What are family formals? Exactly what they sound like, family formal pictures on your wedding day. They are posed, well-lit images where everyone is smiling at the camera. These are the ones that get hung on the wall and used for years in everyone’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, National Siblings Day Instagram and Facebook posts. They are no one’s favorite part of the day. No one wants to stop all the celebrating and line up to smile at the camera. I get it! 100%! But they are some of the most important pictures of the day and I, and most photographers, want to make these as easy, fast and efficient as possible. After shooting weddings for more than 15 years, here are my suggestions:
Make A List
With your fiancé, possibly with your mom, go through and make a list of who you would like in these formal pictures. Be judicious with this list. When adding so many combinations this is bumping valuable time for other important pictures (i.e. bridal party, couple pictures).
Give it to your photographer at least a month in advance of your wedding.
As the photographer, I go through the list and re-organize it to make it as efficient as possible (i.e. making sure mom isn’t going and coming into pictures 10 times, trying to do all the ones of mom one right after another, it makes it go so much faster).
When your photographer sends it back, go over it again and make sure everything looks right, no one is missing.
Inform Your Family
Give this list to your family, email it to them, DM it to them, and then call them and make sure they got it. I joke, but really…this is super important. Make sure they know where to be and when.
Assign a family representative for each family that is in charge of making sure that everyone is present, not heading to cocktail hour or sneaking off to find hor d’oeuvres. The number one thing that slows down family pictures is trying to find cousin Eddie or Uncle Bob.
Trust Your List and Your Photographer
Let your photographer do her/his thing, let them go through the list you have given them or the list in their head. They are a professional and know the most effective way to get through family pictures.
I ask, at the end of each family, if there are any that I have missed. That is the time to add different combinations, if desired.
The second most common thing that slows down family pictures is making extra suggestions, extra combinations, mid formal pictures. Many times, these are pictures that are on the list and would be happening eventually. When this happens, it can throw a photographer off and important pictures are missed. Of course, we want to get these combinations, but it is best to wait until the end of the family group, or even until the reception.
These pictures are IMPORTANT, but it also seems to be the time people get the most anxious, impatient and time is limited so we want to make it as efficient as possible.
The Most Common Groups
The best way to start with groups is with the biggest groups and then take people away. And also start with the biggest family and/or the one with the youngest children. In my experience, it goes much more efficiently.
Bride’s Large Family – Immediate family with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.
Bride’s Immediate Family – mom, dad, step-parents, sisters, brothers, in-laws, nieces/nephews
Bride’s Parents – with the groom and then without
And then, repeat with the groom’s family.
Every family is different. It is SUPER important to talk to your photographer, in depth, about your specific family dynamic. I don’t think I can emphasize this enough. Most photographers cannot be surprised by much. And they know how to handle each situation with minimal awkwardness, as long as they are aware.
This can be easily handled with one immediate family picture with both parents (for you) and one with just mom and one with just dad (for them). You can add current spouses or significant others to these also.
Same with the bride and groom pictures with the parents, one with both parents and one with the bride and groom with just mom and one with just dad.
Of course, if they really can’t stand being together, we can keep them all separate.
Brother/Sister and their significant others:
My advice is unless they are officially married, they aren’t included or we do one without and one with them.
I am passionate about this because I had a terrible experience with this at my own wedding. My brother was engaged and so I included her and her two children in ALL (including my wedding party) pictures and then, the very next week, she called it off. Yeah. Bummer.
These are just a couple of the countless possible situations. My suggestion for all of them:
- Talk to your photographer
- Come up with a solution for family pictures.
- Inform family members of the decision BEFORE THE WEDDING so everyone is on board (whether they like it or not, it is YOUR day) and there are no surprises and additional awkward situations.
Follow these steps and advice and family pictures will flow easily, seamlessly. Before you (or Cousin Eddie) know it, you will be on to the reception, celebrating with all of your family and friends.