Tips and Tricks for Smooth Family Formals on a Wedding Day


March 3, 2020

Although you may not hear wedding photographers talking about them very often (at least, not publicly), family formals are always an important part of a wedding day. Weddings are often the first opportunity many families have had to get dressed up and have a photo taken together, so of course, they’re a pretty big deal!

My philosophy on family formals is that while they are a vital part of the day, it’s also incredibly important to not take too much time away from your family’s enjoyment of the event. We work really hard to make sure that this part of the day is as quick and painless as possible…that way everyone can get back to their cocktails and conversations!

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a few tips that will help this part of the day be as stress free as possible!

Create a shot list.

While I don’t typically work with shot lists on a wedding day, I DO actually request a shot list for family formals. Because every family is unique and dynamics can , I ask each couple make a list of their family formal requests. I have a basic list that I include in my pre-wedding questionnaire to help them get an idea of some of the typical groupings (bride and groom and bride’s parents, bride and groom and bride’s immediate family, etc) and then ask them to personalize the selections with each individual’s name.

Why do I ask for the names of each person who will be in the shot? We don’t know your families as well as you do, so having names is super helpful to my second shooter and I when we’re organizing each shot. This also eliminates any confusion from Aunt So-and-So (or other relatives) regarding who she thinks should be included. You’ve already decided on this ahead of the wedding and provided us a list to use to execute your wishes. With this information at our fingertips, we can call out each family member’s name to easily assemble each group without confusion over who’s considered immediate family.

(This is also really helpful for situations where step-parents are involved. Having a shot list with people’s names on it makes the process more seamless and stress free on the day of because all of the shots are already pre-determined and we can work from a list of exactly who should be in each photo)

Schedule plenty of time on the day of.

Always allow more time than you think is necessary when planning out your wedding day timeline, but especially when it comes to family formals. At many weddings, family portrait time can be derailed because there’s someone who’s running behind or there’s a family member who’s gotten off track talking to a friend. Or sometimes there are wardrobe malfunctions and boutonniere problems, or maybe there’s sketchy weather or other things happening that derail the schedule. I strongly believe a huge key to success is planning out the timing correctly. Having a buffer helps a lot in case something inevitably goes wrong.

Not sure how much time is necessary? No worries! When you submit your family formal requests along with your wedding day questionnaire, I’ll be able to gauge exactly how much time is necessary to capture all of the requested shots and can suggest how much time we should schedule. Typically I like to include about 2-3 minutes per shot unless the photo has a large amount of people. Larger groups may take longer to organize and photograph.


When you’re making your list of shots you’d like to have, try to think about what photo combinations you might actually frame or use. If you have a large list, I suggest creating a list of priority photos. That way if we have to cut formal portraits short because of weather or time constraints, we can still ensure that we get the most important ones captured.

Prioritizing also means deciding what types of photos are ultimately the most important to you. Are you most looking forward to having lots of couple portraits? Bridal party photos? Or are family formals your priority? Knowing ahead of time what is most important will help us (and you!) make sure that your priority happens.

I suggest communicating this priority not just with me, but with your other vendors (wedding planner, florist, DJ, videographer) as well. This will help ensure that everyone’s on the same page as far as what’s most important to you and will help us all work as a team!

Consult with family members ahead of time.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that sometimes parents have different expectations of the wedding photos than you might. I recommend chatting with each set of parents to find out what their expectations are for photos (are there any specific must have shots that are important to them?) and getting everyone on the same page ahead of time.

Inform everyone of the game plan ahead of time.

It’s also a great idea to reach out to each person who will be photographed during family formal time to let them know that they are required to ready at whatever specific time we plan to start shooting family formals.

With all that being said, here’s a sample list of family formal shots that I usually suggest:

Bride and Groom and Bride’s Parents
Bride and Groom and Bride’s Parents and Siblings
Bride and Groom and Bride’s grandparents
Bride and Groom and both sets of parents
Bride and Groom and Groom’s Parents
Bride and Groom and Groom’s Parents and Siblings
Bride and Groom and Groom’s Grandparents

I hope this post was helpful! If you’re a client of mine, feel free to reach out with questions or if you need assistance putting together your list!

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