wedding day family formals

My Approach to Photographing Family Formals

June 29, 2020

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Family formals.  The photos no one really wants to do, but the photos that you are kind of obligated to do on your wedding day.  Although they can be stressful, they are important.  They are the photos your parents and grandparents will frame in their home, the photos you’ll use for holiday cards – and it is really nice to have professional photos with your family, while everyone is looking happy and fabulous!  With that in mind, my approach to handling family formals on the wedding day is simple.  Keep things organized and keep things moving.  Family formals do NOT need to take forever!

Years ago, I heard Justin + Mary talk about “the football” method they used for family formals and I’ve used that same approach to family formals since the beginning of my business.  I’ll explain a little more about that method in a little bit.  But honestly, one of the easiest ways to keep family formals moving is to place the bride in one spot and move everyone around her.  Why?  Because having the bride move in and out of photos would take too much time, since you’d have to re-fluff her dress every time she came back in and out of the frame.  So I start with the bride and build around her.  Trust me – it works!

Family FormalsFamily Formals

So once I get the bride in place, I start with the bride’s side of the family and build from there.  My actual shot list looks like this:

Bride with Mom

Bride with Dad

Bride with Sibling(s)

Bride with Mom + Dad

Bride with Mom, Dad + Sibling(s)


Bride + Groom with Bride’s Mom + Dad

Bride + Groom with Bride’s Mom, Dad + Sibling(s)

Bride + Groom with Bride’s Mom, Dad, Sibling(s) + Grandparents


Bride with Mom, Dad, Sibling(s) + Grandparents

Bride with Grandparents


Bride + Groom with Both Sets of Parents


Bride + Groom with Groom’s Mom + Dad

Bride + Groom with Groom’s Mom, Dad + Sibling(s)

Bride + Groom with Groom’s Mom, Dad, Sibling(s) + Grandparents


Groom with Mom, Dad, Sibling(s) + Grandparents

Groom with Grandparents


Groom with Mom, Dad + Sibling(s)

Groom with Mom + Dad

Groom with Sibling(s)

Groom with Mom

Groom with Dad

Family FormalsFamily Formals

These are the “typical” family formal groupings that I take at every wedding, although it can differ from family to family.  If there are step parents, step siblings, brother-in-laws, sister-in-laws, nieces, nephews, etc. I just add those photos into the mix while still keeping movement to a minimum.  Which brings me to “the football” method I mentioned earlier…

So, basically I start with the smaller groups first – and then I keep adding people to the group – and then I work my way back to the smaller group.  So it’s similar to the shape of a football.  Small on the ends and large in the middle.  This has really been a great method for me and my team – and it has helped me make the family formal process as easy and stress-free for my clients as possible.

My assistant handles the shot list on the wedding day and I have written down the first names of every family member on the shot list – so that my assistant can call everyone by their first name instead of “mom” and “dad”.  It just feels way more personal to call family members by their name.  My assistant will get people “on deck” while we’re finishing photographing one grouping, then we’ll add the next group in, etc.  We try to keep it as fast paced and efficient as possible – especially in the warmer months!  Below is an example of the full “football” method…

Family Formals

For clients who want to keep the family formal process even more simple, I recommend nixing all of the individual family groupings – like the bride + her family and the groom + his family – and just concentrate on the combined bride + groom groupings.  To be honest, you’ll probably never use the photos of each separate side of the families because this is a marriage… you are now officially a part of each others’ families!  But some clients still opt for those individual family groupings, which I’m more than happy to take!  Below is an example of just the bride + groom combined family groupings, which you can see is a lot simpler…

Family Formals

It’s worth mentioning that I take full body vertical and/or horizontal photos of each grouping, as well as close up vertical and/or horizontal photos of each group.  I also deliver at least 2 of each photo group – so that my clients have PLENTY of options when it comes to their family formal photos.  I hope this blog post is helpful and if you have any questions about my family formal process, please let me know.  I’m always happy to help others navigate this potentially stressful part of the wedding day.

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With a well-worn passport in hand, and an affinity for a good cocktail, Dana works with fun-loving and kind-hearted clients around the globe. 

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