Wedding Family Formal photos are an important part of many weddings. We’d like to take this opportunity to talk about our approach and offer a few suggestions to help your formal wedding photos go smoothly. The goal for any professional wedding photographer should be to help you get the family formal images you want without a lot—or any, for that matter—of extra time and worry on your wedding day. Part of that will depend upon you. With a little forethought and some homework ahead of time you can greatly assist your photographer and help eliminate unnecessary confusion and anxiety when the time comes to ‘rally the troops.’
Once you know who will comprise your bridal party and which family members will be in attendance, the first thing to give consideration to is who you want to be in your formal photos. This probably goes without saying, but in most cases, it’s a very good idea to include the family members of both bride and groom equally. Of course, we as photographers can’t begin to know your family dynamics as you do, so ultimately it is your responsibility (and to a degree that of the family members to be included) to choose and make sure the individuals you want to be in your wedding photos are physically present when the formal photos are taken. It would even be a good idea to speak to the individuals you plan to include before the day of your wedding, so that they can let you know if they’re agreeable to it and so they can be mindful of it as well. Hopefully all you ask will be thrilled and honored that you want them to be a part of the treasured memories captured on your wedding day. Unfortunately, we have found that this is not always the case. If you have any painfully camera-shy friends or family members that are reluctant to participate in your wedding day photos, perhaps you can share the following story with them… A woman who had refused to join in family photos for most of her life ultimately realized that she had essentially removed herself from her own family’s history. How sad! These moments cannot be relived. Fortunately, by far, most people are very happy to be a part of this process and the formal photo session is a very relaxed, fun part of the day with the closest of friends and family.
One of the things that we at Birch Blaze Studios request is that at least one person in attendance is designated as “wrangler” to gather the participants and assist in organizing them for the various groupings. This is a huge help so that you, the bride and groom, can enjoy this time worry-free, and your photographer(s) can focus on getting great shots. It’s best if this person is familiar with the families and individuals to be involved. Often, this will be the maid/matron of honor, the best man, or another member of the bridal party. Sometimes it may require one person for each side of the family.
After you’ve decided who you want in your formal photos, you need to decide what groupings you will have. When deciding on the groupings, be realistic about your wedding day schedule and how much time you want to devote to the formals session. Of course, when it comes to family formals most folks are in agreement that the shorter, the better. We have found that the average time it takes at most weddings is 20-45 minutes, this usually translates to 8-15 different groupings. It’s wise to allow a few extra minutes of “wiggle room” to further minimize the potential for stress during the formals, should other parts of the day encroach. At Birch Blaze, we like to start with the largest grouping and work our way down to just the bride and groom. This minimizes needless waiting around and guests can be on their way and return to the reception hall or cocktail area as soon as their photos have been taken.
Another thing that’s good to be mindful of when planning your wedding family formals is any potentially awkward or uncomfortable groupings (i.e. ex’s with ex’s, etc.). Some people might be fine posing with someone they have a “history” with, others not so much. Many will grin and bear it, but sometimes the tension may show in the photos. You might want to discuss this with the individuals in question ahead of time so you’ll know what will fly and what will not. Hopefully this way everyone can be more comfortable, knowing what to expect. Your mileage will vary, but definitely give it some thought and let your photographer know.
Beyond the standard formal favorites (i.e. the entire bridal party, B&G with parents together and/or separately, bride with siblings, groom with siblings, etc.), it’s best not to go crazy with every possible grouping combination imaginable (bride with family dental hygienist, groom with bride’s family dental hygienist, etc., etc.) as this can really blow out a wedding day schedule. You also will likely receive additional requests for specific formal groupings from parents and others. These you will have to weigh out together to make the best decision for you, the bride & groom. Hopefully you can welcome this input and keep everyone happy, yet remember that it is your day. Close friends and family members may well have some great suggestions for you both to consider.
An additional factor to consider when planning your wedding formals is location. Weddings that take place in one location almost always have the easiest time scheduling the formals during the day. When the ceremony and reception are to take place in two separate locations, thought must be given to where the formals will be shot (i.e. at either location or perhaps at a third location en route) and how travel time between the locations will affect the schedule.
Finally, your photographer will also likely take some formal and semi-formal photos at other times during the course of the wedding day. Often there’s time to do formal shots of both bridal parties during or just after the getting ready sessions before the ceremony. These can also be good times to fit in a few shots of the bride/groom with Mom & Dad, siblings, etc. Something that we also strongly encourage you to do is make sure you budget ample time at some point to get some great shots of just the two of you. This can be following the group formals, perhaps during the cocktail hour or, as some couples are choosing to do now, during an intimate “first look” meeting just for the two of you, shortly before the ceremony. It’s likely that your photographer will also have additional options for formal or semi-formal wedding photography prior to, or following your wedding day (i.e. an engagement session, bridal portraiture, “Trash the Dress” or day-after, etc.).
Shot Lists – Birch Blaze Studios doesn’t typically accept a long list of required shots for the day (such as those checklists that can be downloaded from the ‘net and printed out)—our style is to capture moments as they occur naturally. Shot lists impede our ability to do that; we do, however, encourage a reasonably-sized list of desired wedding formal shots. If you have other images that occur to you (college chums, that cute niece or nephew…) during the course of the day, by all means, let your photographer know! They should be happy to jump on it and snag those moments for you!
We hope this information helps you clarify your plans for your wedding family formals and in turn, adds to the peace-of-mind and enjoyment on your special day. Feel free to contact us (Kerry and Taylor Struble) at Birch Blaze Studios if you have any questions.