Even if you’ve never photographed a wedding before, if you’ve ever attended one, you know that the family portraits taken after the ceremony can sometimes be filled with slightly less than congratulatory emotions. It’s an especially difficult part of the day for a wedding photographer, even working with the most well-behaved, drama-free families.
Starting the right way
The best way to begin the family portraits is actually long before the big day. Start by having an in-depth conversation with the couple, showing them your previous work, discussing time limits, cost, etc. From there, move on to making a list of all the detailed poses that the couple wishes to include in their session, especially any shots that involve family members. Offer up a list of traditional wedding groupings, and then ask if there are other groupings that the couple would like to include. This provides the opportunity for the couple to branch outside of their parents, grandparents and siblings and possibly include aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Once the groupings are decided upon, ask for a first name for everyone in the group and add this to your list. This extra little note will be tremendously helpful on the day of the wedding when positioning changes are needed and you’re able to address the clients’ families by name.
Estimate timing of photo sessions
Determine, with couple, what the time frame for taking family photos would be like on the day, giving a rough estimate of how long each portrait would likely take to set up, explaining that this could vary depending on the size of the group. Wedding caterers and event organisers, Super Events Sussex, say “A lot of keeping people happy at weddings is about managing their expectations so that they are relaxed. If people are eager to get on to the next stage of the wedding and feel nothing is happening then they can get frustrated. Having a good framework schedule for the day, and communicating it, makes a huge difference, and keeps things on track.
In some cases, couples may decide to do ‘day after’ shots to include family members unable to make the big day, but other times, late-comers can dramatically hold up the process of family portraits and would thus cost the couple some other wonderful pictures if you have a specific time schedule set up. Suggest to the couple that an announcement for family members to remain behind for pictures after the ceremony ends might be a good way to save on time. The last thing needed before the big day, is to let the couple know that having family representatives on both sides to gather together family members for portraits is also a great time, and stress, saver. Also remember to set aside time to take photographs of the food as well.
Understand the venue
Ask the couple about the venue. At the most basic level is it indoors? Outdoors? This will help you work out appropriate lighting. Will the bathroom be a long walk from where you’re taking pictures, affecting the time you may have to take pictures of family members?
Consider visiting the venue yourself so that you’ll be more prepared on the big day. This also includes information on “backup plans.” The wedding might take place outside under normal circumstances, but the rain might force the wedding indoors to the chapel. Keep a good check on the local weather, and consider bringing a setup that would assist with such changes. These questions and thought are very important, especially when considering indoor weddings and large groups. Typically, indoor weddings require the use of flash photography due to poor lighting. With the smaller groupings, using your more basic flash gear, you can achieve the adequate lighting you need for good portraits, but with larger groups, a larger lighting set-up is required.
This can also change the amount of time it takes for you to achieve your photos. If a larger flash set-up is required, typically it takes anywhere from ten-to-twenty minutes to set up that gear. For those on a tight time schedule, this could mean setting up directly after the ceremony and losing the potential for emotional congratulatory pictures with immediate family. Lastly, will alcohol be offered, and if so, will the family members have access to the alcohol before the wedding photos? Alcohol can sometimes be a turning point between good family photos and bad ones. If drinks are available to the party, consider suggesting that the family members only start out with one or two drinks until pictures are finished.
Gather your notes for the big day
On the big day, take all the notes that you have collected about the wedding and use it to make sure that you are fully prepared. Pack extra memory cards, flash gear, and everything you need for your entire shoot. Weddings can be very emotional days, especially for brides who want to ensure their day is perfect; you should treat the wedding as a Corporate Event. Forgetting a major part of your gear can easily turn the beautiful moments into total meltdowns. Consider packing two cameras if you are able, even if it means borrowing one. Equip each camera with two different lenses, a wide lens such as a 200mm and a short range lens that would allow for close, detailed shots. The wide lens will accommodate the larger group photos, especially if your venue doesn’t provide ample room for your shots. Having both camera would allow for a quicker, easier transition between groups, which is also a time saver.
If, despite taking all these measures, something changes the mood and family turmoil ensues, give your best attempt at reminding everyone in the group of the importance of the day for your clients. If your clients are obviously shaken by whatever has occurred, consider taking the two of them aside for a quick pep talk and shooting a few photos of just the two of them. This provides the opportunity for the couple to take a small break away from their family and to refocus themselves on the beauty and importance of their day. This may be a good idea even if emotions are still at a stable point because a long procession of photos can sometimes be overwhelming for couples as well, and a short romantic shoot can help center a tired couple. This might also be beneficial to give family members a quick moment to partake in refreshments, restroom breaks, or any other activity that might normally take time away from the shoot.