Tips for Smooth Family Formals on Your Wedding Day

Posted on Feb 25, 2015 in Wedding Resources | 9 Comments

bride and groom holding handsIf I had to nominate one part of a wedding day as the most hectic, it would certainly be the family formals portion. With so many people involved, it is easy for this time of the day to get out of control, creating delays and unnecessary anxiety. That’s why I want to share with you some of my best tips for smooth family formals on your wedding day.

Make a List

wedding formals

This seems obvious and simple, but you would be surprised how often this is overlooked! Without a list, your photographer can only guess who should be included in the family formals, and may easily overlook a favorite aunt or family friend. You’ll want to think about who you might like to gift a nice photo to after the wedding and also what images you’ll actually use! Will you really ever hang up a picture of you with all of your third cousins? If not, perhaps that image is better suited for the reception.

Have a Plan

family photos outside

When you are considering a list- don’t just think of who you want photographed, but also think of the combinations. For instance, do you want a photo with each of your individual siblings or just one group photo of all of you together? You’ll also want to think about if you’ll want a few of your and your immediate family without your new spouse. Perhaps you’ll want an image of just you and your mom together without your new husband or wife. If so, be sure to put that on the list. Since everyone is all dressed up and looking smashing, it is always nice if you have the time to get a photo of your parents with just each other. After-all, when was the last time mom & dad had a photo taken of just the two of them? Either way, have a plan and be sure to know who you want photographed. Nothing is worse than getting your pictures back and realizing you forgot to get a photograph with your favorite Aunt.

Budget Enough Time

Gramercy Mansion wedding

You’ll want to touch base with your photographer to go over the group combinations that you would like captured, to be sure you have allotted enough time to have them done. Wrangling large groups of people takes time, even when everyone is ready to go! Your photographer can give you an estimate of how long each grouping should take, but the general rule of thumb is 2-5 mins per group. As you are planning out your groupings, keep this rule in mind. If you only have twenty minutes for family formals, a list of thirty combinations will need to be prioritized. Keep in mind that many churches have a very strict allotment of time that can be utilized for family formals after the ceremony. You’ll want to make sure you don’t extend past the time they have given you, or you may end up having to cut your portraits short. Also, the more time you spend on family formals, the less time you will have for photos of just you and your new spouse!

Keep Your Guests Informed

family formals

Planning out your groupings and timeline will mean nothing if people aren’t ready when their name is called. Make sure everyone knows that they are in the formals, and where they should be! Nothing is more frustrating than having 19 out of 20 people set and ready to go for a large group photo, only to find that Uncle Ed ran off to the restroom or even headed over to the cocktail hour! Be sure to communicate with your family and friends before the big day. Let them know that you would like to have them in the family formals, and be sure to tell them when and where they will need to be, so that there are no unnecessary delays.

Start with the Big Groups

swan harbor farm wedding

Of course, you’ll want to work with your photographer, when planning out who gets photographed when, but my preferred method is to start big and work my way down to smaller groups. I’ll usually put older relatives and children at the top of the list, as most little kids are already fidgety from sitting through the service and older relatives might need to sit down. I like to photograph them first and then move on to extended family and then parents- so that they can go and greet your guests as soon as possible. Lastly, I like to work with your bridal party, if we haven’t done so before the ceremony, and then let them go ahead so that I can work with just the two of you.

Have a Photo Wrangler

bride with flower girl

Your photographer will have a list, but she won’t know everyones’ name on your big day. It is always helpful if you’ve given a family member, who is familiar with everyone, a list of the formals, so that they can help ensure that everyone is set and ready to go! This is also helpful if Aunt Betty wanders off- as your photo-wrangler will know exactly who they are looking for.

Hold the drinks

wedding photos

I know, I know… You’ve just said “I do” to the person of your dreams! Adrenaline is running high and you, your friends & your family want to celebrate! I always cringe when the wait staff starts passing h’orderves and drinks right as we are about to start family formals. In wedding time, every second counts and the time lost by everyone having to finish chewing, finding a spot to put their drink down or even trying to get that drip of sauce out of their dress fabric, takes away precious time. If everyone can wait just a few minutes, they’ll be able to actually enjoy those fancy mushroom puffs and glass of champagne. I promise.

Put Down the Camera 

little girl taking pictures

We know that Aunt Carol is excited, but when family members are taking photos over our shoulders, peoples’ eyes tend to wander. This will mean your photographer will have to keep directing people to look at him and take additional images until he can get one with everyones’ eyes looking at his camera. This can sometimes frustrate guests who aren’t keen on having their picture taken in the first place, and can cause unnecessary delays and grumpy faces. If your photographer is unable to get everyone to look at his camera at the same time, you may even incur additional editing costs if you want an image  made with everyone looking the same way. Don’t hesitate to remind your family and friends that you’ve hired a professional to capture these images and that they’ll be able to get their own, professionally captured, copy in just a few short weeks.

Relax & Have Fun!

Jennifer Smutek Photography_0331

Family formals may not be your favorite part of the day, but you can still relax and have a great time! Don’t sweat it if one or two people aren’t ready to go on time and let your photographer handle getting everyone arranged. After all- isn’t that why you hired a professional?

I hope these tips will help ensure that you have smooth family formals on your wedding day!

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  1. Laura
    February 25, 2015

    Great advice! It’s very stressful planning a wedding and sometimes details like planning family formals tend to get overlooked! :)
    Beautiful shots btw!

  2. Tara
    February 25, 2015

    What great tips about the formal family wedding photos. I especially love the point about reminding guests not to take photos over the photographer’s shoulder. Everyone needs to watch out for that.

  3. Angie
    February 25, 2015

    This is some great advice! I think it’s hard anymore for people to put their cameras (and phones) down and let the photographer work! It ends up being more fun for everyone in the end anyway!

  4. Brittney
    February 25, 2015

    Ah, this is so helpful to future brides! I think this will definitely take a small bit of weight off of their shoulder.

  5. charmingpointphotography
    February 25, 2015

    What a great list for a wedding day to run as smoothly as possible! Great images too!

  6. Kim Kravitz
    February 25, 2015

    These are great tips Jennifer! I’m just getting back into wedding photography so I’ll have to remember a few of these. :)

  7. Kate Minor
    February 25, 2015

    Great advice. It’s all about communication, right?! Family formals can be fun! :)

  8. Melissa Autry
    February 25, 2015

    Really great advice! I love that you shared! :)

  9. Giselle
    February 26, 2015

    These are great tips on formal weddings. I’m sure not only photographers would benefit from this but also brides planning their wedding. Thank you for this!


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