Quick Tip: Managing Formal Photos

by Olivia Leigh

Although photojournalistic and more editorial photography is popular with modern, chic brides, I find that most clients still, understandably, want a few traditional formal photographs of them with their family. While my coverage is primarily more candid or creative in nature, I still think capturing a few of these “formals” is valuable for satisfying many parents’ tastes and also serving as a historical photograph. I typically recommend that couples try to keep a “formal list” as short as possible, dedicating about 15-20 minutes to knocking these out so we can spend the majority of their coverage taking creativity-laced and emotion-filled images. While the photographer will generally manage and direct these photographs, being organized as a couple and communicating your requests to your family and friends can greatly help to speed up the process and ensure it goes as smoothly as possible.


Mid-setup at last weekend’s wedding (me in the black suit behind the gentleman in the beige suit).

I recently photographed a lovely wedding for a wonderful Indian couple. While formals usually have some importance to most of my couples, I find that particularly in the Indian community, these photographs are so incredibly important to the family, and I am happy to spend a bit more time shooting them. When my bride sent me her list of photos, I was a little nervous that we might be shooting for hours, it was so extensive. However, she had developed the most organized plan I had ever seen, and the shoot went so fast. She first prepared a spreadsheet with all of the groupings she wanted, and then assigned a letter (for her or her husband’s side) and a number to each photograph (e.g., “Bride, Groom, mom, dad, mom’s sister, son — Card #J2”). She also prepared a spreadsheet with the name of everyone that would be in any of the photographs, and then wrote the card numbers for the photographs they would be in (e.g., “Jane Doe, Cards #J2, J12”). Each guest that would be photographed received the second spreadsheet, and “cards” were called out by an assistant.

While this process required a considerable amount of work on her part, I have never had a formal session go as quickly and painlessly as it went that day. Particularly if you have a large guest list/large number of people to be photographed (we probably had 100+ involved), her extra preparation helped my job to go smoothly, guests to be clear on when they were needed, and helped keep the roar of yelling out names to a minimum.

Do you have a plan for your formal photos?  Do tell!