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Wedding Formals Advice | Wedding Day Tips | Best D.C., Baltimore, and Destination Wedding Photography

Family formals are probably the most stressful part of a wedding. Yes, you heard me right; sewing the button back on your dress moments before walking down the aisle with your top hanging out is LESS stressful than convincing your uncle to put down his drink for a thirty-second photo. But capturing your family for this momentous day is an important part of your wedding. So how do we make this go off successfully?

I like my formals short and sweet. Most genuine smiles do not last longer than five seconds. If I can get the photos done five-seconds per group, that is exactly where I want it. And those smiles last even less time when the family is waiting in line for photos while everyone else is at cocktail hour. The best thing we can do to help everyone is to plan exactly what we need beforehand, budget enough time to do it, and make sure everyone is at hand when we need them. If you have someone available to round up family while I start shooting, all is the better.

I have included the typical timing and groupings for formals. More can be added, but keep in mind, each group takes between 2-5 minutes (and that adds up fast!)

Family formals

25 minutes (less for smaller groups)

Unless you want formal shots, photos of the bride and groom with individual friends and relatives can be taken in a more relaxed and casual atmosphere at the reception. A sample list of scheduled pictures would be:

  • B/G and officiant
  • B/G and bride’s extended family
  • B/G and bride’s immediate family
  • B/G and bride’s grandparents
  • B/G and groom’s grandparents
  • B/G and bride’s parents
  • B/G and both sets of parents
  • B/G and groom’s parents
  • B/G and groom’s immediate family
  • B/G and groom’s extended family

Ideally, with this setup, the bride’s extended family finishes as quickly as possible, while the groom’s family is still gathering. Only the bride and groom themselves have to hold on for every picture (although it’s not uncommon for parents and siblings to want to be available for some more matches later on).

Bridal party

15 minutes

  • B/G with bridal party, ring bearer and flower girls
  • B/G with groomsmen
  • Groom with groomsmen
  • Groom with best man
  • Bride with bridesmaids
  • Bride with the maid of honor

Usually, we can be a little more playful or artsy with these (although that means we might go past the 3 to 5 minutes rule!)

Bride and groom

30 minutes, if not more. (More time is always welcome here!) This is our chance to run away for a moment, for you to let yourselves be honest. I have done these at the ceremony location, somewhere further away, or a stop-off between the wedding and reception. All I need is the two of you! We might break the shoot into segments, i.e. 25 minutes before the ceremony and 20 minutes at sunset. I really like doing ‘first looks’, where the two of you see each other before the ceremony. Usually, things are not as busy yet, we can get some really spectacular formals while you’re fresh and free from distractions. Another option is to do a post-wedding session (especially if your timetable is very tight, this gives you some flexibility and a little space to relax). Even if you decide you want to do a post-wedding session, I will still take some “formal” shots of the two of you on the wedding day, but the second session will give us time to really focus on the two, giving you portraits where you are relaxed, in love, and looking exactly like you want. 

Last thoughts

It is really important to be adaptable during weddings. I have seen plenty of ceremonies where the make-up artist arrives late or hair goes long, or we find the perfect place for photos is just a little out of the way. That is fine! When we sketch out our photo list, we will have what is most important to focus on. And your schedule, which budgets five minutes per photo, will make sure we capture everything with time to spare to get those little unexpected moments or special guests we just could not have predicted.

Leah Hewitt is a Top DC Wedding Photographer who specializes in capturing magic through creative wedding photography in destinations throughout the world.

About the Photographer

Welcome! I’m Leah, and I capture stray photons and tell stories with my camera. I believe in kindness. I love quirky movies like Amelie, Delicatessen, & most everything Wes Anderson has ever put on the screen. I love exploring. Find out more about me….

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