Family Formals can be one of the smoothest or most stressful parts of the wedding, depending on how well you prepare in advance.
In today's blog post, I am spilling my secrets to make your family formals quick and easy.
1 | Have a Game Plan!
For every wedding Devon and I photograph, I send out a pre-wedding questionnaire that allows us to better prepare for our couple's big day. By far, the most important question in that whole questionnaire is family formal groupings!
I don't know if you're like this too, but I do not answer questions well when put on the spot. I get flustered and end up thinking to myself (or out loud to Devon), "Wow, I can't believe I forgot about that," or "I should have said this." Anyone else?
That's just one reason family formals go a lot smoother if you have a game plan beforehand. It's easier to gather people (or have us gather people) if we know who to look for. It saves you stress on your wedding day by being bombarded by questions about who we need for pictures. And, diving into my second point, it goes a lot faster if we know who we need in advance.
2 | Have a Checklist
Maybe it's because I'm a type-A person, but nothing beats the feeling of crossing something off of a to-do list, and family formal shots are no exception.
While I'm firing away behind the camera, Devon has our physical list of family formal shots with every variation we need (including family member names) crossing off the shots we've done and making sure our next grouping is in the wings ready to go as soon as we're done with the last shot.
This is important for a couple of reasons. One, he's crossing off the shots we do instead of just following along or going in order. I've photographed too many weddings where a relative isn't ready or has to be retrieved from cocktail hour and we skip over them for a second. If we weren't crossing off shots, it would be very easy to get lost in the list. Secondly, Devon is making sure the next group of family members is aware they are the next group and not wandering around needing to be gathered after I finish the previous group. You may not think this matters, but it is so much faster to have people seamlessly flow in and out of shots rather than taking one group picture, gathering the next group, taking that group shot, and repeating.
3 | Make an Announcement
Another thing that really helps with people wrangling is making an announcement at the end of the ceremony. I like to suggest right after the recessional whenever people are just about to get up to leave.
If you don't want to make an announcement, have the planner gather people or make sure your family members know to stay immediately after the ceremony for pictures. It's so much faster whenever we can get those done right away and don't have to pull people from the cocktail hour or reception.
4 | Start with the Largest Group
If you're doing a full family group shot, start with that one first! This way, all of your extended family members, etc. who don't need an individual picture with you can go to cocktail hour or the reception first. This prevents people from waiting around for 10 minutes when they're only going to be in one picture, it prevents more distractions for closer family members (because if your family is anything like mine, they will chat and not listen to anyone), and it means fewer people to manage.
This also ties into my next point, but I love starting big and ending small. If we get the big shot out of the way, we can focus on smaller variations.
5 | Do Smaller Groups from the Larger Group
Like I said in the last point, I like to start large and end small. I also love to add & subtract people from groupings in a really efficient way. My favorite example of this is with the immediate family.
Let's say you're a bride with five total people in your family, including yourself (i.e. mom, dad, sister, brother, and yourself). A normal rotation for that family would look something like this:
- Bride & Groom with Bride's Parents
- Bride with Bride's Parents
- Bride with Bride's Mom
- Bride with Bride's Dad
- Bride & Groom with Bride's Parents & Siblings
- Bride & Groom with Bride's Siblings
- Bride with Bride's Siblings
- Bride with Brother
- Bride with Sister
All of this takes maybe 3 minutes, and there's so much variety! Plus, when you're filling out your questionnaire, you might not think to put a picture with just your mom, but you'll probably want one.
6 | Have Variety with Closer Family
Keeping with the immediate family theme, I love to do variations with close family that's not just your typical smile and look at the camera. Sometimes, I'll have you hug each other, have mom give you a kiss on the cheek, etc. This way, you have a lot more options than just a formal shot.
7 | Keep the List Short
When I say to keep the list short, I don't say it to make you choose your favorite family members or to limit the number of pictures you get. I only say this to use our time efficiently. You're paying a lot of money for photography, so we want to use that coverage time you're paying for in your best interest.
Ten groupings are our recommended max number of family formal shots. This keeps everything really manageable in a 30-minute window of time and gives you tons of variety (just like we talked about in the last tip). Ten groupings doesn't mean ten pictures, and we're still going to do variations of those groups! And don't fret if you have 11 or 12 groupings, we're not giving you a hard cutoff! Devon's family is huge, so we know it's hard to narrow it down sometimes.
8 | Use Reception for Distant Family
Did you know the reception can be a great time to have a quick picture with that 5th cousin who you love but didn't include in your family formal list? We love to snag candids and some more "formal" shots while you're going around to different tables at the reception, and it's a perfect time to get a picture with any family members you may not have gotten during the family formal section of the day.
9 | Parent & Grandparent Portraits
Another quick picture I love to capture during family formals, or at any point in the day, is a parent portrait and a grandparent portrait! It's not often our parents and grandparents get all dressed up for your wedding, and it only takes a minute to grab a picture of them.
A great time for this is right when the parents or grandparents are done with their formal with the bride and groom while the next group is being set up. This way, we use a transition I wouldn't be shooting in anyway to get a really meaningful picture.
10 | Enlist Help
Do not be afraid to ask for help. we do it all the time! Yes, Devon has a list of all of the shots we need and the names of people in the shots, but sometimes it is so much easier and faster if we ask a member of the family or a bridesmaid (who already knows all of the family members) to help gather people.
Even though we love you and are usually considered an honorary family member by the time the wedding is here, this is likely our first time meeting your family (and we're both horrible with names).
Devon and I are ultimately here to make your big day the most memorable (in a good way), and with these tips, we can eliminate one of the most stressful parts of the wedding day! Feel free to reach out to me with any questions. I'm always happy to help!
See you soon,
Caitlin S. Cornett