Tips + Advice

7 Tips for Planning a Thoughtful Family Shot List

December 18, 2023


I'm a California wedding and engagement photographer. The blog has past weddings, planning advice, photo education and more!

Hi, I'm ashley.

No one wants to feel like they are taking endless family photos while all the other guests are enjoying themselves at cocktail hour. If you have ever had a family member get married or been in a wedding party before, maybe you’ve felt this?! It feels like herding cats in chaos. This happens when there is not an organized family portrait list. 

This is exactly why, weeks before the wedding day, I give all my couples a template to work off of. Then, during our pre-wedding photo meeting, we review and organize it so that it’s efficient and streamlined.

Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in wanting to please lots of different people, especially if you are the type of person that wants to make everyone feel special. But in reality, your wedding portrait list is for you and your immediate family. I would highly recommend only putting photos on that list that you will actually use (examples being printed and hung on the wall, given as a framed gift, or put in your printed wedding album).

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when planning your family shot list:

  1. When you build your list, start with the portrait that has the most people and then remove people from there.
  2. Keep in mind mobility and elderly folks; move anyone that has severe difficulty moving around to the top of the list.
  3. You can estimate that each portrait will take about 2-2.5 minutes. The small groupings go faster, and the large groupings take longer, so that’s a good rule of thumb. If you have 20 portraits, you can expect that to take about 40 minutes. Having this general idea helps when timeline planning and helps you narrow down which photos are most important.
  4. Write out your list with first names… this is crucial! I request a “name key” from my couples so I know the family names and the relation. From experience, I’ve learned that calling out “Mary and Terry” instead of “Aunt and Uncle on Dad’s side” makes a big difference in speed and efficiency during portrait time.
  5. Once you and your photographer have organized your list, share it with those family members before the wedding day so that they can see the flow and when they will be excused to cocktail hour.
  6. Assign a point person for each side of the family to wrangle any stragglers that missed the memo. This should be a responsible cousin, sibling, aunt or uncle.
  7. Don’t combine extended families that don’t spend holidays together. I’ve found that these portraits are rarely actually used, and because there are so many people in them, all the faces are so tiny making it hard to see anyway.

Note for blended families: There are a lot of these and if you’re worried about it personally, just know you’re not alone. So many couples deal with this. Sometimes it can overcomplicate portraits because you feel the need to get all the variations, which I totally get. But, my advice would be to take them as the family dynamics are now. It’ll make it less stressful and easier on everyone.

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I'm Ashley, a California wedding and engagement photographer. The blog has past weddings, planning advice, photo education and more!




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