Family Formals Can Be Fun – 3 Ways to Make Family Formals Run Smoothly

May 27, 2019

Ahh, the dreaded family formals.
Or are they?….

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably read about {or maybe even experienced first-hand} the joys of family formals.  Missing wedding party. Uncooperative kids. Family tension. Wasted time.  It’s enough to spook even the most idealistic couple.

And it leads you to wonder…is this just how it is? Is there such a thing as fun family formals? Or should you just brace yourself for the worst, and get through it?  Good news? I’m here to assure you, it doesn’t have to be this way.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as an avid traveler and professional photographer, it’s that preparation is everything. Promptness, preparation, and ironing out all the details in advance will make all the difference when it comes to family formals running smoothly.  And when the process runs smoothly, your formals can actually be a fun experience!  Here are three ways to make that  happen. 

  1. Complete Your Shot List Ahead Of Time

One of the best ways to make family formals run more smoothly is by putting together your shot list and crafting your wedding day timeline in advance. I’ll help you with both of these! 

As we start planning your photography together, I’ll send you a pre-wedding questionnaire where you can check off your desired groupings. The questionnaire also has a space where you can fill in additional groupings. 

After you’ve filled out everything, I’ll put the photo list in an order that makes the most sense and is the most efficient. 

The result? Smooth transitions and plenty of wiggle-room to manage the inevitable unplanned fiascos.

It generally takes 30-45 minutes to photograph family formals, depending on the number of groupings you decide to have (plan on 5 minutes per grouping of more than 4 people). And I suggest doing all the group shots at the same time instead of spreading them throughout the day.

Below is a sample shot list to give you an idea. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start. 

Sample Family Formal Shot List

Partner One’s Family:

  • Partner One with each parent individually
  • Partner One with both parents together
  • Couple with Partner One’s parents
  • Couple with Partner One’s immediate family
  • Couple with Partner One’s immediate family and grandparents

Both Sides Together:

  • Couple with all parents
  • Couple with both immediate families

Partner Two’s Family:

  • Partner Two with each parent individually
  • Partner Two with both parents together
  • Couple with Partner Two’s parents
  • Couple with Partner Two’s immediate family
  • Couple with Partner Two’s immediate family and grandparents


  • Couple with Pets (pets are family too!)
  • Couple with flower girls and ring bearers

I also recommend keeping your list as small and nuclear as possible. You can always get an extended family photo at the reception.

  1. Let Your Photographer Know About Family Issues

The more I  know  about your family dynamics, the better. 

So, don’t be afraid to let me know all of the things. Kids who should be photographed early on. Family members  who have mobility issues or shouldn’t stand for long periods of time. People who shouldn’t stand next to each other. And of course any divorces, conflicts, sensitivities and so on. 

I address these family dynamics in my pre-wedding questionnaire so that there are no awkward moments come family formal time. Trust me, I would not want to cause a greater rift between your brother and dad if they aren’t speaking or ask your mom if your grandpa will be joining when grandpa passed away six months ago. 

All in all, the more informed I am, the easier it will be to keep things running smoothly. 

Even if you think something is silly or inconsequential, it’s better to be safe than sorry! 

  1. Communication Is Key

As with many things in life, when it comes to having things run as efficiently (and joyfully!) as possible-  communication is key! 

When everyone is on the same page it makes a huge difference.. So, let everyone involved  know all the details ahead of time. Such as where to be and when. And be sure and provide them with correct addresses and parking information. 

The more information they have, the easier it will be for them to get where they need to be on time. The last thing we want is to think we have everyone gathered only to realize we’re missing one person. This isn’t to say that something like this won’t happen, even after communicating the details. But it’s far less likely.  

I also recommend assigning a family member (one who knows all of the people involved) to help wrangle. I’ll have a second photographer there as well to help gather the flock. But it’s definitely helpful to have a helper who knows the family.

And don’t worry…When photo time finally arrives, I’ll take the lead in an assertive, yet kind way. This is your day and there is no need for you to be the one working to keep your friends and family in line. 


Overall, my goal is for you to feel relaxed and fully present with your loved ones.
With a passionate and thorough planner, photographer and advocate on your side and  implementing these tips you’ll not only enjoy family formals, but you’ll have incredible images of the people you love most, forever.

And that is the most important part! 

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