Family Formals: Accomplishing These Portraits in 15 Minutes Or Less

Let me start by saying that the information I am sharing today is not something I figured out quickly.  There was a struggle that I faced over and over again on a wedding day.  Soon after deciding that something had to change, I developed a system.  I tried it and I have been hooked ever since because it has made a WORLD of a difference in my approach to the wedding day and family formals in particular!! 

Family formals used to be the part of the wedding day that I just absolutely dreaded.  Not because of the family members!  But because I felt so lost!!  Over and over again, I found myself relying on the bride and groom to pull people for group shots and I thought that my job during this time was to pose them properly and take the shot.

Sometimes, I would be given a list from the bride for family shots, but it was often still difficult during portrait time because I didnt know the family personally and I didnt know the connection between everyone!  Its difficult to find the bride’s third cousin when you don’t know the third cousin and it resulted in everyone being a little confused as we tried to find the family members on the list!!

These situations often led to shots not being taken because the couple forgot about a certain grouping in the midst of the chaos or it meant that certain family members would have already made their way to the reception.  That in itself was stressful because we would have to send others to go find the person and get them back for the shot without also getting lost within the excitement of cocktail hour!

Moments like this will lead you, your couple, and all others involved faster down a road of frustration that you can imagine!!

I was culling through images of family formals one day and the stress I felt in those moments swept over me again as I was looking at the images. I just knew in that moment that I had to change something about my approach to that portion of the day!!  It took me many times of using this approach to figure out the system that works best for me and how I communicate this information to the bride ahead of time.  However, now I have a system that works and family formals take 15 minutes or less!!!  

My Approach

Step 1

I send the bride a pre wedding questionnaire about 2 weeks before the wedding day.  The very last question asks for the couple to make a list of family portraits that they’d like captured immediately following the ceremony.  This insures that I am being proactive in getting a list from the couple ahead of time.  I can organize it and print it before the wedding day and this means that I have a physical copy in my hand during portrait time.

Step 2

In the questionnaire I also specify a number of how many family portraits the couple should consider.  I ask them to send me ten different groupings.  Ten may not sound like a lot, but it is actually the perfect number to get all of the shots with immediate family (parents, grandparents, siblings)!!  I explain this approach to the couple in a manner of time management.  I tell them that my approach typically means that we are able to complete family portraits within 15 minutes which will ultimately get them to their reception sooner!  What wedding couple doesn’t like the sound of that?!

In my explanation above, I also recommend to the couple that if they have images that they’d like to have with extended family members or groups of friends, that we save those images to be taken at the reception!!  

Step 3

Now- here is the part that was a game changer for me!!  I ask the bride to list the family members in a very specific way and offer an example!!  I ask that the family portrait groupings be listed with each members name and relationship!! 

Example: Bride and Groom with Bride’s mother and father, John and Jane

This has seriously made such a huge impact on family portraits for me!!  It allows me to go down the list calling individuals by name to get their attention and bring them into the shot.  With this format, I also know the relationship of those family members which allows me to make a better connection with the importance of the image to the couple and the family!! 

Step 4

Before the wedding day, I will go through the list and organize each grouping in a manner that will allow for an easy flow between shots and minimize the amount of times that I have to move a family member in and out of the frame!  

Step 5

Before the wedding day, I also inform the bride that the only way that family portrait time can be accomplished within 15 minutes, is to have every family member present at that time.  I ask her to please inform every family member on that list that they are a part of family portraits and that they will need to be present immediately following the ceremony. 

I also will send the bride a final email a few days before the wedding to confirm final details.  In that email, I remind her once more to make sure that all family members on the family formals list know to be present at the time of portraits immediately following the ceremony.  By reminding the bride of this multiple times, I am stressing its importance! 

Step 6

With each family grouping, I take multiple images!!  I will take a wide shot to show the family from head to toe with a vertical frame and a horizontal frame, then I take a few steps in the take a tighter shot of the family members from the waist up!  This offers a wide variety of images in a short amount of time.

Step 7

Before allowing family members to step away from the shot, I take a quick moment to make sure that the image is in focus and that all family member’s eyes are open!!  This way, I am able to retake the shot quickly if needed without having to regroup and repose the family!!

This system has made such an amazing impact on family portrait time and I am now able to accomplish these portraits in 15 minutes or less!!  Every wedding since I have been using this system, I have received a hand shake, a hug, and a “job well done” from the parents of the couple as they commend me for making portrait time joyful, stress free, and fast!!  

I highly recommend trying it at your next wedding!! It took me a few tries before this approach felt like second nature, but I dont think that was because of the system itself as much as it was that I needed practice with gently commanding authority during portrait time.  Best of luck to you!!!

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