Put your bossy auntie in charge and other tips for making family photos the easiest part of the wedding day

Updated Oct 12 2015
Fun Group Wedding PHotos
Photo by Mike Allebach

As a wedding photographer, one of the biggest questions/concerns my couples have is about family photos. How do you do them and keep everyone happy? When is the best time of day? How long do they take? And so on. Given all of the potentially complex and likely murky make-up of families, couples, photographers, and planners could spend HOURS strategizing family photo time… or they could follow these three simple guidelines:

Put your bossy auntie in charge

I'm using auntie here because in my family the aunties are the bossy people, but every family has at least one person who is a little domineering. This person is usually asking/begging you for a "job" to do at the wedding, but they're not always close enough to entrust with something super important. Sometimes this person isn't even someone you necessarily like, but they're usually someone you love because family is as family does. You know what job you can give this person? Family Photo Round-Up Coordinator.

Here's how it works: you say "Bossy Auntie! We have a job for you!" and then give that person a list of every family member you want in your photos. Have Bossy Auntie work with your planner, coordinator, or photographer to make sure the timing flows nicely with the rest of the day's events, and make sure Bossy Auntie knows who everyone on the list is. If you're having a rehearsal dinner, introduce Bossy Auntie to the key players. If you're not, try to connect various family members via email or social media — you could start an email chain, make a private Facebook group, whatever works.

The day of the wedding, let Bossy Auntie do what she does best: boss people around. Everyone will be happy, or at least prepared.

Give different family groups a time slot

Recently I shot a wedding in which the couple gave their extended family a little spiel. They definitely wanted photos with their extended family (as well as immediate), but they didn't want everyone to crowd them at once and have to wait thirty minutes for their time to take photos. So they issued everyone a time slot and said be at [LOCATION] at [TIME] and we'll take photos in this order. They had a small breakdown of photos that included a big group shot with each collection of family members and then individual breakdown photos that they wanted, and it went over beautifully.

Limit camera time for families

Here's the thing: your hired, professional photographer knows how to take family photos. Even though you know your photographer is great and your photographer knows that he or she is great and you guys all realize that the family photos side of things is more than covered, your family might still want to take their OWN version of the family portrait hour. A great way to avoid this is to have your officiant announce at the end of the ceremony that family photos will take place at [LOCATION], and to ask family members to please avoid taking their own photos during the process to expedite the experience for everyone. I know everyone loves a great candid shot, but there are ample opportunities in a wedding to have those — and the family photo time isn't always the best one.

In my case, I always give my couples a private online gallery for proofing that allows them to access the files. The files are compressed since they've been uploaded online, but they're still easily printable to an 8×10 — and it's totally easy to make the family photos public so individuals can save the one photo they want or order prints. Ask your photographer if he or she can make a small, public online gallery that can be shared with family after the photos are ready, and make sure your family knows the gallery exists.

Photographers and married peeps, what advice do you have for making soon-to-be wed couples' family photo time run smoothly?

  1. Hey! I did #1 (Put Bossy Auntie In Charge) and it worked like a charm. We got done with pics AHEAD of time, she rounded those people up! I gave her a list of who I needed, in what order, and she had them there, ready and waiting for their turn.

    Excellent suggestion.

    • Did she know people on both sides of the family, or did she just dive in and start bossing?

      I was thinking of employing this method, but there's not one person who knows both my family and my Boy's. But maybe it doesn't matter and the right type of boss will wrangle up people regardless? Or should we ask one person from both sides of the family?

      • I think the key is appointing someone who isn't afraid of bossing strangers around, in a friendly and fun way. We all know someone who has a way of charming people into doing what they want – that's the bossy auntie.

      • Bossy auntie did not know both sides of the family; she just read of the list of names I gave her. "OKAY NOW!! We need Bob; BOB, where are you?!? BOB TO THE STAIRCASE!!!!" and Uncle Bob came right on up. Bossy aunt used to be a high school teacher, she is not afraid to use her boss voice to get attention in a nice-ish way.

        I found it easier on me to go with one person, I only had to go over things one time. You might make sure you include both first and last names on your photo list, though, if your bossy person does not know who they are. They'll be aware they are needed at the right time.

  2. These are all great recommendations. As a photographer, I'd love if my brides did these things. I also recommend that they print out a shot list and give it to each person being photographed, so that they when it is their turn. I had a bride do this (she even highlighted each persons name) and family photos were done in half the allotted time.

    • I am the Bossy one in my family, and I took the bull by the horns and did exactly what was recommended above. I also organized the list so that moved from biggest groups to smallest groups, and scheduled out the "release times" for every person. My husband's family has more fragile/high maintenance individuals (disabilities, sun-sensitive, pregnant, etc) so we did that side of the family first, and then did mine. It made for smooth sailing, and we got through all the family photos in about 30 minutes.

      Also, we made sure that our siblings, grandparents, and parents got a couples photo with just themselves in it (not even with us). Sure, it isn't their family photo hour, but it is a nice gesture to make sure that they have a picture of themselves all dressed up, looking fine. That probably took about 4 minutes total to accomodate, and it seemed worthwhile to me.

      • That's exactly it–no fear of bossing strangers around. A few years ago *I* was bossy aunt and MOH. (I think the special dress tipped people off that I meant business.)
        I stood on the church pew and yelled out, "Alright, we have the Bride's siblings, on deck is the XXX cousins, and in the hole are the YYYs. Everybody line up by me!"

        My brother also made it a rule that if somebody wasn't there, the pic was without them … cut down on the waiting and running to find cousins and friends.

    • OMG I love this plan. I think I might make a list and put it in the welcome bags!

      I've dedicated time before the ceremony for family photos, and have informed my MIL that our professional photographer will be doing all photos with bride & groom, but if she wants photos of her siblings or cousins without us, I'll have an alternate amateur-but-still-amazing photographer at the same place before we arrive. Hopefully that can get some of her "OMG we're all here together let's make every possible grouping happen" juju out of the way in advance.

  3. I totally think that having someone that knows everyone and can help wrangle people is a a fantastic idea(I always encourage this) even if you give me a list I will not know all the faces, someone knowing them will help things go smoothly! And you are so right on limiting the time! My first wedding ever the mom scheduled 3 hours for family photos (1.5 before and about 1.5 after)…never again. Now I say 30 minutes. I am a little wary of the time slot thing though although it sounds like you have had a good experience with it (perhaps I will give it a try one day and see how it goes). I am just thinking that often weddings run behind and people's time slots will be messed up. I can just see people getting frustrated because they are in the right place and the right time but the photographer isn't ready (or someone is missing/late to their time slot) it seems like this could be an added stress and could turn out to be more time consuming. I like to just have the family all meet in one place (maybe have the waitstaff bring over cocktail hour food/drinks to people to keep them amused and not hangry). Another tip is make sure you take any photos that include older people first (like Grandpas & Grandmas) or have a chair for them to sit in while they wait this way they don't get tired of standing. If you do have people with disabilities it's good to have a location close to the ceremony as well so they don't have to walk a long way. As long as everyone is there and there is someone with a list & a people wrangler the session should be done in 15 min-20 min easy. Maybe 30 if your family is huge!

  4. LOVE THIS! We started with the large group shot and worked our way down to the core group. So mom's side of the family got all the aunts, uncles and cousins together, took the shot, then the accessory relatives were gone, and it was just the godparents and the new couple, then just the grandparents, then just the parents. Starting big and releasing people was WAY FASTER than having people mill about, wondering if they were in or out. We started with his family, as his grandmother is in worse health than mine, then did my dad's family, then my mom's. We were done with three families worth of pictures in 45 minutes!

  5. I have two main regrets about how I handled our photos:

    1) I started a list of specific family/friends shots I wanted, but didn't finish it in time, so there are several shots that I really wanted but didn't get because in the hubub of the day, I just plain forgot. Which, after the wedding, made me feel awful, because I saw people at my wedding that I love very much but unfortunately due to time, family commitments, and/or distance, can't see very often. I burst into tears when I realized that I didn't have any shots of me and my best friends, whom I don't live near anymore. I asked the other guests – no luck there, either. And everyone looked so damn beautiful that day…again, I savagely kick myself for not finishing that damn list!

    2) We did our family shots before the wedding, which was nice, but it was also before the caterers got there. It turned into an impromptu cocktail hour…without the cocktails or any food. I wish Hottie Hubs and I had thought to bring some bottled water and maybe a few light snacks. Fortunately, our DJ showed up early, and did a fantastic job of entertaining family members who were waiting around.

  6. I love that last tip! Our family shots went fairly easy because I had a list with all the shots I wanted and made sure the photographer had that list too. But there's one thing I hadn't thought of beforehand and didn't even notice until we got beforehand: my dad likes to take a lot of photographs, and is usually the designated photographer for family events. So he was snapping away next to our official photographer, and that resulted in different people looking into different camera's on some shots. So if you have a photo-happy family member who might be prone to doing this, either a) tell 'em not to take photo's right now, or b) make sure everyone knows where to look!

  7. These are some great tips! My in-laws are a much larger family than mine, so I'm going to have them do pictures before the ceremony (about a half-hour before it starts). This way, we're not spending an hour chasing them around, which cuts into the time my FH and I have for our photos.

    The best man will be in charge of reeling in the in-laws, and my maid of honor will take care of my side of the family. Hopefully my side of the family's photos will only take a few minutes. Half of my family isn't showing up, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

  8. Great ideas. My family loves taking pictures, so we've gotten very efficient at getting all of the combinations.But we're also the family where everyone and their mother wants their own copy on their own camera (yes, even now that they all went digital). To have a single Bossy Aunt in charge of making sure no one is delaying the proceedings by taking their own shots is a great idea.

  9. I love the idea of this! Especially the best man and maid of honor in charge of each side! My FH's family is also large and doing theirs before hand sounds like a great plan!! Love it!

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