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Most couples (and their moms) want to have portraits of their families, the wedding party and themselves taken on their wedding day. Those family portraits become an important part of the family’s heritage, and the portrait session is the best time for creative photographers to strut their stuff. 



However, few couples actually look forward to the session, and for good reason: without careful planning, it can snowball into a major time hog and an annoyance for you and your loved ones.

Taking a few extra minutes to develop a good game plan will help ensure that you spend exactly the time you need to get exactly the photos you want.

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether to have the portrait session before or after your ceremony. Because this choice can affect your entire schedule for the day, you should make this key decision early in your planning — even before you set the ceremony time.

Before the ceremony

Pros: Fewer guests means fewer distractions, and makeup and hair are at their freshest, so portraits taken beforehand typically capture everyone looking their best, before the tears set in.

Also, they day of the ceremony, the couple can immediately greet guests and start the reception, instead of disappearing for an hour or more.

Cons: Portrait sessions held in advance are more vulnerable to delays. If a hair styling session goes long or a family member runs late, the photographer’s time may get cut short, depriving you of some great potential images.



After the ceremony


Pros: Couples who go straight from tying the knot to their portrait sessions often have a just-married glow that shines through in their photos.

They might also appreciate the opportunity to take a breather before plunging into the whirlwind of their reception.

Cons: The top concern of many couples is the tradition that the groom’s first glimpse of his bride is as she walks down the aisle. If this custom is important to you, your decision is already made — you’re headed for photos after you’ve tied the knot.

Another drawback of post-ceremony portraits is rounding up the participants. The lure of chatting with long-unseen friends or paying a visit to the bar can make it much harder to get started on time, and delays in getting the session under way delay getting it finished.

Additionally, guests who aren’t involved in the portraits will impatiently await your arrival.

Why not both?

While this sounds like a potential time-saver, it usually adds a lot of extra time before the ceremony to save only five to 10 minutes after it.

Many of the photos that you can take ahead of time include the same people who will be in shots after the ceremony. Getting them together before the ceremony may not be worth the hassle when you’ll have to do it again after the ceremony.



This split-session approach can also result shots that you are unlikely to use after the wedding. For example, if you take a portrait of the bride and her family before the ceremony and the same photo, with the groom added, after the ceremony, will you even want the first portrait? Typically not.

Avoiding common wedding photo problems

Once you’ve decided when to have your photography session, here are some tips for getting the most out of it.

Plan well in advance

Develop a portrait list well in advance of the big day. This list will save you from last-minute, on-the-spot brainstorming that can lead to errors and omissions.



When developing your portrait list, consider having fewer, large groups instead of many small groups  (it’s faster for your photographer to take a single photo of your entire extended family (even if that’s 30 people) than to take six photos of smaller subgroups).

Also, include only the photos you’ll really want on the list. Think about how you’ll use each portrait — as gifts, framed in your home, or in your album — to ensure you don’t spend time on the wedding day taking photos you’ll never use.

Consult your family


Review your list with close family members to avoid additions or differences of opinion during the session. If your parents are contributing financially to your wedding, they’ll especially appreciate the chance to voice their own requests.

Inform the participants


Once the list is complete, consult your photographer for an estimate of the time the session will take. Your next step is to notify everyone on your portrait list what time they’ll need to be available.

If you’ll be taking their shots in advance, ask them to be ready 15 to 20 minutes earlier than the actual start time. This little white lie can do wonders for making sure everyone is ready on time.

If the portraits will take place after the ceremony, make sure the people involved know they can’t leave with the rest of the guests.

On the wedding day


If you plan to have portraits taken before the ceremony, put someone in charge of pinning on boutonnieres and corsages as soon as family members arrive. Waiting for flowers to be pinned on is one of the most common reasons for delay in starting a portrait session. 



If your session is before the ceremony but you want that first-look moment, arrange a “reveal” before starting the portraits. Not only will this give you a few minutes to take in each other’s wedding attire and appreciate the importance of the day, but it will also allow your photographer to capture the expressions on your faces more easily than during the ceremony, when you’ll be separated by a long aisle. 



Appoint a helper who’s not in the portraits but who knows most of the people involved. That person will come in especially handy if any of the portrait subjects manage to slip away at the wrong time.

The most important thing of all is to relax! Any tension that you have will show in your photos. If you’ve followed these guidelines, rest assured that you’ve done everything you can to make your portrait session a success. Now let your photographer take charge and make memorable portraits for you.


Story by Laura Schoeggl, Wallflower Photography

Click on a photo to enlarge.

Published on March 18, 2016.

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