11 Tips for Beautiful Family Portrait Photography at Weddings - Catherine Guidry Photography

August 24, 2022

11 Tips for Beautiful Family Portrait Photography at Weddings

We all know that family portraits can be a little intimidating as the photographer. 😅 

There’s a big group of people, family dynamics, and ultimately, everyone’s looking at YOU to tell them what they need to do and where they need to go to look their best!

If you’ve felt this way before, don’t sweat it – I’ve been there, too, and I want to share what I’ve learned with you. In this lesson, I hope to give you valuable nuggets to better your family sessions next time you’re photographing a wedding. 

Read on for 11 tips to create beautiful family portraits at your next wedding. 😍

1. Introducing Yourself 👋🏻

The first thing I suggest is simple, but effective: go in and say hi! 

Introduce yourself as the photographer, give them your name, and let them know you’re going to keep things brief and organized – that way, they know what to expect.

It’s also great for you to begin to create a rapport with them, so when the big day comes, they don’t feel like a stranger is bossing them around… because no one likes that!

2. Learn People’s Names

Think about these two different scenarios:

  1. You say to a client during a session, “Excuse me, lady in the red, do you mind moving a little bit to the left?”

Or: 

  1. You say, “Excuse me, Caroline, do you mind moving closer to Abby?”

Do you see the difference? Learning people’s names is a very small thing you can do to make a very big impact. 💥

In addition to getting their names on the timeline – before the wedding – refresh yourself on their names in advance. Then, when you get there, you can put a face to their name. 
That way, you can give people specific, name-oriented directions to help them learn where they need to go while they’re getting their photos taken.

3. Get Information about Family Dynamics in Advance

One of the most challenging parts of taking family portraits is understanding how to handle family dynamics. 

Sometimes there’s divorce, death, or other sensitive topics at play when families get together for photos. So it’s VERY important to get this information in advance, before the wedding. 

In my final phone call with a client 1-2 weeks before the wedding (so it’s nice and refreshed in my brain), I ask: 

  • Are there any divorces I need to know about?
  • Can you talk to me about the family dynamic? Does everyone get along? 
  • Have there been any deaths in the family?

By knowing this information, I can approach the family dynamics not only with confidence, but with certainty I’m putting people in photos that make sense.

4. Write Down ALL Portrait Names and Relationships

After you gather all of the family dynamic information, I HIGHLY encourage you to write down all the people in every single family portrait by first name on their timeline with – in parenthesis – who they are and who they are in relation to the client.

For example, if I’m photographing the bride’s mom’s family, followed by the bride’s dad’s family, and let’s say her parents are divorced, I’m going to write down the following for the first portrait: “Bride and Groom AND Caroline, John, and Joe (Bride’s Mom’s Family)” and on the next portrait: “Bride and Groom AND Mark, Peter, and Beth (Bride’s Dad’s Family).”

When you get first names and put in parentheses who they are, that will keep you from stumbling over who’s who on the day of the wedding. Plus, by that point, you’ll already have introduced yourself and can probably put names to faces!

This makes a TREMENDOUS difference and I promise you, it will leave you feeling more confident when dealing with some less-than-comfortable family dynamics! 

5. Consider the Client’s Parents and Siblings

When I’m posing the full family, I’ll typically place the mother and father of the client – if they are present – closest to the couple, and then put siblings on the outside.

If it’s a photo with just the parents, I’ll split them on either side of the bride and groom. But if it’s the parents and the siblings and they’re still married, I’ll put the parents together on the side closest to their child (meaning, if it’s the bride’s parents, I’ll put her parents next to her and her siblings next to her significant other). 

These are tried-and-true go-to poses that just make sense and always look good! 💌

6. Use these Groom Poses for a Jacket with a Button

This is a small detail, but an important one: if you’re photographing the groom and he’s wearing a jacket with a button, you want to avoid the jacket pulling at the button. 

To help the groom look his best, try one of these options:

  • Tell the groom to pick a side to show off, turn toward someone who’s next to him, and put his hand down, or:  
  • If he’s front-facing and he wants to put his arms around two people – like two siblings – have him unbutton his jacket first, then put his arms around them.

These easy go-to poses will help your groom look his best on his big day 🤵🏻

7. Be Unafraid to Step In

You want every person in the family session to look their best for their photos, right? 

That means I want you to be unafraid to step in and fix their hair, adjust their boutonnieres, or even give them a little bit of posing guidance. I know, this might sound a little uncomfortable, but I promise… they’ll be glad you did when their photos come back looking amazing! 🤩 

Want to hear one of my go-to instructions? 

While I’m taking their portraits, if I find the females in the family are looking really stiff, I always tell them to bend the leg closest to the camera and lean in a little bit. Right away, they look more relaxed. 👌🏼 

These are little nuances that make them feel like you’re looking out for them – and ultimately, it DOES make a better final product in the image. 🖼️

8. Think Relationship – NOT Height

I actually don’t take height into consideration when I’m posing a wedding party or a family!

To me, height is height. It’s a natural part of who we are, and I don’t let that determine where people are positioned in a photo.

If anything, I’m looking at the relationship to the client in the image. For example, if a client is closer to her sister-in-law than to one of her friends, I’m going to position her sister-in-law closest to the bride – regardless of her height. 

I personally feel like singling people out for physical attributes can feel yucky to that person, and bring attention to something they might be self-conscious about. I strongly encourage you to stay away from positioning people based on height.

The only time I will reposition people based on height is when I truly cannot see them. They could be very tall, and I still might not see them! Ultimately, when I don’t see someone well in a photo, I will move them around in order to see their face – but I never create a V based on height. 

I allow the image to be very organic and based on the relationship to the client. 🌷

9. Photograph Multiple Options

When you’re photographing family and/or wedding parties, I encourage you to photograph both horizontal and vertical versions, as well as close-up and full-length images. 

You never really know what people’s preferences are. Some people prefer to see close-up whereas others prefer to see everyone’s outfits. 
So, you want to have multiple options available to clients, because oftentimes it’s hard to produce a virtual copy of a wide-shot when you only have a close-up.

10. Cover Your Bases, Then Get Creative

Once you have your bases covered – meaning, everyone is smiling and looking at the camera – then you can get creative. 

Have them lean in, or ask them to laugh together. Maybe you have them loosen up and change up their hand positions. Once you cover your bases, feel free to experiment! 

When I’m trying to get creative and give variety, I’ll have them do something – like walking, or helping the bride fluff her dress – that creates motion. But don’t overdo it, which leads me to my last tip…

11. Let Them Enjoy Their Day 🥂

My last tip to you? Get what you need and let them enjoy their day!

I’m a firm believer in the importance of strong portraiture and timeless imagery. However, I’m always a firm believer that, at the end of the day, good images are a reflection of a good time. So, let them get back to enjoying a great time with the people they love! 🥳