Family photos at weddings. A How To Survival Guide

“Wedding Photographer Tips & Advice” is a small advice and tips series in which I discuss topics related to wedding day to benefit engaged couples! How to plan your family formals shot list, one of the “favorite” portions of the day. Enjoy!

Family formals can often be a time consuming and stressful part of planning your wedding. However, it will definitely pay off to put some thought and effort into the family formals shot list on your wedding day! Yes it’s true, so that is why I am warning you ahead of time. Regardless, as a wedding photographer and family guy, I understand how important they are. After all, this might be one of the few times you will have the entire family in one place! However, if you aren’t careful, this is usually when we will lose the most time during your day. The longer family photo takes, the less time you will have to enjoy cocktail hour or additional portraits.


I tell my couples to try and keep the list to 10-12 groupings at most. Remember, with each grouping you are not only having to call names, but oftentimes you’re having to send someone to hunt people down if they’ve run off despite your best efforts. The photographer also will need to arrange and pose people so that everyone looks their best. Sometimes this can take up to ten minutes per photo depending on the number of people in the image. You can see how fast the time can add up! So, keep your formal list short and concise in order to avoid family formals taking too long.

This was from a wedding at the Southernmost House. We did the family formals prior to the ceremony, kept it to immediate family, and were done in no time! Talk about a good looking family!


Having the bride and groom be included in every photo taken with family and friends after the ceremony is a good way to avoid too much repetition. You may want photos of just you and your immediate family apart from your spouse, or maybe you with your parents – and this is completely understandable. However, these photos are best taken before the ceremony in order to maximize the family formals timeframe. Remember family formals after the ceremony cut into your cocktail hour, and this is another reason we always suggest a first look. Thats for the next post.


It is very important that you decide in advance where you’d like your family shots to be taken. Traditionally, the formal photos are taken at the “altar”, whether that’s inside (like a chapel or church, or even a loft space or barn) or outside. If you opt to have your photos taken indoors in a spot with low light such as a church, your photographer may need to take some time to set up lighting. For example, I like to set up two light stands with umbrellas for soft and even exposure. However, if you want to maintain a natural light look for the family formals, you’ll want to talk with your photographer about a nicely lit spot outside, which will largely depend on the time of day. This is why it is important to go over the shot locations with your photographer. Doing that assures us that we are meeting your expectations, but also it helps streamline and organize our photography timeline.

Having a second photographer gives you different views of your day, even during family formals. You catch other family members in the “viewing area.”


I am always a firm believer in over-communication…and this includes planning your family formals! One way you can prepare your family and friends is to send the list of formals and the location to the people who will be in them. Give them a heads up. Let them know where to be, and to be present. This helps everyone out, and then they have no excuse to be later or missing. And of course, ask your officiant to reiterate at the end of the ceremony that family will need to stay for photos.

This was taken at the same wedding, but in the gardens during the reception. You can still get great family photos of the rest of the family throughout the reception.


Think beforehand about the order of photos when you’re planning your list. Elderly individuals will want to go ahead and get to the reception space, sit, and have something to drink. Young children will have parents with them who are eager to bring them to a spot where they can eat, run, and not have to be so still. This is why I highly recommend any photos with elderly people and small children be taken first. Your family will love you for this move! I will too!

Another point of consideration is any divorces or family feuds. This is why in my couples info sheet, I ask about these situations in advance. This also helps in avoiding any potentially awkward situations during formals. I have definitely put myself in a few of those situations, and they are not fun.


It is highly possible that you will have family and friends approaching you for photos while you’re in the midst of going down your formal list, even if they weren’t on the list you made. This is where we always have cell phones pop up beside us, which creates wandering eyes! This is normal and understandable, but preventable! Everyone wants a photo with the bride and groom because you’re the center of attention! When this happens at a wedding I’m photographing, I always like to remind them that I will be there for the rest of the night and can take that photo during the reception when there will be plenty of “down time.” Just about 99% of the time this satisfies the person asking for a photo so that we can move on with the list! We also try to keep those people away from the formals location so that we all can concentrate, get the shots on the list, and then get you to the reception. They will be able to get a printable photo from your gallery, and I promise they are better on Instagram that way!

On that same note, lots of couples really like the idea of a photo with all of their guests. I love this idea too! However, it’s best to do this at the reception. For one thing, everyone is a bit more relaxed and had a few drinks. This means you get a photo that is FUN with everyone cheering! Also, everyone is in one place AND for any stragglers, your DJ will be able to help round them up. Be sure to let your photographer know that you want this photo in advance, too!

A wedding party in their family formals, with their arms up in the air as captured by a skilled wedding photographer.
Talk about a fun group and a memorable photo. Sometimes this shots set the tone for the night!

By using the advice provided in this post and the provided family formals shot list, you’ll be able to get all of the photos of your loved ones that you’re wanting in the least amount of time possible.  So get those formal photos planned, send the list to your wedding photographer, and then kick back knowing you’re now on top of your wedding planning game


If you’re absolutely stumped, I’ve provided helpful starter list below for planning your family formal shot list.  Feel free to take and use this as a template and rearrange/substitute as needed!

Bride and Groom with Officiant

Bride and Groom with Bride’s Parents

Bride and Groom with Bride’s Siblings

Bride and Groom with Bride’s Parents and Siblings

Bride and Groom with Bride’s Parents, Siblings, and Extended Family

Bride and Groom with Bride’s Parents and Groom’s Parents

Bride and Groom with Groom’s Parents

Bride and Groom with Groom’s Siblings

Bride and Groom with Groom’s Parents and Siblings

Bride and Groom with Groom’s Parents, Siblings, and Extended Family

Bride and Groom with Bride’s Parents and Siblings, Groom’s Parents and Siblings, Both Extended Families

Bride’s Parents Alone

Groom’s Parents Alone

Michael Freas Photography provides Destination Wedding Photography for couples looking for a creative edge and a natural representation of their day. I provide wedding photography for full day and weekend coverage.

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