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Family Formals: How to Best Prepare

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Destination family & wedding photographer fascinated by stories & people. This blog is the home for some of my favorite things — from weddings, engagement sessions, families & more personal things. 

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What are family formals?

These are the pictures that the newlyweds take with their families on wedding days. The pictures grandparents like to print out and hang on the wall. The pictures we will unknowingly treasure for years to come. The family formals are planned into the timeline and vary depending on whether you have a first look. For my couples having a first look (read about the pros and cons here), I like to take the family formals BEFORE the ceremony. But if my couples don’t have a first look, then soon after the ceremony, during cocktail hour, works best.

Family formal picture at tanque verde guest ranch

A few weeks before the big day, I like to send my couples a questionnaire. This way, I get all the information I need to create their wedding day photography timeline. One of the most crucial things I need from my couples is their family formal shot list. This list gives me a better idea of how much time we need to capture all of the groupings. Not only that, but having a list will also allow me to call out the names, take the picture, and move to the next grouping. It’s simple, quick, and painless for all parties involved.

Family formals can become the most stressful part of a wedding day if not planned well. Everyone involved must know where they must be and when—no rushing to the open bar or saying hi to guests. I also recommend assigning a family member or a close friend on each side to be the family wrangler. Unfortunately, I don’t know who your cousin Eric is. So if he is missing, I won’t know who I am looking for. We will waste precious time and light, causing the newlyweds, photographer, and wedding planner to stress out. Assigning a family wrangler will save everyone time.

family picture during family formals at tanque verde guest ranch

When considering who you want to include, it helps to think about what pictures you want in your wedding album or hanging in your home to pass down for generations. Of course, it is usually immediate family and your grandparents, but as a Mexican, I know how close couples can be with extended family. Of course, we can always take pictures with your aunts, uncles, and other extended family members during the reception. Still, if there are certain members you CAN NOT forget, include them in your family formals list! Remember that the longer the list, the more time it will take, but at the end of the day, as long as I can read off names from your list and everyone is present, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to capture them all.

Family Shot List Guide

Here is an idea of a family shot list to help get started with your shot list. I encourage my couples to use names to make calling out their names easier. For example, Bride and Groom with siblings (Marco and Andriena).

Bride’s Side:

  • Bride with mom
  • Bride with dad
  • Bride with parents
  • Bride with parents and siblings
  • Bride with siblings
  • Bride and Groom with bride’s parents
  • Bride and Groom with bride’s siblings
  • Bride and Groom with bride’s immediate family and their spouses.
  • Bride and Groom with bride’s maternal grandparents
  • Bride and Groom with bride’s paternal grandparents

Groom’s Side

  • Groom with mom
  • Groom with dad
  • Grom with parents
  • Groom with parents and siblings
  • Groom with siblings
  • Bride and Groom with groom’s parents
  • Bride and Groom with groom’s siblings
  • Bride and Groom with groom’s immediate family and their spouses
  • Bride and Groom with groom’s maternal grandparents
  • Bride and Groom with groom’s paternal grandparents

Both Sides

  • Bride and Groom with parents
  • Bride and Groom with grandparents
  • Bride and Groom with immediate family
  • Bride and Groom with immediate family and their spouses

Are you still on the search for a wedding photographer? I only take 10 weddings a year, but let’s chat to see if we’re a match!