stress-free formal family group portraits

If you’ve been through my portfolio, you’ll notice that I don’t post the more traditional posed family group images. It’s not that I don’t shoot them, but I feel that it’s essential to share the moment-based approach that makes me unique as a wedding photojournalist. Don’t worry, I will definitely capture the classic images of you and your family for history’s sake.

Formal family group portraits can get crazy quickly, but after photographing hundreds of weddings I’ve learned a few things along the way so this portion of the day is as stree-free as possible. Here are three key tips to making this time of the wedding day go smoothly.

family portrait in the Denver Greek Church

make a manageable list

Creating a list of the groups will make the formal family portraits a seamless process. Everyone will be excited to see each other (as they should be) so capturing and holding their attention can be difficult. Having a list means we know exactly what we need to do and won’t miss anyone important to you.

Limit the total number of groups

Each and every family is unique so I leave the list making to you. However, I suggest keeping the number of groups to about 10 or less. The order of the list is important as well so we move people in and out as efficiently as possible. As a general rue, start with the smallest group and build up in family blocks. Please use the sample family group list at the bottom of the page to help create your list. While your groups may look slightly different, it’s essential to maintain the structure that we’ve created so we can be as efficient as possible.

Family group photo on Loveland Pass

schedule two to three minutes per group

That may sound like a long time to capture a photo of each group. We are very good about moving things along quickly, but on average it does take that long to get everyone in place, lined up, and smiling at the camera with their eyes open. So if we have 10 total groups to complete, we will need 20-30 minutes in the timeline to complete them.

Larger groups take even longer

If any of your groups have more than 10-12 people, add more time. The larger a group gets, the time is takes to get folks in place and paying attention increases significantly. As an example, a group of 30+ can take more than five minutes.

Outdoor family photo during a wedding

let your family know the plan

One of the factors that can slow things down is not having everyone in the correct location all at once. Make sure you communicate to everyone when and where they need to be. There is noting worse than keeping folks from socializing or enjoying cocktail hour because we’re missing a key family member. I recommend that you speak with at least one person from each family either in person or over the phone. Often times people don’t throughly read lengthly emails (even though they should) and wires end up getting crossed. 

Considerations for older folks and young children

If you’re doing a first look, chances are we’re going to photograph the family formal groups before the wedding ceremony. If that’s the case you should try and have everyone arrive early for these photos. That includes older family members like grandparents. If you have young children in the family that you would like in the family pictures, talk with their parents in advance of the wedding day. If they’re not aware of the schedule the child might be down for a nap during the time we need them. Discussing the plan ahead of time allows everyone to adjust schedules if they can.



– Couple + Parents, Siblings & Grandparents (comma separated names)
– Couple + Parents & Siblings (comma separated names)
– Couple + Parents (comma separated names)


– Couple + both sets of Parents & all Siblings (comma separated names)
– Couple + both sets of Parents (comma separated names)


– Couple + Parents (comma separated names)
– Couple + Parents & Siblings (comma separated names)
– Couple + Parents, Siblings & Grandparents (comma separated names)

This template is organized to be the most efficient for moving people in and out. Please adjust it for your own family dynamics.

Remember: the two of you are in all of the photos, you only need to list the first names of the other family members in each group. They should go inside the parenthesis, matching the style below:

– Couple + Parents (Tom, Janet, Paul, Carol)