A Complete Guide to Family Wedding Photos

Rounding up everyone for family wedding photos can be a challenge. Let’s break down the why, who, when, where, and how for picture-perfect wedding photos.

By The Zola Team

A Complete Guide to Family Wedding Photos
Photo by Adeline and Grace Photography

The First Look ✨

  • Family wedding photos are a crucial part of your big day—both you and your loved ones will cherish them for years to come as a special keepsake.
  • Taking photos before the ceremony is a popular option for couples who want privacy with family members. Your photographer will also grab plenty of photos during the reception.
  • Some couples take their photos at the ceremony location, while others wait until the reception. Interior and exterior backdrops can be swapped in and out for a refreshing change of scenery, too.
  • Use Zola’s list of pre-screened vendors to find the perfect wedding photographer and videographer for your special day.

Weddings are a celebration of love. While the main event is the love you share with your new spouse, your families will play a vital role on your wedding day. So, how do you make the most of this time with your families and ensure the memories last a lifetime? Taking family wedding photos.

Rounding up your entire family for photographs can be a challenge though, especially when you’re busy with other nuptial necessities. Fortunately, the experts at Zola are here to make wedding family photos a whole lot simpler.

In this guide, we’ll go over the common questions the bride and groom have regarding their family wedding photos and the different wedding photography styles available—including the why, who, when, where, and how:

Why: The Importance of Family Wedding Photos

Before diving into the specifics of family wedding photos, let’s answer a question many couples have top of mind: Do I need to take them?

While you may have a lot on your plate when the day arrives, it’s important to step back and take a look at the big picture (no pun intended). Wedding photographs serve several different purposes. Not only are these photos designed to commemorate and remember your actual wedding, but they’re also cherished keepsakes for loved ones who attend—particularly family.

Think about it this way: Whether you come from a big family or a small crowd, how often do you get to have all your loved ones in the same place at once? Any celebration that brings together all the important people in your life should be documented, especially if you’re not sure when the next get-together will be.

Your family is there to support, love, and celebrate with you, and oftentimes they’re looking for a way to feel included in your special day. By putting in the effort to take high-quality photos with family members, you’ll be showing them just how much you appreciate them being there.

Attach Family Photos to Thank You Cards

Speaking of appreciation, family wedding photos also make a great addition to your post-nuptial thank you cards.

When family and friends send gifts, it’s tradition for the newlyweds to write thank you cards to each person. Using these photos as a backdrop for your thank you cards will give family members a more personalized memento they can cherish for years to come. Zola’s custom thank you card designs make it easy for couples to add their photos to a stylish template.

Who: Choosing Who to Prioritize for Photos

When it comes to the who part of family photos, things can get tricky. That’s why we’ve created a handy acronym for navigating this part of the process: P-C-A (prioritize, communicate, avoid).

Prioritize

First and foremost, all couples must prioritize when preparing for family wedding photos.

We get it, you love all of your second, third, and fourth cousins twice-removed—but a professional wedding photographer is expensive. If you’re hosting a large wedding ceremony or reception, you must prioritize immediate family members first.

From there, you can make adjustments based on availability and time. Go through your family photo list, see who you can fit into the schedule, and grab pictures when you can.

Traditionally, your priority family members include parents, siblings, in-laws, and grandparents. These are the people that couples generally take the most photos with. Of course, everyone's family is different, so this prioritization is ultimately up to you and your spouse.

Other ideas for fun family photos may include:

  • Children: Whether you have children of your own, nieces and nephews, or baby cousins, little kids can make for great photo opportunities. Not only are pictures of the kids adorable, but their parents will thank you for capturing them on this special day. Taking photos with the children in your family will be a particularly sweet moment, especially for flower girls and ring bearers. Being part of the photography may help them feel more included in the event.

  • Solo Parent Portraits: The parents of the newlyweds are an important part of the big day. This is why many photographers offer to take solo portraits of parents, either together or separately. For a more organized schedule, make sure to ask your parents or in-laws if they’d be interested in this before setting it up with the photographer.

Communicate

The next step in the PCA process is to communicate. To whom, exactly? Your photographer.

Talking to your photographer beforehand is the best way to make family wedding photos more efficient. Once you’ve prioritized your closest family members, you’ll want to compile a list and share it with your photographer. Specific notes on this list should include:

  • Sides of the family
  • Who will be photographed
  • The order in which you want the photos taken
  • Names and relationships to each person

Creating a family photo list and keeping an open line of communication will benefit everyone involved in the photo-taking process. Get this information out of the way early on, so you can relax knowing that your photographer is prepared for the big day.

Avoid

Avoid? Who are we avoiding? For this step, you won’t be avoiding a person, but rather an awkward situation.

Families can have drama just like any other group of people, and even a wedding isn’t always enough to squash the beef. If you have family members who don’t get along, it’s perfectly okay to take photos with them separately. Preparing these shots will be key to foreseeing any sticky situations that should be avoided.

When you plan and send a list to your photographer, this will simplify the process and keep everyone happy. Make notes of these relationships and let your photographer know that separate photos will be necessary.

Prioritize loved ones, communicate with your photographer, and avoid awkward situations. You’ll keep the peace, and piece together some keepsakes for all.

When: Scheduling a Time for Family Wedding Photos

The subjects of your wedding photos are important, but so is scheduling a time to take them. Generally speaking, there are three schools of thought when it comes to scheduling wedding photos: before, during, and after.

Before the Ceremony

Taking photos before the actual ceremony has become increasingly popular in recent years, and for good reason.

There are several benefits to taking your family wedding photos before the ceremony—most notably, the flexibility. When you take photos beforehand, you won’t be distracted by crowds of people, time constraints, or moving from one venue to another. Couples often take photos with their family as they’re getting ready, which can open the door for some great bonding moments. Examples of heartfelt shots you can get during this time include:

  • The First Look: Ask your photographer to capture the moment your parents first see you in your wedding attire. Many parents get emotional when the first look occurs, making it a wonderful opportunity for a meaningful candid shot.

  • Wedding Party Shots: Another way to utilize this time is by capturing the wedding parties together. Wedding party members typically help the couple get ready, and this privacy allows time for a group shot with just these loved ones. This is a great way to get one-on-one photos with siblings or cousins who are part of the wedding.

  • Tying the Tie: For some families, the father of the groom (or bride) will help them with their bowtie. This is another sweet, sentimental moment that photographers often try to capture.

Whether your family is helping you get dressed, sharing clothes and accessories with you, or simply standing by for emotional support—there are plenty of great picture opportunities in the hours before the ceremony. Taking photos beforehand will also be less rushed, more intimate, and overall a great experience if you have the time.

Grandparents may benefit from taking photos early on, as well. This is particularly important to consider for older family members who have mobility issues or trouble standing. In these cases, try to get their photos done at the very beginning—that way you won’t have them standing for too long or running around trying to find you.

Between the Ceremony and Reception

The most common time wedding photos are taken is during the day’s events. While some photographers may take photos of the actual ceremony, taking photos immediately after the ceremony can sometimes work even better.

Directly after the ceremony, you’ll typically have all your guests together. People may be waiting around for transportation to the reception venue, which will leave a solid chunk of time for taking photos. While you’re waiting, use this period to find your family members and pose for some portraits. These can be taken outside or around the ceremony venue.

If you plan on using this transition to take photographs, make sure to inform your family and photographer beforehand. This will help everyone find each other amidst the hustle and bustle of getting to the reception.

During the Reception

You can expect most photographers to snag the majority of photos during the reception. This is a great time for both planned and candid photos. Wedding photographers often take a lot of photos on the dance floor at the reception, so tell family members to get out there and bust their best moves.

Your photographer may also take photos of important wedding events, such as:

  • Speeches and toasts
  • First dances
  • Religious traditions

In addition to professional photographs, many couples utilize disposable cameras or photo booths for this portion of the celebration. This allows guests to get a little creative with their photo opportunities, and leave you with some silly personality pics at the end of the night.

After the Reception

Some people may opt for photos after the reception, once all the work is out of the way. Be aware, however, taking photos after the wedding can be tricky.

If you’re planning on taking photos at the end of your big day, it’s important to inform everyone so they don’t do anything to mess up their appearance (such as taking their hair down or changing their clothes). You’ll also want to make sure family members don’t end up leaving before you’ve taken photos with them.

Another factor to keep in mind is that you’ll likely be tired at the end of your wedding. Many couples end the night wanting to go straight home (or off to their honeymoon), so it may be better to take pictures earlier in the night.

Lastly, some people tend to imbibe at weddings. Consider this factor if you’re opting for a late-night photo shoot.

Where: Finding the Right Backdrop

A beautiful model (aka, your family) can only go so far—you’ll also want the perfect backdrop to seal the deal on these family wedding photos. When taking photos on your wedding day, the locations will be a bit more limited than a standard photoshoot. With this in mind, here are some popular backdrop ideas for your family wedding photos:

  • The Ceremony Venue: Religious places of worship can make for beautiful backdrops, but you should always check with a venue beforehand to ensure photography is allowed. Outdoor venues can also make a quick, easy background for family photos—especially beach or vineyard ceremonies.

  • Reception Venue: Your reception venue will end up being the background for a large portion of your wedding photos. Pose with family at their table, in front of the cake, or any area off to the side for some privacy. Your photographer will be sure to capture all the important spots of this venue.

  • The Pre-Venue: If you’re opting for photos before the ceremony, the room where you get ready will most likely be a backdrop for some of your family photos. Some couples choose to get ready at home, while others rent out a hotel room or bed and breakfast (especially for destination weddings). Depending on where you are, this location may offer some interesting backdrops for family photos. Indoor photos will work best for candids but staged group photos may be taken outside for some stunning natural backdrops.

Photographs with particularly beautiful backgrounds can be used to decorate your wedding website. Creating a wedding website will provide a central place where the family can peruse the photographs they’re in. Giving your loved ones this personal experience is easy when you use Zola’s free website builder. Start with a ready-made template, customize it to your liking, then simply share the link with family and friends when you’re ready. They’ll have easy access to all the memories from your special day.

How: Getting the Perfect Shot

Now that you’ve completed the prep work, it’s showtime. For the final step, we’ll cover some tips and tricks for getting the most out of your family wedding photos. From finding the right photographer to feeling confident on camera, here’s how couples can ensure the perfect shot with each of their loved ones:

  • Hire a Trustworthy Photographer: The research required when planning a wedding can be a little overwhelming at times. Every vendor must be carefully sought out, vetted, and communicated within a timely manner. Fortunately, when it comes to photographers, Zola has you covered. Our list of pre-screened wedding photographers makes it easy for couples across the country to find reputable professionals without stress. Videographers are also available for couples who truly want to capture every second of their special day.

  • Find Your Photographer Early: Wedding photographers are typically booked well in advance. Couples should begin their search at least a year before their wedding, if not longer. This gives you ample time to finalize dates, draft a contract, and discuss a shot list for family photos. Solidify your booking no later than nine months before the wedding.

  • Do a Test Run: A great way to test out your photographer before the wedding is by scheduling an engagement photoshoot. This will give you some face-to-face time with your photographer and allow you to get a feel for their style. The best part about professional engagement photos? They can be used to save the dates and wedding programs later on.

  • Introduce Your Family: Some couples even introduce their photographer to their immediate family members before the big event. Your rehearsal dinner or engagement party are just a few opportunities for this introduction, and it may help your family feel more comfortable in front of the camera.

  • Practice: When in doubt, it never hurts to practice. If you have an idea for certain shots you want to get with family members, don’t be afraid to get out there and give it a try. Testing out poses beforehand can help you prepare for the big day, and the more organized your family is the better the photos will turn out.

  • Ask for Ideas: Photography is an art, and collaboration is often the key to a great shot. If you’re unsure of what you want from these family wedding photos, don’t be afraid to ask. Both your family and your photographer may have some unique ideas to help diversify the photos and add a creative element.

Your wedding is a big event, but that doesn’t mean you can’t relax and have a good time. Remember that the best family photos are ones where you’re being true to yourself. So take a deep breath, loosen up a bit, and get ready to capture these precious moments on camera.

Here at Zola: We Treat You Like Family

For couples who want their fairytale wedding with the family photos to match, we’ve got your back. Our services are designed to make your life easier when preparing for the big day. Start in our vendor marketplace to find a list of pre-screened photographers in your area. From there, customize your free wedding website, enclosure cards, thank you cards, save the dates, and so much more—all with a few clicks.

Find Your Wedding Vendors at Zola, All Pre-Screened for You