Family formal images are some of the most important images from your wedding day! They might not be the images you "ooo" and "awe" about, but you will treasure them in years to come. For instance, the image from my wedding that makes me so grateful for is one of my late grandmother with me and my family. Having her at our wedding was one of the most important things to me, and having that image will always be a treasure.
Family formals have a tendency to cause stress for both the bride and groom and the family. I often describe it as "herding cats". Typically what happens during the wedding day is that family gets the opportunity to see one another for what could be the first time in a long time. Conversation flows, drinks flow, and attention spans are often very short. Couple this with a semi-tight schedule for these particular images, and you can see why the stress adds up. After 60+ weddings, I have learned how to handle this portion of the day quickly and efficiently, which is why I feel obligated to share some helpful advice!
First things first, organization is key. Like most things in life, the more organized you are, the less stress that will follow. When we are one month out from your wedding I ask you to make me a list of all the family formal images you want. I have a template that you follow to make it easier on you. Essentially, the template goes a little something like this (except with real names!):
Bride + Mom
Bride + Dad
Bride + Mom + Dad
Bride + Groom + Mom + Dad
Bride + Siblings
Bride + Groom + Siblings
Bride + Siblings Individually
Bride + Mom + Dad + Siblings
Bride + Groom + Mom + Dad + Siblings
Bride + Mom + Dad + Sister + Grandparents
Bride + Groom + Dad + Sister + Grandparents
Bride + Mom's Side Grandparents
Bride + Dad's Side Grandparents
And so forth....
As you can imagine, the list adds up quickly! I often warn my couples that it takes an average of 3 minutes per image. Sometimes we can cut this down, but it helps to budget for more time rather than not enough. Before you send your list over, count how many combinations you have and you will see approximately how much time we need for this portion of the day. If you have 50 combinations, I will need 2 1/2 hours to take your family formals!
I have my couples prepare that list ahead of time so that I can print it and bring it with me. I then have my assistant help me by reading off the list and crossing off what images we have done. This helps us to A) get through the list quickly, and B) not forget anyone!
My biggest word of advice that I can offer you is to truly consider what images are most important to you. If you give me a five page list, I can make it happen, but we are going to have to compromise images in some other area. I suggest that if you are fine with it, we take some group images during your reception of some family groups that might not be quite as important as your immediate family (cousins, uncles, aunts, etc.) We often have some down time during dancing, and this is a great chance to grab some of those group images!
My second biggest advice that I pass onto my couples is to warn family ahead of time that A) they are in the images, B) where they need to meet, and C) what time we are meeting. I advise my couples to send a group message one day before the wedding with this information. It should look something like this:
"I'm so excited to see you all tomorrow at our wedding! I wanted to give you a heads up that I have included you in our family formal images. We are meeting at the ceremony venue at the front door at 2pm. Please arrive a little early, fully dressed, and ready for pictures at this time. My photographer will be running on a tight schedule to get all our images done before the wedding, so your timely arrival will help us greatly! I can't wait for tomorrow!"
The more specific that you are on time and location will help make things easier on everyone! I have had some groups who have taken to heart all of my advice and the family formals have run quick and smooth and we had extra time to go take more images of just the two of them, which was so exciting!
Lastly, there's one more thing that can help make these images go as smoothly as possible. Family members often like to take their own copies of the group images by using their phones, tablets, or cameras. I absolutely understand why they want to capture these sweet moments and have no problem with it. My only request is this: While I am taking the image, I need everyone's eyes on me and focused so that no one is looking away. Imagine that your aunt is behind me and to the right and your mom thinks she is taking the picture, so she looks over at your aunt, while the rest of you are looking at me. It can create more of a delay and be difficult for me to get everyone's attention on me. I would also hate to deliver you an important group image that has someone looking off into the distance, while everyone else is smiling at the camera. Allow me to take the image with everyone's fully undivided attention and then I will let whomever wants the image to step in my place and take their own. This way everyone gets a great image and we can keep on chugging along! Don't forget to remind family that they can get a professional quality image from you in digital or print format after the wedding day, so they do not need to stress too much about getting one on their phones (picking up what I'm putting down?? ).