3 Tips for Stress-Free Wedding Photography Formals

Having shot my 100th wedding this past fall, I have come to learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to photographing family and wedding party formals.

What works best? Not doing them at all! Just kidding! But let’s be honest, nobody really enjoys this particular part of the wedding day. It can be downright stressful to say the least, and corralling people for staged and contrived posed photos right after the ceremony can be like herding cats – hungry cats who are really into open bars and meaty cocktail shrimp.

As a documentary wedding photographer who thrives on shooting the wedding day as it unfolds organically, naturally, and authentically, the notion of arranging large numbers of select groups of people certainly flies in the face of the documentary ethos. Observation over orchestration, right? Most brides and grooms would rather enjoy the cocktail hour with their guests, but unless the formals are done prior to the ceremony, the cocktail hour and the formals end up sharing the same time slot.

I understand the other side of this coin though. I really do. The family formals are important for a number of very good reasons. Oftentimes, families have come from long distances to attend the wedding, and it just might be one of the few times that most of the extended family members are together in one spot, hence, prime time for documenting this familial togetherness.

I think where things go wrong, is in the planning stages, and setting expectations is critical. Most people simply underestimate the time it can take to shoot the formals. I’ve had couples hand me lists of 50+ family groupings they want captured – literally every permutation possible of both sides of both families. And ten minutes to do it! After a wedding I shot this past summer fell an hour behind schedule, I sheepishly asked the venue wedding coordinator how much time we had for the formals prior to dinner. “How many seconds do you need” was the response. It’s funny now! It wasn’t then. Talk about stressful. Later in the night, generally right around the end of the first full hour of shooting reception dancing, I always find myself wishing I had a fraction of this ample reception dancing photography time back for the formals.

So, about those three hot tips . . . 

Tip #1: Opt to do your formals BEFORE the ceremony. This means the bride and groom would obviously see one another prior to the ceremony, but this is where doing a "first look" works wonders. And, everyone is looking their absolute best earlier on in the day for formals.

Tip #2: Shoot for a more modest list of formals to capture. This may simply mean shooting larger groups of people vs. several smaller groups of the same people. It always takes time to gather people together and pose them so that everyone can be seen, etc. Ideally, 30 minutes for the family and wedding party formals, and 30 minutes for bride and groom photography is my goal. 

Tip #3: Prior to the wedding day, make sure to let the people you want to be in the formals know where to be and when. Even better, ask a family member or friend who knows the people to you want photographed to take the lead in rounding them up. Getting people where they need to be for the photos can be the most time consuming aspect of group shots, and by having them "on deck" so to speak, time can be saved.

So, with a little bit of planning and forethought, the Wedding Photography Formals can be accomplished as quickly and efficiently as possible so you can get on with the important business of enjoying your day!