or there just isn't enough time, then it's great to do them right after the ceremony is over while everyone is still together.
4. Decide Where
Regarding location, consider lighting and logistics. If it's an outdoor wedding and the time for formal portraits is Noon, it's probably not a great idea to stand out in an open field unless it happens to be a cloudy day. Your photographer can usually find a good shaded spot that will look nice for everyone. If you're having a church wedding and want some or all of the portraits in the church just make sure you talk to the church ahead of time to understand their rules. They might have specific windows of time where portraits are allowed.
The second thing to consider for location is logistics. There may be a beautiful spot near your venue that looks out over a valley or mountains, but if it's a big hike you probably don't want to force grandma to walk half a mile to get there! We typically recommend finding a place within minimal walking distance from the ceremony site. If it's a hot summer day, we'd also recommend being very close to a place with shade or air conditioning to let family members stay cool while they're waiting their turn.
5. Let Everyone Know The Plan Ahead Of Time
One of the best things you can do to further ensure that everyone is where they need to be at the right time is to email all of the people the week before the wedding and let them know the game plan. All you need to do is let them know that they'll be part of family portraits and when and where they need to show up. Everyone does better when they know the plan and what's expected of them.
6. Designate "The Loud One"
Your photographer should own the list and get everyone looking their best to capture the photos, but they won't necessarily know who is who. A great way to get everyone together quickly is to officially designate a confident and loud member of your family to help the photographer call out the combinations and bring the family together. This is especially useful if anybody is missing from the immediate area.
7. Spread The Joy
Family portraits can be stressful, and we get that they might not be the most fun part of the wedding day. However, it's awesome to look back and have amazing pictures that capture your family legacy. Plan the best you can to make it go smoothly and quickly, but once you're in the moment try to remember why these photos are important to you and your family. If you choose to spread joy and enthusiasm your family and guests will usually follow suit. If people are uptight or spreading stress during this time you have the power to counter that by spreading joy or laughter. Real emotion always shows through in photos so let your joy be contagious and have a great time!
Emily and Ben invited us to come and photograph their wedding in Nashville. Normally this would be a logistical challenge with three tiny children, but we knew the logistics needed to be put aside for this one. We piled the whole family into the van and drove off on our week-long adventure to Nashville and back. It was amazing.
We had photographed Ben's sister's wedding a few years earlier in Cincinnati and were super excited to come back and document this incredible family again. Ben and Kathleen were remarkable. They've dedicated their lives to their faith as missionaries and their loving impact on their family, friends, and students was visibly apparent at their wedding. It was a glorious celebration from start to finish, from the beautiful wedding Mass in the historic Nashville church to their rustic farm reception.
We often get asked by couples how much photography coverage they need for their wedding day. It's easy enough to figure out how long you need for the venue or what time to serve dinner, but photography can be a bit of a moving target. You know you want to capture the amazing special moments throughout the day, but how do you create the photographer timeline to accomplish that? We've thought about this a lot over the years when talking with our couples and we hope this post can guide you in determining how much photography coverage you need when planning your wedding day.
The most important rule for your timeline is that it's ultimately about what's important to you and what you want to have documented. This varies for every couple. Here, we would like to give you some insight into how long photographers typically need to capture specific parts of the day to help you understand and make decisions for your timeline.
Let's break it down into three decision factors:
1. Start Time
2. Portrait Time
2. End Time
Finding Your Start Time
We start by discussing the beginning of the day. Our start times vary quite a bit for weddings. The first question to consider is: do you want to document the getting ready process? This is one of our favorite parts of wedding days because there's this incredible fusion of emotions with all of the nervous excitement, and couples are spending time with the family and friends closest to them. As storytellers, this is so much fun! But, back to the important question: when do you need your wedding photographers to start? Most brides get ready for hours, especially if they have a bridesmaids getting ready with them. Hair, makeup, flowers, getting dressed... this is sometimes a four to six hour event.
There's a good chance you don't want or need that entire time documented, and there are a few things to consider. First, most women are not crazy about being photographed before they get their hair and makeup done. Second, the bride usually gets her hair and makeup done last.
We've found that what's important to a lot of brides is the following list:
- Bride getting hair and makeup done
- Bridesmaids and/or close family spending time together
- Detail shots of jewelry and dress
- Putting on the dress
- Some bridal portraits or portraits of the bride with the bridesmaids
For a typical wedding, a good general rule to capture all of that is to have your photographer show up about 60 to 90 minutes before you want to be finished getting ready and move on to the next part of the day. We also find that most guys wait until the end to get ready and it doesn't take them that long so we recommend you base your start time around the bride :)
There are of course exceptions, and for us we ultimately care about what's important to each couple. We've had weddings where getting ready started much earlier for unique events taking place. We've documented grooms leaving early in the morning to hand pick wild flowers to be used for the ceremony. We've documented all of the women in the bride's family carrying out a special tradition of having bacon and ice cream for breakfast. We've documented couples helping setup the venue themselves before moving on to getting ready. We've also documented guys playing laser tag and guys playing football. Therefore, if you have an event before the getting ready process that you want to remember then definitely plan your start time around that.
Next, let's talk about the middle of the day and how to factor portrait time into a photography timeline that could expand or contract your overall schedule.
We always recommend at least 30 minutes of couple portraits. This is our favorite part of the entire day. Sometimes we do couple portraits at multiple times such as first look and then sunset. Sometimes they are at all once. Our recommendation is 30-60 minutes though total. If portraits involve traveling to different sites then make sure to factor travel time in separately and account for traffic too.
Most of our couples want a handful of formal portraits for bridal party and family/extended family. These are the images that mom's and grandmothers LOVE. And in all honesty, they will probably mean a lot to you too. We know and you and your guests want to move on to the cocktail hour or the next part of the day so preparation is the key to keeping it efficient and quick. It will go quick if you prepare the list of combinations ahead of time, and also inform those guests where and when they need to be. Timeline for this greatly depends on the number of combinations and size of the group photos. More combinations = more time, and larger groups = more setup time. To keep it simple for planning, most wedding formal portraits take between 15-30 minutes depending on the above factors if you're prepared. They usually happen shortly before the ceremony or immediately after since all the guests are in the same place.
Finding Your End Time
Now, let's jump to the end of the day! Do you have a big ending to the reception? (Sparkler exit, sending floating lanterns into the night sky, etc). If so, then you probably want your photographer to stay until whatever time the reception ends and capture that. Easy decision.
However, you may not have a big sendoff, and plan to have your guests dance the night away. Reception parties are a blast to document as everyone busts out their best dance moves and lets loose in celebration. If you have hours of dancing, the pictures are likely going to start looking alike and you may not want 500 dancing photos, especially as that open bar keeps going into the evening :)
We've found that most of the big traditions during the reception happen in the first half such as the bridal party entrance, toasts, first dances, and cake cutting. On average, a good general rule is to allow for at least 60-90 minutes of photography coverage after the dancing starts to get a great variety for the party images. For example, if you expect dancing to start at 8pm then have your photographers stay until 9 or 9:30 as the end of their coverage.
Everything else from a photography perspective during the day is documenting and journalism, and your photographers should be able to flow with the day. We hope this gives you a better idea in deciding what's important to your schedule and figuring out how many hours to book your photographer. Happy planning!