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Family Formals Shot List Explained (+ FREE Templates) | Northern Virginia Wedding Photographer

Wedding Tips

I don’t think I’ve yet met any bride or groom that is excited for their family formals on their wedding day. Getting family members to cooperate for a photo can be a tall order. There’s always that one person in the family who HATES pictures or makes things a little more difficult. But I’ve learned so many strategies (including my organized family formals shot list) to help me whiz through these photos and send family off to cocktail hour happy! Is that possible??? It is! And I’m spilling my secrets to help you do it too.

I get lots of questions about family formals and the perfect family formals shot list. So I’m answering the frequently asked questions all in one post!

What are “Family Formals”?

How to create a family formals shot list for wedding | Virginia wedding photographer

Family formals is a term in the world of wedding photography that simply means formal portraits of your family members. By “formal” I mean a photo where everyone stands straight and smiles straight at the camera. It’s the traditional family picture we’ve taken for years, even back when all we had were painters to capture family group portraits.

The family formals part of the wedding day usually occurs immediately after the ceremony. It’s a chance for family to celebrate you by jumping in a photo while everyone is dressed to the nines. Sometimes this is the only photo Grandma will print, or the most recent photo you have of your entire family together in forever!

So while this can be a difficult part of the wedding day, the result is usually so worthwhile.

Who Should Stay for Family Formals?

This is really a question only you can answer! I can certainly provide some guidance. But ultimately you get one wedding day, so who is it that you want a photo with in your wedding dress? Who would you regret not getting a photo with if this was the only photo we got all day with them?

That said, we only have limited time for family formals. So I recommend brides and grooms learn to prioritize. Whoever we miss during family formals can often be captured at the reception. We should set aside this time for the extra special family members – usually parents, grandparents, and siblings.

How Do I Announce Who Should Stay for Family Formals?

It’s helpful to think ahead when it comes to family formals. I usually only allocate 20 minutes to get through the entire family formals shot list. This means we need family members to be attentive and ready to roll once the ceremony ends!

You can help family members understand whether they should stay behind for photos in a number of ways.

  1. Tell them ahead of time! Maybe even before the wedding day.
  2. Have the officiant announce it after you’ve processed as husband and wife.
  3. Assign one family member or bridal party member per side of the family to round up family members that stray off.

How Do I Communicate Delicate Family Dynamics With My Photographer?

Not all families look alike. I have photographed my fair share of weddings where there are delicate situations or blended family structures. The best way to let me know is during a call or in an email. I’m very understanding! I have my own share of less than ideal family dynamics, and my photographer had to dance around them too.

As a photographer, I want to know especially about the 3 D’s of family dynamics: Divorce, Deceased, Disability.


If your parents are not married or you have step-parents in the picture, please let me know! I have definitely put my foot in my mouth by accidentally trying to pose a Mom and Dad in a photo together, all to find out they’ve been divorced for over a decade.


My husband unfortunately has no living grandparents. So our family formals only included my grandparents. If I had not told my photographer, it would have been reasonable for her to look for “Grandma and Grandpa” on the groom’s side. How embarrassing that would be!

I’ve even been in situations where I’m photographing a wedding where the Bride lost her dad just months before. I am so glad I knew about it, because I would feel terrible if I resurfaced grief by asking where Dad was.


Sometimes family members need special attention to stand for a photo. Whether it’s having my second shooter give grandma an arm to hold onto when walking into the photo or posing your family around a wheelchair-bound family member… the more I know the better. Remember, not all disabilities are obvious to everyone. I’d rather not be expected to just “pick up” that someone has special needs. The more transparent you can be, the better prepared I can be to lend a hand and make family formals easier for everyone!

What Does a Family Formals Shot List Look Like?

The first step is identifying who should be included. I ask my bride and groom who their family members are. In this step of the process, I always ask for names and relationship. This way if I call out “Grandma,” I don’t have four ladies coming to me ready for their picture.

Once we have a list of all your family members and know who’s who, we can begin creating groupings. I recommend limiting to 10 groupings. This usually looks like the below:

  • Bride’s Parents
  • Groom’s Parents
  • Bride’s Siblings
  • Groom’s Siblings
  • Bride’s Immediate Family (parents and siblings)
  • Groom’s Immediate Family (parents and siblings)
  • Bride’s Grandparents
  • Groom’s Grandparents
  • Bride’s Full Family (everyone, sometimes includes aunts/uncles/cousins)
  • Groom’s Full Family (everyone, sometimes includes aunts/uncles/cousins)

After the groupings are figured out, it’s time to put it into an organized shot list! I have a template I used for my own wedding, and continue to use for ENP Couples’ weddings today! It is the perfect way to let your photographer know who everyone is and who is needed for each photo.

Click here to download my FREE family formals shot list template and try it out at your own wedding, I have a FREE link for you!

That’s it! If you still have questions about family formals or how to create a shot list, feel free to contact me at emily@emnicolephotography.com!

Or if you’re still looking for a wedding photographer to help you through the entire process, I’m happy to chat with you! See more details.

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