How to Create Beautiful Family Wedding Photos That Clients Will Love (and Buy)

If you were to ask photographers to describe shooting a wedding in just one word, many of them might answer thusly: “Hectic!” Wedding photographers are usually only allotted several minutes here and there to capture beautiful candid moments among cherished loved ones before the ceremony and during the reception. For the less-experienced photographer, success on this front usually comes down to the sheer dumb luck of being in the right place at the right time with camera settings perfectly attuned to the current lighting conditions.

In the following video, Los Angeles-based wedding and portrait photographer Michelle Ford discusses how to move past relying on luck to purposefully creating loving family portraits that wedding clients will treasure for years to come:

1. Ask about family dynamics

There is nothing more mood-shattering for clients and their families as when the photographer, misunderstanding or being totally oblivious to often-complex family dynamics, creates an awkward situation by asking two embittered family members to pose together or makes some other similar error. To avoid this, Ford always asks her clients up-front to explain any family dynamics that she should know about, and you should too!

“You don’t want to step on toes when you’re shooting intimate moments,” said Ford. “Things like divorces, step families, adoptive families, happy relationships, bitter ones, whatever. All of these are special circumstances and they could create tension in your workflow, so you need to be aware of it.”

2. Gather important people into the rooms where the bride and groom are getting ready

As you discuss the wedding timeline with your clients, be sure to suggest having select important family members on hand during the process of preparing for the ceremony. Simply having these folks present will trigger multiple camera-worthy moments that clients will cherish for the rest of their lives.

“Preparations before the wedding [are] super chaotic, super hectic, but very emotionally-charged moments, so [by] having that person there to help them get ready or even just to be around for the process, you’ll find some amazing moments,” said Ford. “They’ll just unfold in front of you.”

3. Coordinate individual portraits with the bride’s and groom’s parents before the ceremony

family wedding mom dad mother father mirror bride groom getting ready dress

Facilitating an interaction in front of a mirror is a wonderful way to photograph a loving embrace.

Some photographers prefer to schedule this sometime during the reception when family members are more relaxed, but Ford prefers to have these types of photos in the bag before the drinkin’ and dancin’ begins and without the time crunch of the formal photo session after the ceremony.

“I’ll ask Mom and Dad to give them a hug, a look, maybe a word of encouragement, and then I make the bride or groom give their parent a hug to say thank you,” said Ford. “In my experience, those photos are the ones that mom loves the most.”

4. If you aren’t able to coordinate Mom and Dad portraits before the ceremony, shoot them during the reception

Number four is your non-formal family photo backup plan. If the wedding timeline doesn’t allow for you to take photos of the bride and groom with their parents before the ceremony, make these photos happen during the reception. The plus side to doing these photos later in the evening is that both the happy couple and their parents will have had time to get used to you following them around with a camera, so they will likely be more relaxed and affectionate.

5. DO NOT forget Grandma and Grandpa!

grandpa grandfather grandma grandparent kiss hug embrace love loved one sweet intimate granddaughter grandson

Many times, family wedding photos are the last images families have of grandparents before they pass away, so it’s up to you to make these priceless moments count.

Even if you capture no other candid family photos except the planned portraits with your clients’ parents, you had better get some great shots of the bride and groom interacting with their grandparents. Keep in mind that Grandma and Grandpa will likely not be able to stay for the entire reception, so it’s best to grab photos of them at the reception as early in the evening as possible!

“These formal affairs, they’re few and far between,” said Ford. “It’s the only time that the entire family is gathered in one place… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had emails from clients and they tell me how cherished those photos were as the last happy image that was taken of the grandparents with the family.”

6. Keep your head on the swivel

If you don’t know this by now, learn this lesson well: diligence is the key to survival in the wedding photography industry. You have to be hyper-aware during every second that you’re on the clock, scanning the room for photo-worthy interactions with correct camera settings, and you have to know the reception timeline like the back of your hand. The more prepared you are, the better chance you’ll have of capturing meaningful family moments!

“What my clients tend to appreciate more [than formal wedding shots] are the genuine interactions among the close family members,” said Ford. “If you’re paying attention, you should be able to spot the people that will give you the best emotions… instead of relying on the luck of the draw.”

How do you facilitate beautiful family moments during weddings? We would love to hear about your methods for creating the right conditions for success! 

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