Family formals! It’s every wedding photographer’s absolute favorite part of the wedding day…

*Insert collective groans here*

Whether it’s the bride’s mother who hates the father of the bride’s new girlfriend and refuses to be in the same air space with them, or Great Aunt Sally who insists on making sure all the step-nieces and nephews and cousins are in the photos, family formals on a wedding day can be a stressful and tedious process. (Especially when you’re trying to find half the wedding party somewhere around the open, bar and there is a wedding planner breathing down your neck trying to get the entire shindig back on schedule).

But, it doesn’t have to be stressful or tedious. First, watch this hilarious video and then I’ll divulge some tips to help you take family formals quickly, and maybe even have a little bit of fun while you’re at it.

1. Make a List & Check It Twice, Just Like Santa

My good friend always makes fun of me because I like to be efficient. I plan out everything, be it where we are eating for dinner, to if we should go to the post office before we get there since it’s in the neighborhood. Since I have a Type A personality (you would’ve never guessed, huh?), he drives me crazy, because he is such a last minute, fly by the seat of his pants, we’ll figure it out as we go along, type person. It STRESSES me out and I feel like we do not accomplish anything because he never plans anything. (I feel anxiety just thinking about it).

Whether you are a Type A or Type B personality, to create a painless and stress-free atmosphere for family formals you have to plan ahead. When my brides and grooms send me a signed contract, I send them a comprehensive questionnaire that covers everything from the names and contact info of the other wedding vendors, day of contacts, how they see themselves, how they would describe the feel of their event, etc. On one of the pages, I have them list specifically the important people they want photos with, not including the obvious immediate family. The document also asks if there are specific issues between family members that I need to be aware of (divorced parents, etc). This document is then used when I compile my wedding day photography timeline (which I provide no matter if there is a wedding coordinator or not).

My wedding day photography timeline (which I coordinate with the wedding coordinator if there is one), lists pretty much everyone that needs to be in the photos, where (if possible) and at what time. I ask my brides and grooms to email the timeline to everyone on the list and I carry a copy with me on the wedding day. If possible, I ask that they include a little note in the wedding invite requesting the presence of certain family members in the family formals and to stay put after the ceremony.

Educate your couple about the importance of letting their friends and family know where they need to be, so that we have plenty of time to get all the formal shots, and have plenty of time to move on to the ever important romantic portraits.


2. Communication Is The Key to Keeping Your Sanity

Communication is the key to a successful, well, anything – be it a business relationship or a marriage, but it is also the secret to keeping your own sanity during a wedding day. Aside from making sure you’ve communicated with your bride and groom about where, when, who and how, you need to make sure the following people know where the family formals will be, who needs to be there and when they need to be there.

  • The Wedding Coordinator: The coordinator is your best friend. I always email him/her before the big day and introduce myself if I’ve never worked with them. I also request their schedule and tell them that for myself, I’ll make a wedding day photography timeline based off of their master schedule. Then I make sure I send them a copy before the big day. Right after the ceremony ends, I ask him/her how much time I have before the grand entrance, and try my best to keep within their timeframe. After all, we all have jobs to do, so why not work together?
  • The Mothers of the Bride and Groom: These two powerhouses know exactly who needs to be in which photos and as a bonus, they probably have lots of experience wrangling kids, animals and people, so it is beneficial to have them be there to help direct.
  • The Maid of Honor and The Best Man: Make these two the allies to help you keep the wedding party at the right place, at the right time.
  • The Officiant: Before the ceremony, I talk to the officiant and ask him to remind everyone that needs to be in the family formals to stick around (or send them to the place where I’ve previously designated for portraits).

Make sure these people are on your team and know what you want/need so you can all work together to make a stress-free day for not only yourself, but your bride and groom and their guests as well.


3. Do Your Homework!

In order to pose a large group quickly, you need to know how to pose a large group. Study up on making triangles, posing large groups, how to light family formals, avoiding field curvature, etc.

Some tips on posing and setting up the shot:

When I set up family formal shots, I follow the “add, then subtract” rule. I center the bride and the groom, and then add in all the family members, immediate and extended. Then, I start subtracting people until finally I end up with the bride or groom’s parents only. That way, the second cousin on your mom’s side isn’t sitting around forever waiting for all the shots of the mom with the bride, the dad with the bride, the mom and grandma with the bride, etc. They can be working on getting shots at the bar. He’ll thank you later.

I make sure I use a loud voice and I warn them right away that in the next 20 or so minutes, I’m going to use my teacher voice so that I can get their photos done quickly and give them more time to party. I also let them know that it’s my job to boss everyone around, their job is to smile and look pretty. I always make sure I say it in a casual and cheeky manner, so they know that I’m not stressed (even if I am), I’m having fun and if I come off as bossy, it’s for their own good.


Once I have the group lined up and posed, I ask all the adults to smile at me and let me worry about getting the kids’ attention. I enlist the help of someone, not in the photo, or my assistant, in making faces behind me, clapping their hands, and basically anything that will get the kids to look at me and smile.


4. Help Wanted

Before the wedding day, I always ask the bride if there is someone she can assign, who knows the family members and who knows the people that need to be in the family photos, to not only wrangle, but to make sure that the family members stay in the area where you are taking the family formals. I make sure that my assistant pairs up with the assigned person and they can help each other direct the line of traffic.

The people that you’ve hopefully have communicated to in #2 will be your helpers. And remember that list from #1? I hand my assistant that list and have her call out the group I will be shooting and the next ones on the list that need to be “on deck.”


5. Location, Location, Location

You need to know exactly where you are going to take the family formals as early in the day as possible. This is why I always arrive early to a venue, even if I’ve shot there before. Keep in mind that the light will change in the spot you choose or if you are photographing the family formals inside, make sure you know what lighting you will be using, so that as soon as the ceremony is over and you’ve photographed the recessional, you can round back and be ready to go.

Once I know where I will be shooting the family formals, I make sure I communicate to my helpers so that they know and can direct the appropriate people to the correct location.


The most important thing for you as the photographer is not to appear stressed or frustrated, though you might be. There will always be that errant aunt that didn’t listen and made her way to the bar after the ceremony instead of sticking around for photos. So, just relax and breathe. If you make it look like you’re having fun, then your bride and groom will most likely also relax and trust you to do your job.

And if that doesn’t work, remember the video above that you watched and hopefully, it will give you a chuckle.

Video via YouTube/ITV’s “The Sketch Show”

CREDITS: All photographs by Hanssie are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.