tips for stress free formal pictures on your wedding day

One part of a wedding day that gives a bride and groom so much anxiety are family formal pictures. To be honest, they aren’t my favorite part of a wedding day either! They can typically go two ways: quickly, organized, smoothly OR rushed, unorganized, ending with family members angry and/or stressed. Then there’s me; a hot, sweaty mess. So preparing my couples the best I can for these pictures is vital to making it an easy and fun time! Not something they will completely want to skip over.

I prepare my couples for this part of their wedding day in a couple of ways. First we decide on when we will do family formals. If they opt for a First Look then most of the formal pictures can be done before the ceremony which lowers everyone’s stress levels! If we can get most of these pictures completed before the ceremony it leaves so much more time between the ceremony and cocktail hour to relax and not feel rushed. Additional family and friends not present for the first set of formals can be added in after the ceremony and usually goes quite quickly. This is my ideal way for doing formals; taking as many as we can before the ceremony. Why? Because most family members are present before the ceremony instead of running off to the cocktail hour. There is nothing worse than trying to track down uncle Eddy to get him in for family pictures!

If a couple chooses not to do a First Look(which is 50% of the time with my couples) then formals take place after the ceremony. However there are instances when a few can be done without the bride and groom seeing each other before the ceremony. This only works if enough time allows before the ceremony. I like to have at least one-two hour(s) before the ceremony time to avoid guests arriving and seeing the bride before she even walks down the aisle.  I will usually begin with the bride, with her bridesmaids, individual pictures with each bridesmaid, then move onto her family(parents, siblings, aunts uncles, grandparents, Godparents unless not available prior to the ceremony). I’ll repeat this with the groom and keeping him out of eyesight of his future wife!!

A tip to make this time run as smoothly yet quickly is making sure my couples have a list of who they want in their family pictures. If they don’t have a list I offer a sample shot list for them. We also discuss family dynamics! This is so important to avoid uncomfortable moments within a family not only for me but family members! Sometimes I am told not to have a step-parent be present in certain family groupings. The biggest issue with this is I do not know everyone present on a wedding day. As much as I would like to know each and every family member it’s totally impossible. To help with this my next tip is to recommend to my bride long before her wedding day to designate a single person who will help with organizing and making sure family members go where they need to for each family picture grouping. This can be a bridesmaid, an aunt or another family member familiar with the bride and groom’s families. Having this designated “director” takes a huge amount of stress off the bride and groom! Once in awhile I’ll have instances at weddings when a family member all of sudden begins suggesting who should go in pictures, disregarding the shot list altogether. This then causes the bride to become flustered, tension sets in and I’m caught in the middle. I try to keep everything rolling as effortlessly as possible and remind the person with the list to keep going. Yet the last thing I want to do is to appear bossy. However, I also need to keep this part of the day in order and in control but not step on anyone’s toes.

Something not all couples consider when planning a list for their family formals is to do pictures with children before grandparents. It all depends on how many small children are present for these pictures. If a couple has huge families with piles of nieces and nephews I generally suggest we do these before pictures with grandparents. Alot of times after a ceremony little kids are DONE! Their attention span can quickly go to ZERO. We all know what that means!! Plus they either need food, a nap, diaper changes or to run around and well, be kids!

If only a few kids are present I like to get pictures done with grandparents first. Grandparents are very similar to kids in many ways! They grow hungry, they need a potty break and some like to rest before the wedding reception begins! For example, my brides will reach out to me saying, “My grandma cannot be on her feet for long and gets tired very easily. Can we get pictures with her done before we start the rest of family formals?” YES! Again, I want these pictures to flow as smoothly as possible. This shouldn’t be a part of a couple’s day they dread and wish would get over with as quickly as possible. Some of my couple’s favorite photos from their wedding day were the ones taken during family formals. They treasure the pictures of all their families together or ones with grandparents.

Making a list of your family groupings for pictures is something you should plan on doing months before your wedding day. I would suggest sharing this list with parents to get their feedback but just remember you don’t have to add in any additional pictures if you do not want them. You can always leave time for these to happen at the reception.

Working with your photographer to prepare you and her for your formal pictures is key to making this part of your day go as stress-free as possible.

Below I share a sample list of grouping suggestions for family formals. It’s a great outline for planning these family portraits from your wedding day.

A typical family formal shot list goes like this:

  • Pictures of just bride and groom
  • Entire wedding party, including flower girl(s)/ring bearer(s), ushers
  • BG with just wedding party
  • BG with flower girls/ring bearer(s)
  • Bride with flower girl(s)/optional
  • Groom with ring bearer(s)/optional
  • BG with groomsmen
  • BG with bridesmaids
  • BG with best man/maid/matron of honor
  • Separate pics with bride and bridesmaids/flower girl(s)(unless done before ceremony)
  • Separate pics with groom and groomsmen/ring bearer(s)(unless done before ceremony)
  • Begin family portraits
  • BG with bride’s family
  • Generational Pictures/ Grandma, mom, bride (Do same with Groom)
  • BG, parents, grandparents, siblings(spouses, children)
  • BG, grandparents
  • BG, parents ,siblings
  • BG ,parents
  • Bride with parents and siblings
  • Bride and siblings
  • Repeat this list for Groom
  • Special pics
  • BG with Godparents
  • BG with aunts uncles
  • BG with pastor/officiant




Join The List

Stay in touch with new blog posts and what's happening within Amy Elisabeth Photography, all sent directly to your inbox. I promise not to fill up your Spam folder!