Most of us in the wedding industry call them family formals. These are the posed photos of the couple’s immediate family where everyone is looking at the camera and smiling. For the rest of this post, I am going to refer them as family formals!
It can be extremely difficult to wrangle family members for family formal portraits and most of the time that duty falls solely on the photographer. This time is precious - family formals can take anywhere from 20 - 45 minutes, it can take 10-15 minutes to clear guests from a ceremony site, typically cocktail hour has already started and if the couple didn’t share a first look the photographer also has to capture the entire wedding party, girls and guys separately plus the all-important bride and groom photos - and we have maybe 50 minutes to capture all of that before the DJ needs the wedding party lined up for entrances. HALP.
Honestly, as a photographer this is the hardest part of a wedding day. It can test my patience. Family members can either be gloriously kind or surprisingly rude. There is a ton of pressure to make sure that every single photo of the list that my clients have created (and we’ve approved together) is captured. Absolutely nothing can be missed because these are once-in-a lifetime moments! Imagine if I missed a shot of grandma!?! OY VEY.
On top of all of this, I’m navigating potentially sensitive or tricky family situations and accommodating special needs. All of this is to say that communicating with your family ahead of time is absolutely crucial to creating a calm environment for family formal portraits.
So, how do you do this?
Before Your Wedding Day
Decide who is included in your family formals. I ask my clients to keep family formals to their grandparents, parents, siblings, siblings-in-laws, nieces, nephews and children. It goes without saying that family is who you choose so obviously if you have a special family circumstance, those are always accommodated. This time, however, is NOT for getting photos of entire sides of a family, your mom with all of her sisters, all of the cousins/aunts/uncles, college friends or any large extended family group shots. We’ll do those during dinner at your reception and you’ll create a separate list.
Work with your photographer to create an exact list of the portraits you need along with the full names of each person in the photos along with their relationship to you or your partner.
Work with your photographer and/or your coordinator/planner to decide where you and your partner will “hide” after the ceremony. Sometimes this is a church office or classroom, sometime’s it’s the bridal suite of your venue. Either way, have somewhere that you can go together, be alone for a few minutes and wait for guests to clear the ceremony space. Otherwise, no one will leave if you’re around - they love you and want to chat!
Begin communicating the details with your family as soon as your photographer and your planner set forth a final timeline and plan for these portraits. I recommend sharing exact instructions with your family members a few weeks prior to your wedding and again the day before (you can do this via email, phone, text or in person). I’ve included some of the sample text that I provide to my SSP Couples exclusively through The Bridal Library just below. Feel free to copy this text for an email or text to your family members!
Hi there! With the wedding coming up SO SOON [partner’s name] and I wanted to touch base about our family portraits on the wedding day! Our photographer will be capturing photos of us with our closest family members immediately following the ceremony and we need you to be there, obviously!
We need [list each person’s name in the group] to stay behind after we exit our ceremony. Please wait at the back of the ceremony space for us to return for portraits. Please DO NOT go to cocktail hour, yet! Our photographer promises to get you there quickly.
Only people who have been instructed need to stay behind (so, you of course!!!) but you’re welcome to encourage everyone else to head to cocktail hour. Thanks so much - it means a lot to us to have these family photos taken. We can’t wait to celebrate with you!!
ON YOUR WEDDING DAY
Remind your parents one more time about the plan for family formals and ask them to please help coordinate with the rest of the family.
After your ceremony, go right to your designated “hiding spot” and wait for your photographer, planner or someone they ask for help to come get you!
During family formals, do your best to encourage family members to smile at the camera and promise to come chat with them at the reception (and then make sure you actually do!!). Everyone will want to chat endlessly, ask you about your morning, congratulate you and inquire about your honeymoon plans. We want you to have time to enjoy the love and affection of your family members but may cut you off if any lengthy storytelling begins.
If you see any lingering guests who aren’t included in family formals, encourage them to move to cocktail hour and let them know that you’re not far behind and you can’t wait to see them later!
Trust your photographer!
Family formals can actually be a really fun time of the day where you get to spend some one-on-one time with your closest family members! They just take some planning on the part of the couple and cooperation from their families.
If you loved this post, you might also enjoy: