How to Make Family Formals Go Smoothly on Your Wedding Day

Family formals probably aren't what you're really excited about when it comes to your wedding day. Maybe you're dreading having to control a bunch of family members and get everyone on the same page. Maybe you just don't want to spend any more time than necessary forcibly smiling for the camera when it's hot outside, or you really want to have a pre-ceremony sandwich.

I've got good news for you: family formals do NOT have to be dreaded! In fact, they can be totally enjoyed. After all, when was the last time you had so many important people in your immediate vicinity?! Here are a few tips for making the most out of wedding day family formals, and making sure everything goes super smoothly. 

wedding family formals

Keep it small

I love big group family photos. There is something so special about making sure you get a photo of your whole family on such a special day - aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. They should all be included! But I don't recommend we do those family formals as part of the pre-ceremony family formals for a couple reasons.

First, we're in the Midwest - some people (myself included!) have BIG families. If we tried to get these photos in during the precious time before the ceremony, it would take up a ton of time AND 75% of your guests would see you before your walk down the aisle. No thanks!

Instead, I recommend leaving the pre-ceremony family formals for the following people:

  • Bride and groom (of course)
  • Parents (and/or step parents) of the bride and groom
  • Siblings (and/or step siblings) of the bride and groom
  • Spouses of siblings
  • Children of siblings
  • Grandparents of the bride and groom

That's it! No more than that. Keep your list as nuclear as possible, and give your photographer and your extended family that you'd love to try for an extended family photo at the reception. That way, the pressure is off and the stress of the ceremony is over, too!

sisters family photo at wedding

Create a shot list

I typically don't recommend brides designing shot lists (that's your photographer's job!), but I make an exception for family formals. Before every wedding, I sit down with my brides, either on the phone or in person, and talk through their timeline, and about the formal photos they want. I start with the following list:

  • Bride and groom + bride's immediate family + grandparents

  • Bride and groom + bride's immediate family

  • Bride and groom + bride's parents

  • Bride with bride's parents (and bride with each parent individually if you'd like)

  • Bride with siblings/individual siblings

  • Bride with grandparents

  • Bride and room + groom's immediate family + grandparents

  • Bride and groom + groom's immediate family

  • Bride and groom + groom's parents

  • Groom with groom's parents (and groom with each parent individually if you'd like)

  • Groom with siblings/individual siblings

  • Groom with grandparents

Of course, I'm certainly not saying that list is an end-all, be-all, but it's a great place to start. With a list that concise, family formals shouldn't take more than 20 minutes. That leaves plenty of time for the more creative parts of the day!

A shot list also totally empowers your photographer. Again, I typically advise against shot lists, but this is one time where you can happily let your 'tog run with it. When I am using a shot list for family formals, it's much easier for me to command control of the situation (kindly, of course!), and keep things moving. 

bride with her dad on her wedding day

Be aware of issues

In both the pre-wedding questionnaire that my brides fill out, and at our pre-wedding meeting, we chat through every detail. This includes me asking about any family dynamics that I need to be aware of. I think sometimes people are nervous or embarrassed to tell me about things that may come up on a wedding day, but ya'll–I've seen it ALL. I promise! Weddings are THE BEST–I wouldn't be in this profession if I didn't love it. But that is not to say that they don't come with family baggage. It's normal!

The more your photographer can know about your family dynamics, the better. If you had a grandparent recently pass away, I certainly don't want to ask your mom if grandma is joining us for family photos. And if your two brothers are currently battling something out, giving me a heads up means I can position them away from each other in photos so your wedding doesn't turn into a fist fight. The more informed the photographer is, the better. Even if it makes you feel a little silly, I promise it will make your day so much more smooth!