Hackettstown, New Jersey, Top 10 Tips While Planning Your Family Formal Shot List for your Wedding Day



Planning for a wedding day can be stressful. One of the most crucial parts and the most time consuming parts of a wedding day is photographing the family formals, especially if not planned accordingly. Today, we're going to talk about how to streamline your family formals and how to plan your family formal shot list as you begin to nail down all the photography details of your day. Now I know the first thing you are thinking of is “Michelle, I really don’t want to take my guests, especially my wedding party from our cocktail hour for photographs!” Most of my couples think of that dreaded wedding, a few summers ago, where family photos took about an hour or more and everyone missed the cocktail hour, terrible! Can I just say I agree. I would never want to keep you from your guests this long and make others wait for you. I understand that everyone is ready to relax and celebrate! So with that in mind, I have a simple solution for both you and your wedding guests. 


With this being said, family formals are a crucial part of your wedding day collection. It is one of the few times in your life where all of your friends and family will be at the same place at the same time and dressed beautifully. This is the perfect time to capture these portraits. It's not every day that you get the opportunity for great photographs and due to these circumstances, formals deserve to be carefully thought out and planned. With careful planning and consideration, it is absolutely possible to get beautiful portraits photographed in the least amount of time as possible. This is my approach on how I would execute the family formals if a first look has not been completed and the wedding party portraits were completed before the ceremony. Today, I'll be sharing how to make the most of your family formals in the least amount of time and how to plan your family formal shot list for your wedding day.

Michelle's top 10 tips for planning your family formal shot list:

  1. Keep your family formal portrait photography list short. While planning for your wedding photography, your wedding photographer will first begin with your family formal portrait list. The simple way to do this is to keep it at 10-12 groupings at most, and always start with the largest groupings first that include the elderly. During the wedding day, it's best if the maid of honor, or family member who knows all of the members on the family formal portrait list stays close so that they can aid in hunting people down for formals and if they've run off to the cocktail hour despite our efforts. Once we have our largest party together, we will need to first arrange the group and pose each individual so everyone looks their best. Depending on the amount of people in the image, photographing an image may take up to ten minutes per photograph! Time sure does add up, so keep your formal list short, concise, and in order to avoid family formals from taking too long and bumping into your cocktail hour!
  2. Bride and groom in all family formals. I recommend to each of my couples that the bride and groom to be included in every photo taken with family and friends after the ceremony to avoid too much repetition. You may want photos of just you and your immediate family a part from your spouse, or maybe you with your parents - and I would love to capture those for you; however, these photos are best taken before the ceremony in order to maximize the family formals timeframe. To maximize time on-location, I would recommend a first look to all couples with 12 + family portraits on their family portrait photography list.
  3. Choose your location in advance or leave it up to the artists. It is important that you decide in advance where you choose to have your family portraits photographed at the venue or leave it up to the photographer so the photographer can scout the venue and choose the best place at the ceremony venue or reception venue.
  4. Traditionally, family formals are photographed at the altar or outside. If you choose to photograph your formals indoors at the altar, this space has low light and your photographer may need to take some time to set up lighting. For example, I have two light stands and to achieve a soft and even exposure that I use on-location. These take a few minutes to set up directly after the ceremony. However, if you want to maintain a natural light look for the family formals, you'll want to talk with your photographer about a nicely lit spot outdoors with a beautiful background. Photographing outdoors will largely depend on the time of day, season, and we will need to plan according with amount of formals needed. If timing is an issue, I'd highly recommend a first look to give us more time.
  5. While reviewing your portrait list and if you are finding planning difficult, consider a first look. Please review our blog post on first looks to learn more. If you are itching while planning your family portrait list, let us help you. Below is a guide on family formals. Please utilize this guide! Still stuck? Maybe we should plan on a first look! This will give you the opportunity to see your hubby before you meet at the aisle which takes the pressure off an already busy day, you'll be able to enjoy a few moments to yourselves, from there we will capture beautiful bridal portraits, groom portraits, portraits of you hand in hand and have extra time, capture beautiful portraits with you, your wedding party, and capture beautiful family portraits. From here, you'll have extra time with your guests, you'll be able to enjoy capturing your portraits with extra time and you will be able to enjoy more time with your wedding guests together at your cocktail hour and reception! Even better, you'll even be able to share your wedding with your life partner rather than being in "hiding." 
  6. Plan and delegate tasks. At our consultation we will review your shot list and plan all family formals with the largest groupings first. Be sure to provide Michelle with names of those in all portrait groupings at the consultation. We will delegate tasks such as gathering those pictured in the portraits together on your wedding day to either a close family member or friend such as the maid of honor or best man! See example list below for reference.
  7. Make those aware that they will be photographed in your formal portraits. You can do this in two ways: first, by sending an email to all guests our your family formal photography list that they will be available and be ready to be photographed at the location and at the appropriate time or by sending a note with your save the date, and a second reminder with your invitation.
  8. Think about the order and what may be convenient for the family members. While planning your list, think about the order of the photographs. We will work from the largest groupings first and work our way down. As the maid of honor or best man is grabbing the other in the large group, we can begin portraits with elderly first and those with small children. Once our maid of honor and best man arrive with the rest of the family, we will then add and remove as necessary. Another thing that you may want to point out to your photographer are divorces and family feuds. You'll want to let your photographer know about these situations in advance but also try to avoid any awkward situations while planning the order of family formals.
  9. Stick to the formal list and capture additional requests at cocktail hour or on the dance floor. While capturing formals, I stick to the formals list. We want you to stay relaxed and as we are capturing your formals many people will be gathering around to watch and may ask to step in and grab just one picture with the bride and groom, even if they weren't on the family formal list. This is completely normal and happens almost every time! Every one wants a photo with the bride and groom because you are both the stars of the day! When this happens at a wedding I am photographing, I love to remind them that I will capture them later together during cocktail hour or to find me while they're together on the dance floor, to please tap on my shoulder, and I'll come over and grab some great shots of them "boogying" together. Their friends absolutely eat that up and I am always able to grab fun and exciting images that they'll cherish!
  10. Have some fun with 1 large group portrait during the reception. When there is an opportunity to capture an image of the entire party such as at the reception, I will coordinate an image with the DJ to capture one image of the entire party! This is a great image as everyone is in one place and the DJ can help round people up.

See our sample family formal list. If you're stuck on how to craft your family formal portrait shot list, I have provided a helpful sample formal list below for planning your family formal shot list. Please feel free to use my list as a template to craft your own family formal shot list!

Sample Family Formal List

Bride and Groom with Bride’s Parents and Siblings, Groom’s Parents and Siblings, Both Extended Families

Bride and Groom with Groom’s Parents, Siblings, and Extended Family

Bride and Groom with Groom’s Parents and Siblings

Bride and Groom with Groom’s Siblings

Bride and Groom with Groom’s Parents

Bride and Groom with Bride’s Parents and Groom’s Parents

Bride and Groom with Bride’s Parents, Siblings, and Extended Family

Bride and Groom with Bride’s Parents and Siblings

Bride and Groom with Bride’s Siblings

Bride and Groom with Bride’s Parents

Bride and Groom with Officiant

Bride’s Parents Alone

Groom’s Parents Alone

Bride and Groom

Family Formals

Photography Credits

Photographydu soleil photography

Second PhotographerMichelle Behre Photography

Professional Film Processing & Scanning: The Find Lab

Wedding CoordinationCondella Consulting

Floral DesignRobin Hill Florists

Venue: Family Private Estate

Wedding DressBHLDN

Bride’s ShoesBagdley Mishka

Hair and Makeup ArtistAlexander’s Day Spa


Groom’s ShoesTo Boot NY


RentalsMCR Design Group

CateringEpicurean Delight

Wedding CakesLadybird Bakery

BandBachelor Boys

Invitations and CalligraphyStonefawx Studios


Featured: Ruffled

Michelle Behre is one of the premiere New Jersey full-service wedding and portrait photographers specializing in photojournalism. Her images are timeless, romantic, chic, and joyful. If you are looking for a wedding and portrait photographer in New Jersey, she would love to hear from you! Visit Michelle’s portfolio or contact her for more information on having her photograph your special day!

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