Planning the Wedding Family/Party Formals

Brooklyn rooftop wedding party formal portrait

Wedding Day Formals are the unsung heroes of your wedding photos gallery. Though my clients love how I capture the candid and informal moments throughout their days, the posed family and wedding party portraits are actually some of the most printed/shared/and loved images from any wedding. Formal portraits are lightly posed groupings of your loved ones all looking at the camera (and hopefully smiling and not blinking ;) ). 

Why are these portraits so important? For one, your parents and grandparents will love you for taking the time for these. It is rare for so many of your loved ones to be all in one place together, especially all dressed up for the occasion, and that should be documented. These are the photographs you will turn back to in the years to come and will be a keepsake to remember those who may no longer be with you. 

Nomo Soho Hotel Wedding Family Formal Portrait

Though the formal portrait session is not anyone's favorite part of the wedding day (hello, trying to get both sides of the family to stop catching up long enough to stand still, put their drinks down, and look forward and smile) I will work hard to make this portion of the day as easy and efficient as possible so you can get back to celebrating ASAP. The way I will get this done? By ensuring we are on the same page and shot lists are in place before the wedding day even begins. 

About 2 months out from your wedding I will send you a questionnaire to collect information about the day. It will ask the names of your immediate family members and wedding party, details about where you are getting ready, and the names and info of your other vendors. It will also ask questions centering around your requests for the formal portraits to determine which groupings are important to you as well as when you would like these formal portraits to be taken. There will be a checklist of basic portraits for you to choose from and space to list other photo requests. I also ask you to let me know of any special circumstances that may affect photo groupings or the timing of when photos are taken, i.e. do you have a family member that can't stand as long that we should try to photograph first, or do you have parents who are divorced who will not want to be photographed together. 

Some things to consider as you put together your formal portrait list:

-Each formal grouping tends to take 3-5 minutes to photograph. The basic portrait list takes about 30 minutes to complete. As you create your timeline be sure to budget accordingly for the number of formal family portraits you would like. This is your wedding day and I am not here to tell you which photos should be important to you, but I would encourage you to look over your list a few times and ask yourself: is this actually a portrait that anyone will want/use/hang?

-Who all will need to be present for the formal portraits? Is there space for everyone? Will you be able to get them to all arrive on time and not add to the stress of your day? Consider the idea of leaving some of the more random group portraits (your college dorm buddies or office mates) until the cocktail hour or reception where they can be taken a bit more informally. 

-Where will the formal portraits take place? Often I recommend somewhere with a good amount of space (enough room for all family members to fit in plus space for the actual portraits), a clean background (i.e. nothing too busy), and good light whenever possible. Altars or ceremony set-ups work well (though check with the venue that the space will be set up and available in time for portraits), as do clean walls or greenery backdrops outside the venue. 

-When will the formal portraits happen? If you are doing a first look/seeing one another before the ceremony you should do the majority of formal portraits before your ceremony so you have more time to celebrate/enjoy your guests at the cocktail hour/reception. If you do not want to see one another until the ceremony begins I'd recommend doing the formal portraits immediately after during the cocktail hour. If you wait until later in the evening you may have guests who have already left or are no longer looking quite as fresh as they did earlier in the day. :) 

Washington DC Elopement Wedding Party Photo

Once you have put together your family/wedding party formal portrait list it is crucial that you share this information with everyone on the list. They need to know exactly where to be when in order to start the portrait process on time. If you are doing these portraits before the ceremony I often recommend telling your family and wedding party that the portraits will begin 15 minutes before they are actually listed on the timeline to ensure everyone is in place from the get-go. It can also be helpful to have 1-2 people tasked with being the portrait helpers who know your family members by name so they can go find Uncle Joe if he wandered over to the bar and his turn is up. 

The Basic Formal Portrait List:

Couple with Client #1's Parents
Couple with Client #1's Immediate Family (Parents, Siblings, Siblings in-laws and nieces/nephews)
Couple with Client #2's Parents
Couple with Client #2's Immediate Family (Parents, Siblings, Siblings-in-laws and nieces/nephews)
Client #1 with Members of their Wedding Party
Client #2 with Members of their Wedding Party
Couple with Whole Wedding Party

Frequent Portrait Add-ons:

Couple with Client #1's Extended Family (Parent #1's Side)
Couple with Client #1's Extended Family (Parent #2's Side)
Couple with Client #2's Extended Family (Parent #1's Side)
Couple with Client #2's Extended Family (Parent #2's Side)