10 Tips for Stress-Free Wedding Day Portraits

wedding day group portraits

“How many different portraits do we have?”

“There are thirty two different groups…”

“And how much time?”

“We’ve got half an hour…”

Makes you cringe just thinking about it, doesn’t it? And these weren’t small groups! Some of them had twenty to thirty people in them. You can feel the stress level slowly increasing…

I find that one of the biggest stress-inducing points of the wedding day for most couples, especially those who don’t like having their pictures taken in general, is the portrait time. Figuring out the logistics, where the photos are going to be taken, who is going to be included…it’s just a lot to wrap your mind around.

Well, that’s where I come in, and I’m going to share some helpful tips to make that process run as smoothly as possible.

1. Talk to Your Fiancé (And Your Family)

You should have a discussion with your fiancé about who will be included in portraits. You might be thinking this is a ‘no-brainer’, but you might be on completely different pages. One person might have a small immediate family, while the other has a very large extended family – and they want photos with EVERYONE. Or one, or both, of you might have several circles of friends you want photos with. Will you be taking those photos during ‘portrait time’ or just grabbing them at the reception? Talk it out, it won’t take too long, just be sure to get on the same page.

You should also discuss who will be in portraits with your family. They may have people in mind that you never even thought about. You may not even want to have a bunch of portraits (most of the couples I work with have a pretty short list) but these are the MUST HAVES for your family. You don’t get to have all these people in one place very often, and Mom probably wants a few pictures of everybody together so that she can show them off.

Helpful Hint – If it doesn’t seem like there will be enough time to get in all of your family’s photo requests, politely tell them that they will need to ‘streamline’ (see below) and it would be best to gather these groups at the cocktail hour or during the reception.

2. Make a List

I’m going to say it again because hopefully repeating it will help it sink in. MAKE A LIST! This way you can go over it together. Think about when those groups of people will be arriving. Remember that before the ceremony, you’re usually only going to have the wedding party and close family on site for pictures. Once you have the list put together, ask yourself if it seems realistic based on the time you have in your schedule.

Helpful Hint – Use full names in your list. Don’t just put something like “Bride and her cousins” – this will help you determine exactly how many people are in the photo. It will also let your photographer know how many people and WHO they are exactly. Your photographer may know you pretty well at this stage of the planning, but they aren’t going to be able to pick out your guests from the crowd. They will need names.

3. Streamline Your List

Short on time? Have a lot of people you want to include in pictures? If you have family/friends who are in larger group photos and you also want to do individual (or small group) portraits with them, the best way to save time is to just include them is in that larger group. That way, you still have a photo with them, but you’re not using eating up time doing more small groups or individual shots. If you don’t want to give up those individual groupings, put them on a ‘maybe’ list in case you end up having time.

4. Discuss the Groupings With Your Photographer

Your photographer is your greatest ally when it comes to your portraits. They will discuss the logistics with you. Let you know if the amount of time you’ve allotted for the number of photos is reasonable. Be sure to discuss your list and when you will be taking each set of photos during the day.

You may, for example, want to do pictures of just the two of you, the wedding party, and close family before the ceremony. Then, extended family photos at the beginning of cocktail hour and smaller friend groups during the reception.

Ask your photographer how many groupings they think work best for the given amount of time. For me, assuming I’ve already taken pictures of the couple together, this is the basic wedding portrait list I start with for group portraits:

Group 1 – Full Wedding Party (plus each ‘side’ of the wedding party)

Group 2 – Couple with Partner A’s Immediate Family

Group 3 – Couple with Partner A’s Parents

Group 4 – Couple with Partner B’s Immediate Family

Group 5 – Couple with Partner B’s Parents

I can usually knock out those five (technically, seven) groups in 20 to 30 minutes. If we still need to take pictures of the couple, I will leave those for the end (more on that later). Also, keep in mind that the larger the groups are, the longer it is going to take to get each shot.

Helpful Hint – You should also talk to your photographer about the style of the portraits. You should, at this point, have a pretty good idea of your photographer’s style, but, in my experience, sometimes the couple and the photographer are on different pages. Do you want relaxed, informal portraits where not everyone is necessarily looking at the camera and just acting naturally? Or do you want formal, more posed group portraits? A combination of both? Your choice can determine the amount of time involved. For example, I once had a couple who wanted to do their wedding party photos in the style of an Annie Lebowitz Vogue cover shoot. Could I do it? Yes, however, that ‘style’ of photo takes a bit of time to set up and, based on the amount of time available, we had to compromise a little bit.

5. Do a “First Look” and Get Portraits Out of the Way Before the Ceremony

Listen, I know some folks don’t like the idea of seeing each other before the wedding ceremony. It’s a very ‘traditional’ thing. However, if you do a ‘first look’ and see each other before the ceremony, you can do your portraits (or at least those with the wedding party and family members who are there before the ceremony) and not eat up the time you’d rather be enjoying your cocktail hour with taking more photos. It also let’s you stretch that time out a bit more so you’re more relaxed and not crunched for time.

6. Get a Point Person – Actually, Get Two of Them!

You need someone on point to help wrangle your family and any other guests for the portrait session. I’ve done this over 500 times and getting groups of people together for photos is probably one of the most difficult parts of my job. It’s your wedding day and you don’t want to be responsible for tracking – and, if you’re wearing a wedding dress, it will probably be pretty difficult for you to run around herding your guests. I often tell the couples I work with to assign TWO point people, one for each ‘side’ of the new family.  These can be people in the wedding party or close family members, but they should A) definitely NOT be you and B) be familiar with who needs to be in pictures.

7. Think About Any Special Situations

Aunt Doris and Aunt Sally don’t talk to one another? Are their older family members who can’t stand up for a long period of time or walk to a, relatively, distant location on foot? Did you spend every Summer with you Uncle Joe and now rarely see each other, so a picture together is really important? These are things that your photographer should know. They won’t try to group people together who don’t interact well, they’ll work with you on the logistics of where to take photos with older family members or anyone with physical limitations that might keep them from easily accessing the main spot you’ve chosen, and they’ll make sure you get pictures with the VIPs they might not otherwise know are VIPs!

8. Have a Backup Location

You’ve picked out a beautiful spot for portraits. It’s outside…and the day of your wedding…it’s pouring rain! Well, the two of you might be willing to brave Mother Nature for a few photos, but that’s a big ask of your wedding party and family. It’s best to have a backup location (preferably indoors) or maybe two where you can take photos in case things don’t work out with your first choice. Just think of it as insurance.

Also, make sure any indoor locations are going to accommodate the number of people in your largest portrait group! That beautiful little window alcove might be great for you and your parents, but it’s not going to fit everyone in your family.

9. Make Sure Your Family and Everyone Else Involved Has the Schedule

Please, please, please – MAKE SURE your family and anyone else involved with portraits has the photo schedule. You should probably tell them to arrive a little early, because someone is always running late. Trust me, better to have them show up early and wait a few minutes (or maybe you can even start early, imagine that!) than to have to wait around. Repetition is the key to people remembering so politely remind them as you get closer to the wedding day!

10. Get Rid of the Distractions

Uncle Conrad loves to bring his camera to family events. Aunt Ginny wants to get a photo on her cell phone (if she can figure out how that darned camera works). One of the biggest time sucks that occurs during portraits is family members and friends wanting to take pictures.

“Look over here! Oh, it didn’t come out…one more! Nope, the flash didn’t go off.”

The issue here is that your photographer is trying to get a shot, and you have other people in the background vying for your attention. You end up with people looking in several different directions and it just drags out the process.

Want to solve this problem? You and your photographer can tell everyone that they will have a few minutes to take photos of their own AFTER the photographer is done. Let them know you have a lot of pictures to take and everyone trying to take a picture will slow the process down and throw off the schedule. ALSO let them know that you’ll share the photographer’s pictures with them (and actually share them, because, if you don’t, then they won’t believe the next person who tells them they will share the pictures).

Bonus Tip: Go From Big Groups to Small Ones

This tip comes straight from my own experience, photographing over 500 weddings. Start with the big groups. When you collect everyone into one place, the longer they have to wait, the more likely it is that someone will wander off. Uncle Conrad will go to the bathroom. Aunt Ginny might decide to go make a phone call…and then you have to have someone run and track them down. Seriously, do you think people are going to stand around waiting when there’s an open bar they can hit up?

It’s better to get those big groups out of the way and work your way down to the small ones, that way you can ‘release’ more people at the beginning before they get bored of standing around.

Remember, your group portraits are not just about you! They are going to be cherished by your friends and family for years to come. With a little bit of preparation and by using the tips above, the process can be quick, painless, and fun!

Are you getting married? Could you use more tips like these to help eliminate the stress of wedding planning? I have lots of articles here on the blog to help you out! You can also sign up for my newsletter and get tips and inspiration sent straight to your email every month!

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