How to Create a Wedding Photo Formal List for your Wedding Day The Great Big Guide To Wedding Photography
Formal Family Photos at a Wedding
How to list and manage family group photos at a wedding
There are certain things that almost always happen at a wedding and one is the more structured family groupings.
These are fairly simple on the surface. A group of parents or friends, naturally drawn together in a happy, smiling group of people in no time at all that will be done with a snap of the fingers ready for the next one.
But it rarely goes that way.
There’s a ton of things that have gone wrong when it comes to wedding formals and below I’ll tell all so that ‘hopefully’ you won’t fall foul of them.
Firstly, some wedding formal basics. A lot of external factors need to be considered before the wedding day. There’s the length of your wedding reception to consider along with the average time per grouping which can be used to project your optimal amount of formals so you can set a reasonable limit.
Something to remember is that you and your Boo will be in pretty much EVERY SINGLE PHOTO. So you need to ask yourself how long you want to stand in one place at your wedding for.
The normal advice I give is to allow 3 minutes per group. That way with a 90 minute reception time and with 10 groupings that’s ‘only’ 30 minutes from your reception.
Some of you might be thinking about the remaining hour, but we still need to take pictures of you both (usually around 15-20 minutes) and assuming you aren’t running late that gives you 40 minutes left to enjoy your canapes and guests. The bigger your wedding the more time you’ll want with them.
Let’s not forget confetti if it’s at the reception venue (+10 minutes), the venue might want to show you the breakfast room (+10 minutes) and you can start to see where that time goes and why some photographers develop a nervous twitch around halfway through a reception and why, if it’s looking like rain, they have a full on meltdown and can be found rocking back and forth in a corner during the wedding breakfast because we still have to deliver. Whatever the weather.
As for the formals themselves there’s a right way to go into those.
Here is a (simple) sample list:
- B + Mum + Dad (Sue, Jack)
- G + Mum + Dad (Carol, Paul)
- B+G + Both sets of parents
- B + Brides Family
- B + Brides Family
- B+G + Brides Family
- G + Family
- B+G + Grooms Family
- B+G + Grandparents (Arthur, Edith, John)
- B + Nan (Edith)
- B + Bridesmaids (Sally, Jess, Polly)
- G + Groomsmen (Rish, Matt, Daniel)
- B+G + Bridesmaids and Groomsmen
- B+G + Flowergirl (Danielle)
So it’s ok, it’s ok. I can hear some of you saying ‘but Chris, there’s 14 groupings here not 10′ but this was deliberate and a way to lead me to my next bit of guidance….
A lot of the people above were already there. We had two photos which consisted of the same four people. The parents. Instead of allowing 9 minutes for those three photos it only took 5 minutes because they were all there ready. It allowed us to expand the list.
Note also the names of those in brackets. This is particularly helpful when giving a photographer a list of photos. At the start of any list you both should always be there as (B)ride and (G)room or B+B or G+G etc. There’s no need to put your actual names because if people don’t know who the B+G are at a wedding then you’ve got some gatecrashers. Larger family, as in the whole family from one side, don’t need to be named as everyone (usually) has each other’s backs.
You don’t have to fill out the names of everyone on every grouping either because if the next photo has them all in again (as in the case with the bridesmaids and groomsmen) then I already know their names from the previous grouping.
Here is a list that can go completely the other way though.
- B+G with Grooms Family
- B+G with Brides Family
- G + Groomsmen
- B + Bridesmaids
- B+G will all grandparents + partners (Edith, Daniel, Jack, Peggy, Frederick, Helen, Frank, Anna)
^ You’ll be lucky to get this done in 30 minutes due to the sheer volume of people involved. It’s a shorter list but each group has 10+ people in with few repeats.
Naming people on a formal list is important.
Whenever I get sent a formal photo list I always end up moving the groupings around to make them flow better. Then I print off four copies ready to hand to bridesmaids and groomsmen who can help find these people.
Not everyone will know who someone is and as much as I’d like to round people up I need to stay in position, like a shining, sweaty, beacon of hope for people not knowing where the photos are going to be taken so when they finally get to me I can direct them into position.
Another big plus with having names is I cannot remember 100 names per day. It allows me to address people in a way that makes them feel important, valued and who I can entertain while we are waiting for that one person who as soon as they heard their name called responded by going for a poo holding everyone up for another 5 minutes.
Stuff often goes wrong
There’s a lot of things that can go quite dramatically wrong during the formals and after shooting over 500 weddings I know I may not have seen them all but here’s a list of things to be aware of and to ‘try’ to plan for.
- A lot of people have infants that need feeding. If they decide to feed them during the formals they won’t be there. It’s something you can plan for. The problem I’ve had is when the couple ask to wait (which can sometimes become 10 minutes of everyone hanging around).
- Nobody can tell if your lip gloss is on when I’m shooting from 4 metres away. Sending a bridesmaid off to get it will cost you drinking time.
- I shot a family group photo where the parents refused to take their sunglasses off because they couldn’t see without them. 1. It doesn’t matter so long as the camera sees them and 2. They all looked like a Roy Orbison tribute band.
- I had one case where I did all the family groupings only to be told that one person wasn’t there and we had to redo 4 of them taking another 12 minutes of their reception time away.
- Once we had to defer the formals until Grandad returned from the hotel (a 30 minute round trip) in order to pick up his glasses. This wouldn’t have been so bad but the formals were requested to be the last thing done before dinner meaning dinner was late and the starter was duck so couldn’t be prepared until guests were seated meaning everything ended up 45 minutes late (evening guests turned up during speeches, etc).
- Heart shaped group shots don’t look like those on Pinterest, they look like a kidney and take 30+ minutes. Don’t do it.
- I strongly recommend never asking family members for advice on formal photos. Most of the time they’ll give you a massive list of people they feel should be there relative to their needs without considering everything else you have going on in a 90 minute window. It’s better to defer this responsibility to the photographer. i.e. insisting the listing is small, but that the photographer will do them on request.
- If the list is ordered but certain sections dumped and skipped due to people not being present it can add a good 30% longer to the time it takes due to the back and forth involved breaking away from the structure and efficiency of the list.
- Sometimes I’m asked to do photos before the wedding takes place. This is fine, but everyone is usually rushed for time and often running late already and those same photos are taken at the reception anyway just with the groom or bride as an addition. It’s an idea that on paper sounds good and it does work so long as the timings and logistics are catered for. Usually the reality on the day is far removed from the original plan. Just one thing has to go wrong and things get trashed.
Should I have a group photo of everyone?
As each year passes I get asked this more and more with couples opting out of having one.
From a logical point of view you never get to see everyone in a group shot. Your 4ft 8” Scottish aunt that you’ve never met and who’s there for the free bar is, I guarantee you, going to stand at the back behind the tallest guest at the wedding along with maybe 4-10 others with their own reasons to hide. As much as I make light of this there are usually more than a handful of people at a wedding who viscerally dislike their photo being taken and they always hide in a group.
I could climb that ladder or stick my head out of a third story window to show you what superman see’s every time he flies through Metropolis but you still won’t see your aunt hiding from me.
But, if you’re after a photo of a large group of people together to show how much stronger your collective friends and family are together as well as the number of people who attended the absolutely go for it. It’ll take 10-15 minutes and you could do this just before the call for dinner, everyone can be told it’s time to eat at once.
General wedding timings are seriously important and seriously overlooked
Because group photos take up a wedge of your reception time and even, your day in general, any delays leading up to them will have a knock on effect to your day. If you have a 90 minmunte recpetion time but are ten minutes late to your ceremony you now have 80 minutes. This sounds really obvious but there never seems to be any plan of action or redundancy built into things should this happen.
If you feel your timings are running away from you or if your ceremony starts later for whatever reason. Or, if you feel as though the formal list is taking longer to go through than planned extend your reception time or ask if that’s possible at the planning stage before the wedding day. Don’t be dismissed by other members at your wedding or the wedding co-ordinator at your venue becuase they don’t think it’s necessary.
An example of this would be a wedding I shot where the caterers pulled the call for dinner forward a full 30 minutes because they’d seen me finish the formal photos. Rather than ask me if I was ready they just did it. I still had photos of the room details and the couple to do.
You should be enjoying your reception time, not enduring it.
Here’s some example of wedding formal lists:
How many wedding formal group photos should I have?
If I had to put a recommended maximum number on this I would say 10.
It’s not because people shouldn’t ask for more than that, because they often do. It’s just that having a target helps you keep the number sensible.
You will likely be in all of them and while I sure do keep you entertained during the process you’re still away from a lot of your guests during that time.
How do I handle other family members asking for photos to be added to the list?
Any phtogorapher will tell you that it’s wonderful to be asked to take someones picture. It makes us feel valued.
So, let your family members know that due to timings you need to keep the list small and practical because you don’t have long during the reception to do the family photos, your couple photos and to mingle with your guests.
Then, on our behalf, let them know that the photographer has said to approach them for any family groupings on the day and that we specifically said so.
The reason why this works so well is that it fixes a lot of problems:
- We’re freed up to move around while they get people together for the shot.
- There’s only so many they’ll be able to realistically ask for so may approach us at a quieter time later.
- They may realise they don’t want these photos so badly as they’re catching up with someone they haven’t seen for years instead (often happens).
- It makes them feel included despite being deferred off the official formals list. We become their own private photographer of sorts.
Good people management gives you your reception back.
We have a seriously large list of people we really can't get down, what do we do?
If your list is massive and you can’t get it down you could consider splitting it up across the day but deciding when to fit these in can be the problem.
I would say larger groupings should be kept for the wedding reception and smaller ones reserved for the gaps in the day, either pre-ceremony after dinner or between courses at dinner as there’s always a small gap. Even, after the first dance.
It’s the bigger groups that are difficult to do and the quality may suffer, different lighting, different levels of inebriation etc.
How do I decide who to put on the list?
Generally A listers. Direct family members and then you fill the rest with B listers.
This grading sounds aggressive but it’s rational and a fairly simple way to describe the process.
Everyone else can be put in either family groups and th elarger group photo of everyone.
It actually works quite nicely to follow the couple around as they actively grab people as they walk around.
Is there a way to do things better tha you haven't already mentioned?
There’s probably lots, but the main one is based on an experience I had once at a wedding.
I saw a couple taking a selfie with their phone and I offer to take it for them. I said by return that they should ask me for one to which they replied:
‘You’re their photographer’
As in I’m the couples photographer, not theirs.
Ever since then I’ve asked the couple to share my details online with their guests prior to the wedding to say:
‘This is Chris, he’s our photographer for the wedding and he wants you to know he’s YOUR photographer too’.
This introduces me to your guests so people know me from the start and it also makes me aproachable. Since I started doing this couples get around 10% more photos from me.