The couple is the focal point on any wedding day, but there’s another set of guests that’s equally important, particularly when it comes to photographs: family. Sure, couples want those must-have wedding photos like vows and the first look, but according to wedding photographer Sirena Singleton, wedding-day family photos are some of the most treasured mementos. “In the future, the number one thing you’ll want is photos with your important family members,” Singleton says. “When my grandmother died, I looked back on all of our wedding photos together constantly.”
Meet the Expert
Sirena Singleton is a wedding photographer and the founder of Aneris Photography based in Charleston, SC.
Wedding-day family photos can get complicated. It’s overwhelming to decide which family members you need to include in your photo session and how to coordinate timing to keep the day on schedule. Ahead, everything you need to know to understand the ins and outs of wedding-day family photos.
Family Wedding Photo Tips
Focus on the VIPs.
One of the main questions Singleton gets is: “Who should I include in my family wedding photos?” Of course, you’ll want your parents, siblings, and grandparents, but it’s tough to determine who else should make the cut—especially with limited time. Singleton says to focus on the VIPs, then work backward from there. “If there’s someone who raised you or is super special, I always tell couples to have those people first,” she says.
What about divorced or remarried parents?
Whether your parents are friends or barely civil, you'll want to arrange for pictures with your individual families first, so put those at the top of the list. The two of you as a couple should take pictures with each parent, including their new significant other if they are in a relationship or are remarried. If you're inviting step-siblings to the wedding, include them here too.
Send a list to your photographer.
“I send clients a questionnaire and ask them to list out which family members they want to be included.” Wedding photographers use this photo list, typically with about 10 must-have family groups, to coordinate post-ceremony photos quickly. That’s when the bulk of wedding photos happen; it’s one of the few open times when all family members are in one place. For that reason, it’s wise to give these VIP family members a heads up that you’ll need them to stick around post-ceremony, too.
If you have someone extra special in your life—such as a grandmother—give your wedding photographer advanced notice so they can keep an eye out for photo opportunities throughout the day.
If you take them before the ceremony...
Taking photos before the wedding is a new practice, kicking out the old tradition that the couple can't see each other until the ceremony. This gives you the freedom and the time to take photos before the wedding celebration actually begins. But it can also be stressful, hectic, and often a headache. Make sure that family members arrive at a certain time so that they will be there during the family portrait hour.
Don't be afraid to ask for help.
The best way to take all your family photos without giving yourself a pre-wedding panic attack is to ask a friend to be in charge of organizing. They'll make sure everyone who needs to be in them is present and help the photographer move this process along so that it doesn't take more time than necessary.
Must-Have Family Wedding Photos
Expect traditional look-at-the-camera poses with your extended family; getting creative with each relative would eat through your time at cocktail hour—or make you late for the reception. In these extended-family photos, Singleton says the couple is almost always in the center, with the family members posed around them.
Beyond the can’t-miss family images like parents walking their children down the aisle or participating in first dances, and of course the post-ceremony classics, some must-have shots happen during prep. Expect adorable candids with your mom or sibling zipping up that dress, and of course, the tear-jerking father-daughter first look. For grooms, it could be dad helping tie that ties or put on cufflinks.
Once the couple is dressed and ready, Singleton says photographers will sneak in a few pre-ceremony family photos to capture those once-in-a-lifetime butterflies. “I encourage the couple to make sure their parents come in for that getting ready period,” she says. “These more personal, un-posed candids are some of my favorite shots.”
Around the Altar
For a church wedding, these family photos typically happen at the altar. For an outdoor or non-religious ceremony, they happen in a photogenic space in or around the venue. It’s best to ask your coordinator, photographer, or venue contact for group-photo location ideas before the big day.
As you brainstorm must-have family portraits, we've rounded up 15 wedding-day family photo ideas for inspiration.
Photographers like to have the bride’s VIPs help with getting ready. This makes for meaningful candid portraits that encapsulate your big day.
Dad Tying the Tie
Prep-time photos aren’t solely for the bride. Key groom-prep moments, such as dad helping with the tie, make for sweet family candids, too.
The First Look
Few moments are as heartwarming as that first look with mom or dad. Reliving that reaction alone—which often has dad holding back tears—is worth the price of your photographer.
Inside jokes abound in just about every family. Photographers love to capture these silly jokes, big and small, throughout your wedding day. In fact, tell your photographer ahead of time if there are any specific jokes they should keep an eye out for!
Photographers know the family shot list isn’t complete without the couple’s brothers and sisters. Sometimes the sibling portraits are silly and candid, other times they’re heartfelt or serious. The photographer feels out the vibe for the day and leans into that intuition to capture each family shot perfectly.
The classic parent photos, with the couple in the center and parents on both or either side, is a photographer staple. These typically happen after the ceremony and incorporate both immediate and extended family.
Solo Parent Portraits
The couple is in most family photos, but with mom and dad looking their best, photographers want to capture solo portraits of them, too.
Moments with Grandparents
One of Singleton’s favorite photos from her wedding is with her grandma. That’s why she makes sure her couples list out their VIPs ahead of time.
The Little Ones
Few things are more adorable than children at a wedding. Your photographer will capture every little-kid moment they can, including those tiny bowties, or kids just being kids.
It’s great to get as many family members into one photo as possible if time allows. That way you can print and frame everyone together for grandma or grandpa.
Don’t Forget Your Pets
Pets are just as much part of your family as anyone, so why not bring them along for the fun? It’s best to coordinate this with your photographer ahead of time and have someone else, such as a cousin, taking care of them and transporting them to and from photos.
Whether it’s a specific religious or family tradition, tell your photographer ahead of time so they can capture the memory through images. In this photo, the bride and groom gathered their family for the signing of a colorful ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract.
Some of the most meaningful family photos take place before you walk down the aisle. These pictures capture those butterflies and help you relive the memories forever.
Whether it’s the dad’s opening speech or a brother’s toast, photographers will always capture those meaningful reception moments. This is also when a wedding video with speech audio comes in handy, too.
One of the best wedding-day family portraits is a shot that symbolizes your family’s bond—especially those bonds in the making. If your partner is close with your family, make sure to tell your photographer so they can capture that meaningful relationship all day.