Avoiding Disaster: Family Formals Edition

Around here, there are very few shot lists that we encourage couples to make when planning their wedding (see our post about Pinterest and how it can ruin your wedding photos here), but we make one major exception: the family formals list. Family formals are a big part of the required wedding photography list and, if not organized properly beforehand, can end up being a bit chaotic and a HUGE time suck.


Of all the photos you will take on your wedding day, these will be some of the most difficult to coordinate. There are often a lot of people in your families who will want photos with you and your honey; getting all of these people together in one place and getting their photos taken in a short amount of time can be a pretty difficult to accomplish. But it is super important to get this part right because this is your chance to get photos with family members you may not see often and, in the end, you’ll have a  really special set of images that you and your honey will cherish for years and years to come. For this and many other reasons, we always encourage couples to make a very detailed list for your photographer to work from.

Why make a list?

  1. Not all family dynamics are the same, so you don't necessarily want your photographer working from a standard set of shots for these. They may try to gather divorced parents or call out for family members who have passed or couldn’t make it, which could end up being awkward or painful for those who are there. It could also mean they’ll try to take more photos than necessary, which can cause your day-of timeline to run behind.

  2. Along the same lines, if the photographer has a specific list of names and groupings to work from, this chunk of photography time will go much more quickly and smoothly. The photographer will just go down the list taking the photos while their assistant gathers the next group, making an efficient process out of what could have been an experience closely akin to herding cats.

  3. And lastly, if you don’t have a list to work from, there is a very good chance you will forget to get a photo with someone, which in some cases can be devastating for you and your family if not caught before the end of the wedding day. On a practical level, forgetting someone can cause timeline issues because oftentimes these forgotten family members will start making last-minute requests for photos and the next thing you know, there will be a line of photo hopefuls and you’ll be behind schedule very quickly. No bueno.

Wedding - 33.jpg

How to make the list

So, what we recommend doing is taking some time well before the wedding to create a list of every family grouping you want during this time. And when I said every family grouping, I mean every single one. If you want a picture of you and you parents AND a picture of you, your honey and your parents, list those out separately. Not only will this ensure you get every single photo you want, but it also means you will get an accurate idea of how much time you need to schedule for these photos when you are making your timeline for the day.

BIG NOTE: Make sure you are working on this list way before the actual wedding day. If you try to make it last-minute, there will be people you forget and then we'll have trouble when the time actually comes. Also consult with parents and future in-laws to make sure you get everything one they want to be captured. If we don't consider this, parents will start requesting specific shots at the end of the formal photo time which could cause us to quickly get behind schedule.

Missy + Zach Web-188.jpg

The List and your Timeline

When making this list, you want to keep in mind how long it may take to get them all done so that you can schedule enough time to get them all done. Average, these photos can take about 3 minutes per group. It may end up being a little less or a little more depending on how large the group is and whether or not someone is running late, but generally, if you stick with 3 minutes, you will be fine.

When you have your finished list, count up how many photos and multiply it by 3 min each to get the total amount of time you need to set aside for family photos. If this time is over an hour long, you may want to consider condensing some shots or finding time to get photos with certain family members in the photo booth or at the reception. We say this because often there isn’t enough time in the day to take more than an hour for these photos, so you may need to prioritize or bump some folks in order to make it work out.


After you have made the list

The first step is to make sure parents have signed off on the list (as mentioned earlier) and then get it to your photographer to make sure they don’t see any issues. You will also want to let them know if any family members have mobility issues or special needs so that when they select a location for these photos, they can take that into account.

 Once you know you have the final final list ready to go and you’ve scheduled the time for them in your timeline, make sure every single person on the list knows exactly where and when these photos are happening on the day of the wedding. You may even want to tell them a few minutes early just in case something happens. Because these photos are just before or right after the ceremony, getting behind schedule could cause the rest of the timeline to fall apart pretty quickly. We want to make sure everyone is there on time so that we don’t have to wait for them or hunt them down so we can finish up.

Alrighty! That is everything you need to know about family formals and how to avoid disaster on your wedding day. We hope it helps make your wedding planning go as smoothly as possible!