Ask The Experts with Photographer Jeff Haden: Minimizing Family Drama at the Wedding

Posted by Azure on August 26th, 2009
About Jeff Haden of Blackbird Images

The Q:“What can I do to minimize family drama during our post-ceremony portrait session? I have in-laws and out-laws and split families to deal with and I have no idea how to keep the peace.”Lindsey D., Bethesda, MD. The A:

First things first: At least a third of our couples worry – and some worry a lot– about tantrums or hurt feelings during the post-ceremony family and bridal party photo session. Typically the concern is with divorced and re-married parents; for example, the couple may want a photo of themselves with their biological parents but are concerned step-parents’ feelings may be hurt if they aren’t included as well. (And some just worried mom and dad will refuse to stand next to each other.)

Yet with all that said we never see it happen. Partly that is due to the fact people tend to be on their best behavior on your wedding day, but it’s also because we work hard to 1) Take control of the session so it appears we’re making the decisions, not you (even though in reality we help you create a shot list ahead of time), and 2) We create sufficient combinations to ensure everyone participates and feels included – even if those combinations include photos you don’t want. Here’s an example:

Say you’re the bride. Both your parents are divorced and remarried. We’ve talked extensively ahead of time and we know all you really want is a photo of you and your spouse with your biological parents. To make sure no one’s feelings are hurt we’ll put together the following combinations, in this order, so it flows smoothly and takes the least amount of time: 1. Bride and groom with bride’s mom and her husband beside the bride, bride’s dad and his wife beside the groom (that way step-parents are included at the beginning) 2. Peel off the step-parents, leave the biological on either side of the couple, take the photo you really want (step-parents aren’t included, but it’s hard to complain when you were in the first photo)

As a result step-parents got their moment and we kept your biological parents physically separated if you feel that’s best. Then your parents aren’t upset they had to stand next to each other… and their spouses aren’t irritated because their spouse stood next to their ex-spouse. (Sound petty? I’ve seen it happen.) 3. Then we very quickly pull in your husband’s parents. There’s no way to avoid “contact” at this point, so one of us shifts your dad over beside your mom and the other places your husband’s parents. We work quickly and chat up the group to try to blunt any tension. 4. Then while I’m photographing that grouping an assistant photographer gathers up all the step-parents, tells them they’re next so they don’t feel left out, shifts their attention away from what I’m shooting… and we smoothly move them into place, get the full parent shot with everyone included... and then quickly move on to other family groupings. (And let out a deep breath.) Here’s the result: Everyone was included, everyone could see the groupings were logical, and everyone implicitly knows we clearly were in charge and responsible. If a parent or step-parent isn’t happy they will be upset with us and not with you– and that’s all we really care about. While it rarely happens, we never mind being pulled aside later by a parent who wants to vent frustration for having to stand beside his ex-wife. No worries and a very small price to pay for ensuring you get what you want.

The key is to explain the dynamics to your wedding photographer, make sure they know what combinations you really want, and then develop a plan for avoiding anger or hurt feelings. Think of it this way: You’d rather spend five extra minutes taking photo combinations you don’t want than spend the rest of your wedding fretting over a pouting stepfather. One other point: Occasionally a parent will come to us ahead of time and say they don’t want to be photographed with their ex-spouse. Easy: I just look a little disappointed and say, “Oh, that’s too bad… that photo was highlighted on my checklist. Your daughter really wants a photo with both of her parents – she told me how much a photo with the two of you will mean to her….”

Works every time.
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