The Ultimate Guide to Your Wedding Day Photos: The Formals


The Ultimate Guide is back!  As part of our ongoing series helping you plan and prep for all the photos on your wedding day! This time we are tackling The Formals.

So what are formals? They are photos that are of close family and the bridal party typically done either before or immediately following the ceremony while your guests are at cocktail hour. They are a time for close family portraits with the bride and groom and also a time for romantic portraits of the new couple.

Formals may seem brief and easy but they require planning and forethought from both the couple and the photographer. We’ve put together a few of our favorite planning tips to make sure that this part of your wedding goes as smoothly as possible.



We strongly recommend doing a first look for the romantic formals. However, we understand that it is not always feasible to do so or the bride and groom prefer to see one another for the first time walking down the aisle.  If you prefer to save all your formals for after the ceremony keep in mind that family portraits and your romantic portraits will be competing for time. 99% of weddings are not on time and you will want to budget extra time to compensate, chances are that you will need it.

If you are not doing a first look. we recommend doing photos with the bridal party (Bride with her Bridesmaids and Groom with his groomsmen) before the ceremony. Budget about 15-20 minutes for family formals after the ceremony. Each grouping typically takes 2-3 minutes to get everyone in the shot and looking their best. Romantic portraits need at least 30 minutes.

Claudia & her bridesmaids at SF City Hall.
Claudia & her bridesmaids at SF City Hall.


Make sure to prep your families ahead of time and let them know where to meet immediately following the ceremony. We recommend putting a friend or wedding coordinator in charge of finding and making sure your family gets to the formal location. Your wrangler should also be aware of keeping out well-intentioned guests from crashing the formal time. Once the family has taken their turn with the bride and groom and finished all the group shots, we recommend dismissing them to head back to the cocktail hour.

The gents
The gents


Your photographer is one of your greatest allies when it comes to keeping the stress away from you on your wedding day. As photographers, we tend to see a lot of things going on in the background and we can command a great deal of authority. If there are any family politics such as two relatives that do not get along, we can make sure they do not stand next to each other in any photos or we can remove a boisterous guest from monopolizing the bride or groom. We’ve got your back as long as you give us a heads up ahead of time and we can be on the lookout and keep family drama out of the mix.

Jared & his groomsmen rocking some fun socks
Jared & his groomsmen rocking some fun socks


We strongly recommend picking a spot away from where your guests will be during cocktail hour so you won’t have an audience during your portraits. If you are close to your guests, there is a very good chance that you will get swarmed by friends and family.



You do not need to plan for every combo ever, but have a general plan of who will be included in the photos and 5-8 different groupings and give that list to your photographer. If your photographer has a list, they can make sure that no one is missed.

Claudia's sister helping her father adjust his tie
Claudia’s sister helping her father adjust his tie


Golden hour is the magical time when the light has the perfect glow and looks flattering on everyone. It is right before and during sunset and sunrise. Because the light is the best at this time, we always recommend doing your romantic portraits during this time. If your cocktail hour or first look does not fall during this time, we suggest setting aside 15-20 minutes of extra time for the couple to leave the reception with your photographer and get a few extra, special shots.

Toni in her epic white gown
Toni in her epic white gown


Good luck out there, couples! Let us know if you have any other tips or questions! Be sure to check out the rest of our series and stay tuned for more!

6 Tips for The Best Wedding Ceremony Ever

The Ultimate Guide To Your Getting Ready Room

The Benefits of Doing A First Look

Ultimate Guide To Getting the Most Out of Your Engagement Session

The Ultimate Guide to A Wedding Emergency Kit