a guide to planning wedding family photos

July 3, 2024


A Guide to Planning Wedding Family Photos: Tips from a Wedding Photographer

large family with wedding couple on a lush green lawn in front of a garden wedding venue, wedding family photos

After 14 years of photographing weddings, I’ve seen firsthand how proper planning can make wedding family photos both efficient and enjoyable. I’ve honed this expertise to make a seamless and stress-free experience for couples and their families. During our planning consultation, I will guide you through creating a family shot list to fit your family and take any special requests and special needs into account.

Here is a quick guide to help you plan your wedding family photos seamlessly.

The Basics: How to Make Wedding Family Photos Run Smoothly

  1. Schedule Appropriately: Plan the family photo session at a time when everyone is available and relatively free from other duties and give yourselves enough time. Typically, right after the ceremony is ideal as everyone is already gathered.
  2. Assign a Family Photo Coordinator: Designate a family member or friend who knows both sides of the family well to help round up people for photos. This person can assist the photographer in keeping the process moving efficiently.
  3. Communicate Clearly: Inform your family members ahead of time about when and where the photos will be taken. Clear communication helps avoid confusion and delays.
  4. Create a Shot List: Before the wedding day, during our planning consultation, we will work together to create a detailed shot list of the family groupings you want. This helps in ensuring no important shots are missed.

Read below as I break these tips down further.

wedding couple standing with their parents, men in blue suits and mother in a navy blue floor length gown
wedding couple with their parents, turned and laughing together, wedding family photos
black and white photo of groom standing with his mother, arm around her waist
black and white photo of weddding couple with family, in front of steps to a wedding venue

How Much Time Should I Plan for?

Wedding family photos are a significant part of your celebration, capturing the love and connections between your closest relatives. To ensure this process is thorough yet efficient, plan for about 30 minutes. This allows for multiple groupings and poses without feeling rushed. Depending on the size of your family and the number of combinations you want, this time can vary slightly. For larger families or more complex groupings, consider extending this to 45 minutes.

There are two times of the day that I recommend for having family portraits. Either immediately after the ceremony, or an hour before the ceremony. If you and your fiancé will be sharing a first look, you have the option of doing family portraits right before the ceremony. By planning for an hour before ceremony, this still gives you ample time to freshen up and prepare for the ceremony, without guests seeing you early.

However, my favorite time to do these photos is immediately after the ceremony. This ensures that anybody who is running behind is sure to be there. Everyone will be gathered in one place, and there is far less need to track people down.

One additional option is to do immediate family just before the ceremony, and extended family after. This is entirely up to you. Some couples feel less stressed having everything done before the ceremony begins, and others prefer spacing out photos. During our planning consultation, we will go through all the ins and outs of your wedding, and I can help you decide on what may work best for your day.

large family grouping with wedding couple on a front porch

How Do You Gather Everyone for Family Photos?

Gathering everyone for family photos can be a challenge, but with a little preparation, it can be done smoothly. The last thing you want is to have to track people down, because this can hold up the entire process and derail your timeline.

  1. Pre-Wedding Communication: Send out an email or message to all family members with the photo schedule and location details well before the wedding day.
  2. Wedding Day Reminders: Delegate your helper to have a message go out to family members on the morning of the wedding, reminding them when and where they will be needed for photos.
  3. Use your Family Photo Coordinator: Consider having a designated family member or bridesmaid who can help gather everyone and ensure they are ready when needed. They can also handle any last-minute changes or additions to the shot list. It can be helpful having someone who generally knows who everyone is.
  4. Be Efficient: Once everyone is gathered, work through the shot list methodically. Start with larger groups and then break them down into smaller ones to save time.
bride holding bouquet, embracing mother in a hug, wedding family photos
wedding couple with parents in lush green lawn

A List of Family Photo Groupings to Use as a Starting Point

We’ll start by placing you in the center of a large group photo with all your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, godparents, etc. We will then remove the extended family so it’s just grandparents, parents and siblings.

We’ll keep removing family members and switch a few closer family members in and out so we get photos of you and your parents, you and your siblings, some with your spouse and your family, etc. Then we’ll repeat the process with your spouse’s family. The whole thing will go quicker and smoother if you let family know how the portrait process will work ahead of time.

When we send out our pre-wedding questionnaire, we’ll ask you for a list of specific groupings, special situations (such as divorces or physical limitations family members & more), but if you want to start brainstorming photos in the meantime, you’ll find our typical list below.

  1. Newlyweds, Parents, Siblings & Spouses, Nieces & Nephews, Grandparents, Cousins, Aunts & Uncles
  2. Newlyweds, Parents, Siblings & Spouses, Nieces & Nephews, Grandparents
  3. Newlyweds, Grandparents
  4. Newlyweds, Siblings & Spouses, Nieces & Nephews
  5. Newlyweds, Nieces & Nephews
  6. Bride & Siblings
  7. Newlyweds, Parents
  8. Bride, Mother
  9. Bride, Father

Repeat this list for your fiancé’s side of the family.

These groupings can be adjusted based on your specific family dynamics and preferences. Also keep in mind any family members who may need to be finished earlier. Sometimes grandparents need to be done first so they can sit and rest, and often young children lose their attention quickly. Let us know ahead of time if you have any special needs for any family members. It’s also helpful as a photographer to know of any unique family dynamics to be sensitive to.

By following these tips, you can ensure that your wedding family photos creates a stress-free and enjoyable experience, resulting in beautiful memories of your closest loved ones together.

To learn more about how Ashley Helen can tailor a wedding experience to serve your vision, send us a message here!

checklist of wedding family photo shot list

Venues Featured in this Blog Post:

The Preserve at Chocorua

Wentworth by the Sea

Bedford Village Inn



ashley helen

Lover of antiques, rustic European style & fluffy animals. Middle of three sisters. Collector of vintage cameras & milk glass.

Hi! I'm Ashley. I'm an heirloom wedding and boudoir photographer, and love what I do because of the places I've been and the people I have met (and photographed) along the way. 

As a biology student, I came into photography by happy accident through my travels and study abroad adventures. I was on a trip in the Amazon studying rainforest ecology, but I just couldn't turn my focus away from the people I met. I used photography to explore everything I was experiencing, and I came back from that trip realizing I needed to be photographing and creating. So I changed my major to photography, and there's been no turning back since. I still wholeheartedly love learning about a person through photography.


Timeline guide

Wondering how our team approaches the various parts of a wedding day? Trying to visualize the flow of your day? Just curious how much time is needed to capture each segment? This guide will walk you through a wedding day with Ashley Helen.

© Ashley Helen

Design by Tonic