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How To Plan Family Formals: Wedding Pictures

An important but sometimes dreaded part of your wedding day takes place right afterwards – family formals. Why is it dreaded? Because you don’t know how to plan family formals to make sure they run smoothly so you can get to the important stuff – like partying!

Today’s post features advice on how to work with your wedding photographer to plan your family formals shot list.

A wedding is the perfect time to get a dressed up picture with all the ones you love!

First, let me share why planning your family formals is so important. I didn’t have this help at our wedding. While our photographer was helpful in many ways, she never gave us any suggestions in regards to how to organize family pictures.

We didn’t realize my side of the family didn’t know to stay until it was too late – when we were in the middle of doing pictures. We have pictures of the entire extended family on my husband’s side, but on my side we have only my immediate family – my parents and sister. No pictures with my grandma. No pictures with my aunts, uncles, cousins – some of who I am pretty close with!

how to plan family formals
We have pictures with every combination of extended family on my husband’s side, but not on my side. I have always regretted this!

It could have been prevented with ten minutes of planning.

Another scenario: Have you ever been to a wedding where you sat and waited at the reception site for an hour – or two – waiting for the bridal party to arrive?

I think we’ve all been there at least once! A little tired, a little cranky, a lot hungry – and not completely in a party mood. Trust me – I understand that everyone is ready to relax and celebrate!

It’s important to remember that the family formals are a crucial part of your wedding day gallery. It’s one of the only times where all of your family and friends will be in one place, and dressed up! With some careful planning and consideration, it is most definitely possible to get some really nice portraits in the least amount of time possible! Keep reading to learn how!

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1. Keep Your Formal Photo List Short

As your photographer, I will ask you for your list of family formals in advance.  My first piece of advice is to try and keep that list fairly abbreviated – 10-12 groupings at most. Remember, with each grouping we will have to call out names, arrange the group so each person looks their best, and take multiple shots to make sure we have a good image with everyone smiling at the camera! The time can add up quickly, especially with larger groups. This is why it’s important to keep your formals list concise to keep everything moving smoothly.

2. Bride and Groom In All Formal Photos

I also recommend that the bride and groom be included in every photo taken with family and friends after the ceremony to avoid too much repetition. While you may want pictures of just you with your parents, etc., these are better taken while getting ready before the ceremony or at the reception so we can maximize the time we have for family formals!

bride and groom stand with father and mother for family formals

3. Location, Location, Location

It is very important that you decide in advance where you’d like your family formals to be taken so that your photographer can be made aware. Traditionally these pictures are taken at the ceremony site, either inside or outside. Either way, be sure to coordinate so we can plan for lighting scenarios, which will largely depend on the time of day.

4. Communicate

I am always a firm believer in over-communication…and this includes when it comes to how to plan your family formals!  Prepare your family and friends by sending the list of formals and the location to the people who will be in them. A quick email costs you nothing and also ensure that everyone has a copy in their hand – no one goes anywhere without their phone!

Along with that, kindly let your family and guests know that you have worked with your photographer and have the shot list ready, and if they have any requests, to do those during the reception. This will help prevent your dear, sweet Aunt Suzie from requesting six extra combinations that you don’t even really want – meaning less stress for you and getting to the reception (party) quicker! 🙂

In addition, ask your officiant to reiterate at the end of the ceremony that family will need to stay for photos because uncle Paul is already thinking about cocktail hour!

5. Delegate

Select one family member or a close friend who knows your family well to act as a formals helper. During family formals the lead photographer is the only one actually taking pictures (this ensures everyone is looking the same way!) and the second photographer is in charge of the list and calling out names and groupings, but we will not know all the extended family members. Having an assigned friend to make sure everyone is where they will supposed to be will make this sometimes hectic time run much smoother!

6. Think About Potential Situations

Please let me know ahead of time regarding family members who are elderly or have other mobility issues. This helps me to plan so that they don’t have to get up and down multiple times.

Also, please let me know regarding divorces or family feuds. Weddings are happy events so we want to avoid any potentially awkward situations!

7. Stay Focused

It is highly possible that you will have family and friends approaching you for photos while you’re in the midst of going down your formal list, even if they weren’t on the list you made.  This is normal and understandable!  Everyone wants a photo with the bride and groom because you’re the stars of the day!  When this happens at a wedding I’m photographing, I always like to remind them that I will be there for the rest of the night and can take that photo during the reception when there will be plenty of “down time.”  Just about 99% of the time this satisfies the person asking for a photo so that we can move on with the list!

On that same note, lots of couples really like the idea of a photo with all of their guests.  I love this idea too!  However, it’s best to do this at the reception.  For one thing, everyone is a bit more relaxed, meaning you get a photo that is FUN with everyone cheering!  Also, everyone is in one place AND for any stragglers, your DJ will be able to help round them up.  Be sure to let your photographer know that you want this photo in advance, too!

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8. Last one – have fun!

We realize that family formal photos are not as fun as those candid shots throughout the day, but your parents and grandparents love them and it will be something they will cherish and proudly display on the walls of their homes. 

BONUS – Sample Family Formals Shot List

I’ve provided a helpful starter list below for planning your family formal shot list.

Bride and Groom with Officiant

Bride and Groom with Bride’s Parents
Bride and Groom with Bride’s Siblings
Bride and Groom with Bride’s Parents and Siblings
Bride and Groom with Bride’s Parents, Siblings, and Extended Family

Bride and Groom with Bride’s Parents and Groom’s Parents

Bride and Groom with Groom’s Parents
Bride and Groom with Groom’s Siblings
Bride and Groom with Groom’s Parents and Siblings
Bride and Groom with Groom’s Parents, Siblings, and Extended Family

Bride and Groom with Bride’s Parents and Siblings, Groom’s Parents and Siblings, Both Extended Families

Bride’s Parents Alone
Bride’s Grandparents Alone
Groom’s Parents Alone
Groom’s Grandparents Alone

Family formals can be a stressful and often time consuming part of planning your wedding.  However, it will definitely pay off to put some thought and effort into the family formals shot list on your wedding day!  By working with your wedding photographer to plan ahead, we will be able to get all of the photos of your loved ones that you’re wanting in the least amount of time possible!

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