Family photos can arguably be some of the most important photos taken on your wedding day. From what I’ve witnessed, at the time they are being taken parents tend to value them more than the bride and groom. However, over time I do believe every bride and groom will realise their importance. However, they can very easily and quickly turn out to be the most stressful part of the day for a couple.

Family Photos on your Wedding Day

I’ve a lot of experience shooting foreign weddings and with most of these, family photos never posed an issue or problem on the wedding day. If I am shooting a Dutch, German, Belgian wedding for example, I know that when it comes to family photos, everybody required for these photos will be at the photo location at the precise time. They will be attentive and will organise themselves and the photos will only take 10 minutes or so to be completed.

Unfortunately family photos at Irish weddings are in general a completely different experience. This is largely due to our laid back ‘sure it will be grand’ attitude to things.
So, wedding day family photographs for Irish weddings come with a health warning. What should only take 10 or 15 minutes to complete often doesn’t. I’ve had family photographs take over an hour to complete resulting in family arguments and stressed brides and grooms who have had no time to spend with their guests before dinner bell. Why..? Generally because those couples didn’t listen to my advice. Hence this blog.

wedding day family photo outside church

So having the experience of shooting hundreds of weddings I’m going to share with you how family photographs should be arranged at your wedding. This ensures that we get the photos YOU want, nobody gets stressed and we make the most efficient use of your precious time on your day. I’m also going to be brutally honest and blunt over the next few paragraphs so be warned…!!

These are important photos and therefore it’s important to get them right and to put some proper thought into what photographs you want taken.

#1 – I need a list of combinations of family photos with names.

Firstly, I need to know in advance what combinations of family photographs you want. Therefore about a month before your wedding, an online form will be published to you requesting you to think about and fill in the combinations of photographs required. Most couples complete this form but some don’t. If you don’t, then that is your choice. I will however ask you on the day when it comes to photographing your families what photographs you do want. So you will be put on the spot. This might seem all fine in advance of your day, but if I don’t have a list of photos in my hand at the time to wave around and work from, this is what will happen. Your family members will start telling you what combinations you need to have. Everybody will be jumping in with different opinions. We will therefore end up spending way more time taking loads of unnecessary combinations of photos. Not only will you miss spending precious time with your guests but everybody will get so confused over the combinations of photos you have taken, we are likely to miss some important combinations which will only become apparent after the wedding when its too late. We will also spend a longer time waiting for necessary family members to be rounded up and shown to the photo location.

#2 – Tell the bridal party in advance of the wedding that it will be their job to gather the families for their photos.

I will not know who your family members are so I need other people to gather the required people. It will be your bridal party’s job on the day to round up family members for the photos. For most of them it will be their only job on the day. Despite this it never ceases to amaze me how many of them totally screw it up. Please tell them in advance of the wedding that this will be their task on the day. They will be told on the day by me when to round up the families and where to send them for the photos. I will also give them a copy of the list that (hopefully) you have given me so that they know exactly who to gather. To serve this purpose, when completing your list please use names of each individual rather than writing bride & groom and the “Dunne family”. It may be obvious to you who the Dunne family is but not necessarily obvious to whoever it is gathering the people – even if its your sibling. I’ve had many occasions where a groomsman has sent uncles, aunts and cousins when the bride and groom only wanted parents and siblings…. Disaster…

#3 – Control expectations of parents for your Family Photos on your Wedding Day

When it comes to family photos on your wedding day a lot of Irish mothers expect 100+ combinations of bride and groom with family, uncles, aunts etc…. Whilst I’m happy to stand there and take 100+ combinations, I can promise you that these photos will take much longer than you think. You will spend your entire reception time taking these photos, you will have a pain in your face from smiling and I will be unable to spend any time getting natural candid shots of your guests mingling during the afternoon. If you feel that any of your parents fall into this category, then you need to manage their expectations in advance of the wedding. You will need to explain to them that you are only having immediate family photographed, that the photographer has a list and we will not be deviating from that list.
Again, I’ve had loads of occasions where a mother of the bride for example had demanded during the family photos that she needs photos of the bride and groom with uncles, aunts etc. Then somebody has to go looking for the uncles, aunts whilst we all wait. Some of them can’t be found and we wait even longer…. Bride and groom become annoyed, stressed. Words are exchanged…. You get the idea…

two gay grooms posing with their parents on their wedding day #3 – Decide on a member of the bridal party to call out the family photo combinations

When it comes to actually taking the photos, I will ask a member of the bridal party to call out the combinations in order from the list. This makes everything more efficient and means that we don’t miss anything. As I’m taking one combination, they can be getting the next individual/s in line and ready for the next shot. Irish guests at weddings don’t listen so somebody with a loud voice and not afraid to use it is preferable. I find that teachers, soldiers, Garda and nurses work great..!


#4 – Avoid unnecessary combinations of family photos

Try and keep your combinations to immediate family and grandparents. If you start bringing in uncles, aunts, cousins etc I promise you it will take a long time before we finish. Not because it takes a long time to take a photograph, but the more people to round up means the greater potential for one or more people to go missing. When uncle Joe is missing everybody is waiting and waiting and you are missing time with your guests…

These are my typical recommended combinations for Family Photos on your Wedding Day:

Bride & Groom with brides parents
Bride & Groom with brides parents & siblings
Bride & Groom with brides parents & siblings & their partners & kids
Bride & Groom with brides grandparents

Bride & Groom with grooms parents
Bride & Groom with grooms parents & siblings
Bride & Groom with grooms parents & siblings & their partners & kids
Bride & Groom with grooms grandparents

You can obviously add more if you wish but be aware of the additional time it will take as mentioned above.


#5 – Where is the best place to take your family photos on your wedding day?

Consider where is the best location for photos. If it is a church wedding, is the church a better location than the reception venue. Advantage with a church is that it is easier to manage people. We simply ask them to remain behind for photos after the ceremony. At the reception it is more difficult to round people up as they have disappeared to the bar, their rooms, they are walking around the grounds. They may have even stopped for a drink in a pub on the way and may not have even arrived yet… I will talk to you before the wedding about this and we can decide together what might be best for you.

wedding day family photo of bride and groom and parents outside tankardstwon house

#6 – Communication with your family

Explain to your families in advance of the wedding day where the photos will be taken ie church or hotel. If they are being taken at the church they need to be informed to stay behind afterwards. Seems obvious but I’ve had plenty of occasions where some family have continued on to the hotel as they didn’t know they were needed for photos. Or they had forgotten…!

If the photos are being taken in the hotel explain that they will be informed on the day when and where the photos will be taken and to make their way promptly to the location. Explain to them that you don’t want to be wasting time waiting around for everybody. Gathering Irish people at weddings unfortunately is akin to herding cats and your bridal party will have a difficult enough job trying to get people to listen to them and to move. If your family members are aware time is precious for you, they may be inclined to be more cooperative on the day.

I’m well aware that some of the above can come across as being a bit harsh but I’m saying it how it is. It’s frustrating for me to see my clients become stressed and equally frustrated because they are wasting their precious time waiting for people to show up or other family members telling them that they should be getting additional families photos done. I just want this part of the day to run smoothly and to take as little time as possible so that you can enjoy your afternoon whilst getting the family photos on your wedding day that you want.

I’ll leave you with this.

At a recent wedding the bride, groom and I asked the bridesmaids (groomsmen were deemed not up to the task) to gather up the parents and siblings and have everybody at the steps to the castle in 40 minutes time. I then went off with the bride and groom to take their photos with the intention of finishing at the steps where all the family folk would then be ready and waiting. We could therefore launch straight into the family photos and get them done and dusted.

When we arrived back 40 mins later nobody was there. Not one person… Turns out the bridesmaids told a few people but then got distracted at the bar. The people who had been told to go to the steps didn’t bother as they didn’t see anybody else going. It then took us a full 35 minutes before we could find and get everybody out to the front of the castle and start the photos. One furious bride and groom.

family photo of bride and her mother and sisters on her wedding day

If you are interested in my wedding photography get in touch now to check my availability.

Venues featured in blog:

Ballymagarvey Village

Tankardstown House

Gouganne Barra

Johnstown House Estate

Markree Castle