ahhhh, the dreaded family formals. It doesn’t have to be a stressful time for photographers if you can plan it in advance, and manage your clients’ expectations. I have done family formals with huge groupings, and as small as just parents for both bride & groom. My approach to them is all the same; plan ahead, get it done, and move on. I usually allocate no more than 15 minutes for family formals. Keep in mind, if the couple elects not to see each other before the wedding, the photographer will generally have about 1 hour between end of ceremony to start of reception. Within that hour, the photographer is expected to cover family formals, bridal party portraits, bride & groom portraits, separate bride & groom portraits, groomsmen portraits, & bridesmaids portraits. There are A LOT OF photos to be taken in 1 hour. And if you are going to loose time, family formal is when it will happen. It is critical for a wedding photographer to take control of the family formals and get it done as quickly as possible.

1. Ask client for a “shot list” of must have family formals.

About two weeks before the wedding, around the same time when I ask my client to finalize the timeline,  I will also ask about a ‘shot list’ for family formals. This list will include all the groupings that the couple would expect to cover. Here’s typically what I’d receive back from the couple;

Bride & Groom (B&G) with everybody
B&G with bride’s parents
B&G with groom’s parents
B&G with bride’s sibilings
B&G with groom’s sibilings
B&G with all immediate family from bride’s side
B&G with all immediate family from groom’s side.
B&G with uncles/aunts/cousins from bride’s side.
B&G with uncles/aunts/cousins from groom’s side.

While this is a great list to have, it doesn’t really facilitate the flow of the day. If we were to follow this list, it would mean we have to move people after every portrait. That will add time to the portraits. So instead, I will reorganize the portrait groupings into something like this;

B&G with everybody

Bride’s family
B&G with bride’s immediately family
B&G with bride’s parents
B&G with bride’s sibilings
B&G with uncles/aunts/cousins from bride’s side.

Groom’s family
B&G with groom’s immediately family
B&G with groom’s parents
B&G with groom’s sibilings
B&G with uncles/aunts/cousins from groom’s side.

The idea is to start with the biggest group first; usually with family from both sides. Then we will go to brides’ family while the groom’s family patiently wait on the side. Then after we are done with bride’s family, groom’s family will take their place. This whole process usually will take less than 15 minutes.  During this time, the photographer usually is SURROUNDED by other family friends who have cameras as well. In part five of the series we will talk about how to deal with Uncle Bobs AKA friend who just bought a new camera other guests during this situation.  It is critical that you get the crowd’s attention, otherwise it will just add on more time. I usually will point at my camera and in a loud, commanding voice, “LOOK AT THIS CAMERA RIGHT HERE AND RIGHT HERE ONLY, OR WE WILL BE HERE ALL DAY.”  My couples appreciate me taking control of that situation.

2. Keep it simple

Family formals is one of those things that you have to have for weddings. Kinda like bride & groom portraits. I like to keep it pretty simple and just move on. I don’t go through elaborate setup with chairs, posing, etc.. This part of the day is more just for the bride & groom to remember the important guests that are at the wedding.Here are a few more examples;


3. keep it sharp

The general rule with shooting a big group is that your F stop (aperture) should match the number of individuals in your group. If you have 8 people, you should be at F8.  I don’t really follow that rule, though. Even for group shots I tend to keep it at around F2.0 if I can. I have ventured down to F4 range as well.  So, how do you shoot at F2.0 and still get sharp photos?  Give yourself some room, and back up a bit. The longer distance you have between your camera and the subjects, the bigger depth of field.  And another thing I do is I don’t like to stagger the group more than 2 rows deep, which also allows me to shoot at a more shallow depth of field.  Again, this is all general rules and you need to modify it for your particular situation.  Another good rule to have is to also take as many photos as there are people in your photo. If you have a group of 10, I’d shoot 10 photos just to make sure you get everybody looking/smiling at the camera.

So this is how I approach family portraits! It doesn’t have to be the worst part of the day if the photographer can take control, and plan for this portion of the day. I hope this is useful to photographers who are stressed out about family formals!

If you have other tip, would love to hear from you, too! Feel free to share by leaving comment on this post!


1. Managing wedding day timeline
2. How I shoot family formals
3. Finding inspiration for the all important dress shot!
4. Managing relationships with other vendors on the day of the wedding.
5. How to deal with Uncle Bob… AKA ‘my friend who just bought a nice camera.”


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