How to Plan and Tackle Large Groups of Formals Like a Champ


When couples plan their family formals list, I encourage them to keep the list short and simple. Bride and groom with bride's family. Bride and groom with groom's family. Bride and groom with bride's grandparents. You get the idea. Smaller groups mean quicker formals, and the couple doesn't need to spend an hour smiling at the camera. I mostly suggest it to keep them from getting overwhelmed and exhausted.

However, Lisa and Ryan had 11 groups of formals, with about 8-17 people PER group, and they completely ROCKED IT on organizing it all beforehand. *virtual high five, you guys* We only spent about 20 minutes taking group photos!

Before each wedding, I write up a cheat sheet with all the necessary information I need to know. Here's what their formals list looked like:

Here's how they organized it.

1. They printed out each group of formals containing the group number and the people in the group on small, invitation-sized cards. For example, Group 10 had Lily, George, Minh, Elaine, Janice, Michelle, Kalvin, and Kristy. 

2. Each numbered group card had one person's name in bold. The person with the name in bold was then the "group leader" and was responsible for collecting their group members, which shouldn't be too difficult since each group was unique to each other (USC friends, Mother's side 1, etc). 

3. Before the ceremony (I'm not quite sure when these were handed out), these cards were given to the respective group leaders. These group leaders then knew their responsibility when it came time for group photos. 

4. Lisa and Ryan's awesome officiant and close friend helped by calling out the next group as I was finishing up with the previous group. 

Great job, Lisa and Ryan!

A Case For Getting Ready

“Wedding day.”

Actually, it doesn’t always feel like it, does it? The wedding jitters usually start earlier than that - the day before, at least. More like “wedding week.” Maybe you’re up late desperately trying to finish up those wedding favors you’ve decided to take on yourself, or unable to sleep because you’re so nervous.

Oftentimes, a couple will try to save money on wedding photography by limiting their coverage as much as possible. Usually, the first thing to go is the getting ready photos. For a photographer who prefers to be as hands-off and documentary as possible, I personally believe that this is disadvantageous for a few reasons, and not for logistics such as if you want your dress, shoes, rings, etc photographed.

When your photographer begins the day getting ready, we’re already somewhat behind. We only get a glimpse of all the emotions and anxieties that have already been brewing up since the days, weeks, and months before. To purposefully have your photographer show up to start at the ceremony puts us at an even greater disadvantage because we don’t get to observe all the little details - I’m talking about the conversations between you and your friends while you’re getting ready, the facial expressions you don’t see us notice, and all the other nuances we’re experiencing that will add to the storytelling in your images.

Here are a few bullet points on why I think having your photographer present during your getting ready is important.

1. You have more time to get comfortable in front of your photographer.

    As hands-off and discreet as I try to be, it’s still obvious at the beginning of the day that there’s a photographer clicking away at you. There’s a well-known story among wedding photographers that back in the day, the photographer would show up, start shooting a bunch - of the bride, bridesmaids, things going on - and then after half an hour or so he’d finally stick a roll of film into the camera.

    It takes a while for someone to get comfortable in front of a photographer. Eventually, people get tired of paying attention or trying to make funny faces and just ignore us. To me, this is perfect. I want people to ignore me, because then they can concentrate on being themselves and I can concentrate on documenting what’s really happening. Letting this process happen earlier in the day is much, much better than having this process happen merely moments before a ceremony is starting.

2. I get to catch moments like these…

Best friends seeing her for the first time in her wedding dress!

Granted, every wedding is different. I’m not going to get the exact same images every time because that’s not what my photography is about, and that’s what’s wonderful about it. Getting ready photos aren’t just about shoe shots or makeup brushes-against-your-face shots. I feed off of the energy between you and your loved ones early in the beginning so that the moments I document are truly yours.

3. You get to see each other’s anticipation and what the heck the other one was doing!

    That’s super fun! We all know that not all grooms naturally stand next to the window as they fashionably adjust their cuff links. The guys are usually hanging around watching the game for most of the time, and then frantically trying to google how to tie a tie or how to fold a pocket square, and helping each other out with their cuff links. The jokes and laughs as this goes on between friends can’t be staged, and this is pure gold.

4. Your wedding coverage will feel more complete.

    Without it, I feel like it’s almost like stepping into the movie theater 15 minutes after the film has already started. You know you haven’t missed any major plot points, but you’ve missed the setting of the scene and how the main character is introduced.
     I’ve always felt that a set of wedding images has more of a sense of cohesiveness and context when it includes the getting ready, no matter how un-getting ready it might feel.  This is great for the album, for the scrapbook your crafty family member likes to put together, or just to have for the memories.

If something has to give, I encourage you to rethink cutting out the getting ready. Even if you only put in half an hour to make sure your photographer gets to be around you earlier, it’s better than coming into the story part way through. Perhaps consider planning your day to have most of the major events (things like toasts, bouquet toss, cake cutting, etc…) happen towards the beginning of the reception and be willing to have reception coverage end a bit earlier.

Of course, these are all just suggestions and my whole philosophy of wedding photography is not to dictate your day and not to tell you what to do. It’s your wedding day, so do whatever makes you happiest. I simply invite you to reconsider our perspective of the day and why I feel it’s an important part of the day to include. Happy wedding planning!


How to Make Family Formals Quick & Easy!

No matter what style of photography your wedding photographer specializes in, every wedding usually needs formal documentation of important family members - family formals! Whether your photographer is a fine art, editorial/fashion, or photojournalistic style, some time is usually set aside to get some nice portraits of your family - everyone looking their best and smiling at the camera. These are important family heirlooms in themselves on the wedding day.

Your photographer will be a big part of making things run smoothly during this time, but here are just a few ways you can help make this time quick and easy for everyone.

(Bride and groom with groom's family)

(Bride and groom with groom's family)

1. Create a list of groupings.

      Before the big day, create a list of groupings. (Bride and groom with bride’s parents, bride and groom with groom’s parents, bride and groom with bride’s extended family, etc.)
     Just make sure you don’t go too crazy with the list! You don’t necessarily need a shot of every combination of a single group. I recommend keeping your list to 6-10 groups and allowing for at least 3 minutes for each grouping. While your photographer may be able to work quickly and get all the groups in less than 10 minutes (like I try hard to!), this isn’t something that can be completely controlled since people tend to wander off, get caught up in conversations with others, etc.
   I’m not going to show up with a megaphone and yell at everyone, so it’s helpful to…

2. Designate someone from your family to round people up!
     Before the wedding, ask someone who preferably knows both sides of the family to help round people up during formals. This can be a brother/sister or cousin - anyone who knows the family dynamics (bringing Aunt Cindy over will make Uncle Joe come over right away!) and will definitely speed things up a bit.
     You can also then have your designee find the photographer when it’s formals time and stick with them to help get the checklist done!

3. Tell your family beforehand.

    It’s simple but extremely helpful to let your family know before the wedding day and again before you head on over to the ceremony venue that “Family formals are at 4pm! Please make sure to get there on time!” Or maybe tell them 3:45pm - people always tend to show up late ;)

Bride and groom with all of bride's family!

Bride and groom with all of bride's family!

4. Consider if you want the family formals done before the ceremony or immediately following the ceremony.

    Usually if a bride and groom choose to do a first look (seeing each other before the ceremony), they prefer to do all of their portraits and family pictures then at the same time to get it out of the way. That way, after the ceremony, they can immediately enjoy cocktail hour with their guests.
     Here are some things to consider if you choose to do family formals before the ceremony -
       a. When will the flowers arrive? Will boutonnieres and corsages be on your parents already? How long would it take for them to put it on? Do you care if the flowers are there for the family formals? Will you have your bouquet by then?
        b. Will everyone know to show up on time before the ceremony for family formals? Again, this is best communicated beforehand, and always consider that things and people run late! (On wedding days especially, for some reason).

    If you choose to do the pictures immediately following the ceremony, here are some things to consider -   
     a. This is when everyone is present - take advantage of that! Ask your officiant to make an announcement after the ceremony that immediate family members should stay for formal photographs.
     b. Stick with your photographer and stand right at the place where family formals are supposed to be. Don’t wander off! People will naturally gravitate towards you as they want to congratulate you, hug, etc.

These basic tips should help move things along! I don’t think anyone really likes to be told to put down their wine glass to go stand over there and smile! I try my best to get through them quickly and painlessly for everyone so they can go back to enjoying the event.

Sometimes, a child just won't look at the camera. After more than 30 frames shot, this was the best one. It's okay :) Sometimes kids will be kids!

Sometimes, a child just won't look at the camera. After more than 30 frames shot, this was the best one. It's okay :) Sometimes kids will be kids!

And lastly, here’s another quick tip.

5. Getting kids to look at the camera -

Don’t look at babies when you’re trying to get them to look at the camera! Just keep smiling at the camera and when the baby finally looks at the camera, I’ll be watching and immediately hit the shutter (that’s on burst mode, of course). If your head is down looking at the child when he/she finally looks at me, that would seriously slow things down.

And that’s it! If you have any questions or tips you think of, feel free to leave a comment below.