pro tips for managing family formals

6 Pro Tips For Managing Family Formals

Whenever I’m meeting with a new couple, we discuss family formals extensively. I warn everyone that family formals are the least fun part of the day, but also the most necessary. These are the photos your grandparents will put on their walls, you’ll give your parents for holidays, and these might be the last professional photos you have with all your loved ones. As pessimistic as that last point is, it’s true and you will never regret taking the 30 minutes to capture all the important people in your life.

As part of my final wedding questionnaire, I ask my clients to put together a list, but it can be difficult knowing where to start. Here are 6 pro tips for managing family formals!

1. Start with the largest group, but break it down

By the largest group, I mean a photo including all your aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, grandparents, parents, and children (if you have them). Depending on the size of your family, this list can get rather large. Instead of trying to cram 50 people into one photo where you can barely recognize any faces, break it down into several smaller groups. For example, one picture with dad’s side (including immediate family) and one picture with mom’s side (also including immediate family). This will allow you to get the big group photos still while keeping the size manageable. If you have a smaller extended family, you might be able to get everyone in one photo, but it’s generally recommended to not have more than 15 people per photo.

2. Both Partners should be in almost every photo

One of the most common questions I’m asked when it comes to family formals is if the groom or bride is in every photo with their partner’s family. There are very few situations where you will ever need a photo with just you and your extended family. When it comes to immediate family, we’ll generally take one picture with the spouse and one without. For example, we’ll take a picture with just you and your parents and then add in your partner. Cutting out the constant jumping in and out will save so much time when it comes to these formals.

3. Appoint loud and friendly helpers

“Loud and friendly” is my way of saying you need a friend or family member who knows your family really well and will feel comfortable bossing them around. When it comes to your list, your photographer won’t know who everyone is, so having someone assigned to grab people helps tremendously. Make sure this person knows their responsibilities and has the list in advance.

4. Take any complicated family situations into consideration

It may seem like a super personal question when your photographer asks are your parents are still together, do any of your siblings not get along, do you have a needy aunt who will want pictures not on the list, etc, but these are very important when it comes to your family photos. If your parents aren’t together, you might want a picture with your mom and step-dad instead of your mom and dad (or in addition to your mom and dad). If two of your siblings are fighting, you might want them to be positioned on opposite sides of the photo. Or, maybe your step-dad and bio dad are best friends and you want a picture just with them. All these examples have happened at weddings I’ve been apart of and it’s important to know these dynamics in advance.

5. Try to limit your groupings

It might be tempting to try to get a picture with every single member of your family, but time doesn’t always allow for this. We don’t want to take you away from your party any longer than necessary, so try to limit your groupings to around 20 total (10 for each partner’s family). If you have a larger list, it might be possible to steal someone away for a casual photo during the reception. Focus your list mainly on your immediate family (parents, grandparents, siblings) and save individuals with your extended family for the reception.

6. Stick to the List

Occasionally we’ll get a family member who asks for a photo not on the list and that is totally fine once all the photos listed are taken. You worked hard on that list and we want to make sure to use your time wisely and only add in extra photos if time allows. At the end of the family formal session, we’ll ask if there is anything else you want and this is the time to ask your aunt if she wants a specific photo just her family, if your mom wants a picture just with her siblings, etc. Your wedding day is not a photo shoot. We want you to enjoy your party instead of smiling at the camera for hours. If these additional photos weren’t a priority for you when you created your list then they can wait until the photos you will cherish most are taken.

Example List:

Couple with extended family (dad’s side) with immediate family

Couple with extended family (mom’s side) with immediate family

Couple with all immediate family

Couple with grandparents

Bride (or groom) with grandparents

Couple with parents

Bride (or groom) with parents

Bride (or groom) with mom

Bride (or groom) with dad

Couple with siblings

As long as you don’t have wild family dynamics, this list should work 100% of the time. If you do have different family dynamics, you might need to add a few pictures with step-parents or step-siblings, but these pictures are still important so don’t worry about cutting the list down to 10 groupings if you can’t possibly fit everyone in the above format!

There you have 6 pro tips for managing your family formals. These tips will make your family list painless and simple!


  1. This is SUCH a great list of tips, especially that first one. The giant full group photos with 100 people in them never made any sense to me!

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