Premiere Bay Area Wedding Photography Blog by Trifon Anguelov Photography

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How to Photograph Wedding Formals

Bride & Groom Formal Wedding Photo at Saint Cecilia Catolic Church in San Francisco, CA Ask a wedding photographer about what is the most stressful and least favorite part of the wedding day and with no doubt the answer would be: The Family Group Photos or in short The Wedding Formals. I am yet to meet a photographer who would confess that this is what they enjoy and looking forward to do on each wedding.

And yet, the wedding formals are integral part of the wedding and cannot be easily omitted. This is the time after the wedding ceremony when the bride and groom pose with their parents, bridal party (bridesmaids and groomsman), extended family, friends and relatives. The posed and camera aware photos are what many photographers have been taking over the years during each wedding and are deeply engraved into the minds of each couple planning their wedding. These are the favorite photos for bride’s and groom’s grandparents and one way way to see everyone smiling and posed as a group on a single image.

So if the wedding family group photos are so important for the couple and wedding guests, why the formals are stigmatized as least favorite? After photographing weddings for many years already and discussing the topic with fellow wedding photographers, few clear answers emerge:

  • Trying to bring more than 30 people at the same place after a 45-60 minutes wedding ceremony when everyone is getting tired and needs to hydrate or stretch around, is not an easy task. Relatives and friends tend to roam around and chit-chat despite the specific instructions to gather at the formal’s location
  • Strained family relationships make it hard to arrange people into the same photo, smiling and pretending to like each other. Many would even refuse to stand close to each other, not to mention to smile for the photos
  • Macro managing relatives shoving the wedding photographer aside and trying to dictate who should be or not be in the photos. Some go even further by insisting on a particular location and grouping that makes it impossible to get everyone posed
  • Missing family members who decided to visit the bar or check their Facebook news feeds right after the ceremony. Imagine the effort a photographer needs to put to get everyone to put down their phones and look into the camera
  • Various distractions in the area where the family formals are scheduled. Everyone needs to look into the camera, smile, not blink and smile. Multiple shots are required to capture everyone at their best look, which adds time to the  post-processing for downloading, culling and processing these images

So now that we know what the wedding formals are and why are they so hard to organize and capture, what can a wedding photographer do to make the process easier? I have compiled a list of 5 easy to follow steps for making the group photos part of the wedding easier:

1. List All Required Group Poses and Validate The List With The Bride:

First start with a list of poses to capture. It gives you a mental checklist to work with and to look for while photographing the wedding. I am not talking about carrying a piece of paper and checking off each pose you listed, but more like a set of images you must take. If you have photographed at least 20 weddings in the past you would know these by hearth now.

One mistake which many novice wedding photographers make is to sit down by themselves and come up with a list of images, both formal or creative. Even worst, they search online, pick a list and decide to replicate it without one VERY important consideration: Reviewing and discussing the list with the bride and groom. The key to success is to have the list reviewed by both sides (photographer and bride & groom) and agreed on before the wedding. Make sure what you are proposing and planning for would need bride’s expectations. She is your client and paying you lots of money for it.

Why it is important to review the list with the bride is two fold: First she is the one who will review the final images. Second is that she knows better if uncle Fred doesn’t get along with groom’s father and there is no way on Earth he will stand besides him on the group pictures. The bride can give you valuable insights into the family and relatives relationships, something which you might have to learn the hard way.

And while reviewing the list with the bride, ask her who are the important people she would like to see in the formal pictures. How, in her view, these people should be grouped? Listen, take notes and change the list according to her comments. Having the list of poses ahead of time and sending it to the bride and groom to review before the wedding is a great way to prepare. And lastly, don’t forget to take fun pictures as well. Many brides expect not only posed but also fun group pictures, so incorporate few of these as well. It makes the wedding guests smiling during these fun pictures and everyone looks relaxed.

2. Pick and Finalize The Formals Location With The Bride:

Having an agreement with the bride and groom on where the formal picture session would take place is a good start. If you have been on the venue before, propose few locations where you think the light conditions would be appropriate or the background would be interesting. If you have not been in the venue in the past and can visit it, do so. Being at the venue around the time you are planning to photograph the formals would get you more realistic idea of the light and shadows during that time of the day.

Be prepared with any additional lighting and have a lighting assistant if required. It’s a hectic time and having an extra helping hand is always a good idea. If you are the planning everything type of photographer, having a backup location is an excellent idea.

3. Have a Plan Of Attack:

So now that you have the list (what) and location (where) for the wedding formal photos, it’s time to think about the plan (how). You will have to work with large groups of wedding guests: bride, groom, parents, bridal party, relatives, friends. None of these people would know how you want them to pose and where to stand, so be prepared to give directions and pose everyone. Knowing how to get everyone in a line to avoid wide-angle curvature, how to prevent people casting shadows on each other, how to arrange by height starting from the middle is something you need do.

The easy way to approach this is to keep in mind who the main focal point of the formal pictures is: THE BRIDE AND THE GROOM!

So now that you know that, simply bring in and out important people into each pose. Here are few to start with:

  • Bride, Groom and One Side of the Parents
  • Bride, Groom and Other Side of the Parents
  • Bride, Groom and Groomsmen
  • Bride, Groom and Bridesmaids
  • Bride and Groomsmen
  • Bride and Bridesmaids
  • etc

Ask everyone to look into the camera and prepare to take at least two frames of each pose. People tend to blink and with 10 people in the pose, the chances are you would have someone with their eyes closed. Having second frame reduces this chance. When kids are in the picture, ask some of their parents or another adult to stand behind you and capture their attention. Then snap the photo.

4. Communication Is The Key to Success:

I think we covered all the preparation steps: what, where and how. Now is time to make all this happen. The execution phase.

I have found over the years that a good plan without an execution is simply a delusion. If one knows how to do something but fails to execute and complete it, then nothing else matters. Still a failure.

The key to perfectly executed plan during a wedding day is: COMMUNICATION!

It’s important during the planning to respond quickly to bride’s and groom’s questions and keep them informed during the booking and contract signing phase. It is no different on the wedding day. Everyone is running on their own schedule, lots of previously planned details will change in the last minutes. Keeping the flow of communication between you, your assistant, bride, groom and wedding coordinator is what will make or break a wedding day. Make sure you check how is everything going according to the plan and ask if there are any updates you should know.

Check with the wedding coordinator for any changes or if you have any questions. The other people who you should communicate with during the wedding: The Maid of Honor and Best Man, Mother of the Bride, Ceremony Officiant. They all have information about the wedding and checking with them from time to time, will help you to stay informed.

Remember that is not all about taking amazing pictures but also not missing any important moments and being prepared to adjust to all the changes on the wedding day.

5. Don’t Be a Hero, Enlist a Wedding Coordinator to Help You:

Having a wedding coordinator or bride’s friends help you during the formal pictures is a best way to distribute the load and reduce the stress on you: the photographer. You will have someone who will organize everyone for the group photos, while you will be able to focus on the posing and capturing the shots. Someone from the bride or groom family would know who to get for the pictures, how they look or even their names. You most likely, as a photographer, would not.

Whoever you have helping you can also queue the people in line and keep them engaged while you are working with the current group. Bottom line, having someone helping you for the group photos is invaluable.


No doubt wedding photographers get stressed out during the formal pictures. Dealing with group of people and directing them to do something which they not always enjoy or would like to do at the moment is not easy.

But there is no a reason to lose temper, get angry or cynical. Being professional and maintaining composure is the key. No matter how beautiful and amazing wedding pictures a photographer would take, the bride would always remember if he or she were rude with her family or friends. The image quality would be always tarnished by a not so pleasant personality. If you feel getting upset then step away, give an excuse for needing a break, breathe deep and come back ready to endure more formal pictures.

If you found this information useful  and think your friends could benefit from it, please share it by using the multiple sharing options on the bottom. Agree, disagree, have comments or feedback? Think I am missing a point or two or three? Drop me a line in the comments section and I will consider adding it (with full credit to you, of course).

About the Author:

Trifon Anguelov Photography is a premiere wedding and events photography business  based in Mountain View, CA 94040 and serving clients in San Francisco Bay Area, CA. You can read more about the author and review his portfolio on his website. For complete list of services, visit the Wedding Packages page.



Wedding Tips For Brides From a Wedding Photographer Point of View

Wedding Ceremony A wedding photographer has the advantage of attending more weddings and have experienced first hand some of the best and worst moments during a wedding than every bride or groom alone. I have been photographing many weddings as primary and as a second shooter for primary photographers to consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about the process. Over the years, I have observed and mentally recorded many of the pitfalls that a bride and a groom make while planning their weddings.

Some are simply the results of inexperience or lack of a wedding planner but other are made because not everyone considers or understands what a wedding photographer might need in order to produce great looking wedding pictures. Even small mistakes could impact the photography of your special day in a negative way.

‪This blog article is an attempt to document some of the wedding planning mistakes and provide a list of tips each bride and groom could consider while planning their wedding. This is by no means an exhaustive list of anything that should be considered or planned for but it is something which could help each couple and make their experience and wedding pictures much better.

So here is the list of things you should consider:

1. Smile Is Something That Makes Your Pictures Good:

It’s as easy as you being happy and smiling over small things that can ruin not only your wedding day but your pictures as well.  It’s the best day of your life and you most likely have been dreaming about it since you were a little girl. Your pictures will look much better if you forget about all the things that can and will go wrong on your wedding day and enjoy the moment with your future husband, family and friends. I observed that brides who are giggly and smiley and actively trying to be pleasant have more genuine and exciting pictures than perfect and model looking bride who is gloom & doom, trying to macro manage her wedding day and focused on every single task the whole day.‬

2. Be Yourself and the Real You:

Hair extensions and super long eyelashes look cool but when it gets to be too much sometimes it looks unreal and fake on your pictures. You will be pictured for generations to come and if you still would like to look real, it is a good idea to apply hair extension and eyelashes in moderation. This is actually more common than you think.‬ The wedding is about you and your groom and all guests come to your wedding because they respect you for the real person you are.

3. Make Your Getting Ready Room Comfortable:

Bringing too many people in your getting ready room might sounds like a good idea and lots of fun but it actually makes the room overcrowded and hard to work in. The photographer needs to be able to move around and capture the moments from different angles and points of view. If the room is overcrowded this is almost impossible with all the bridesmaids and other people in the room shielding the bride from all directions. If you have to invite everyone, then consider booking an over sized room so there is a room for everyone and room for the photographer to move around and take artistic images. Overcrowding and artistic, free-flowing and open spaces pictures don’t go hand to hand.

‪4. Go Easy On the Makeup:

No doubt each bride looks much better with make up than without it. You most likely would hire an experienced makeup artists and hair stylist or enlisted a relative who will put a facial makeup for you. However, it is a good idea to do a make up rehearsal before your wedding day for two reasons: First you would know how long would it actually take to get it done as you would like to and second, you will be able to see it and make any changes of the look before the wedding in case you don’t like it. As a rule of thumb: Less is Better. Ask the makeup artist not to apply way too much makeup especially an eye makeup. Highlighting the eye is perfectly fine but not when the eyes are way over emphasized and turn in to big black holes.‬

5. Consider No Pockets On Your Wedding Dress: 

No matter how trendy or unique look having pockets on your wedding dress might sound, it might not be a good idea to start with. Not that the pockets themselves are bad idea but it’s when you put your hands into these pockets and they stay there for most of the day. Let’s face it. Unless this is your third wedding or you were a wedding actress for years, you will be quite excited and may be bit nervous during your wedding. And guess what people do when they are nervous? They tend to stick their hands into their pockets and keep them there. Bride with hands into her wedding dress pockets causes the hips to look over sized on the wedding pictures simply because it adds to the body shape and form. It is also easy to cause the bride to slouch a bit which again doesn’t look very well on the wedding photos.  With no pockets, the bride will most likely reach out and hold her husband hand, touch her hair or wedding ring which is much more pleasant to capture than slouching. So day no to the option of having pockets on your wedding dress. You would appreciate it later.

‪6. Mind Your Hair Style:

Consider your hair style and how you would look at the wedding pictures is important. During the wedding ceremony, you will be on the left side of your husband and your right side of your face would be facing the guests. Many of the images of you and your husband will be taken from the guests point of view, so if you plan to have a little cute trestle of hair hanging down all on the right-hand side of your head first the guests will not be able to see your face and second all the pictures of you would have your face half covered by the hair trestle.‬

7. Tame The LED and DJ Lights Urge:

LED and DJ lights are cool and fun but they also color everyone’s faces and clothing. Photography is about capturing the light so all these lights over your dress and face will be captured and in your reception photos. There is no magic wand to take them away in post-processing. If you plan to get your reception completely dark and have lots of LED and DJ lights, be prepared to have these all over your face and dress on your wedding pictures.

‪8. Give Your Guests Some Space:

Be mindful that each venue has maximum occupancy and trying to invite as many guests as the venue’s capacity is a recipe for disaster. Getting everyone seated, serving the food, plus having your photographer and guests move around will become nightmare. If your tables and guests are packed shoulder to shoulder imaging how they would feel and how a photographer will move between the tables to photograph them.  Leaving about 25% free capacity is a good idea for not having guest’s chairs pressing back to back against each other and your guests to feel uncomfortable.‬

9. Formal Pictures Need Planning and Participation:

If you are keen on having beautifully arranged and choreographed formal photos from your wedding, please don’t plan them during the reception. I know it is tempting to save time and skip allocating formal group session for everyone and instead hoping to get group pictures during the wedding reception. It is not a good idea and here are few reasons:

  • The cocktail hour is right after your wedding ceremony and before the reception and people after having to attend a 45-60 minutes ceremony tend to get tired and what a better way to calm down their nerves and reduce their stress level than heading down to the bar and have a drink or two, may be three. So if you postpone the group pictures to after the cocktail hour and during the reception, most of the gusts a photographer has to photograph would be half-drunk, looking tired and all sweaty.
  • Imagine having to gather 15 or so people around the reception area. All of these people have to put down their cocktails, appetizers and interrupt their conversations only to have a group photo. No wonder most of the people attending group photo session during the reception look very unhappy or with grossly fake smiles. Do everyone a favor and time the formals accordingly.
  • The task to locate and bring all the family members into the formal photo area is a is chore on its own. Instead of taking the formal pictures right after the ceremony (as I recommend and strongly suggest you to consider), you or your wedding coordinator now have to chase everyone around the reception hall and bring them for the formals.
  • Imagine the level of noise and distractions in the reception hall. You will expect everyone in the formal pictures to look into the camera and smile while there are noises from all the loud conversations and funny faces bystanders or family members would make to each other. What usually happens is that no one looks at the camera and the formal pictures end up as a complete disaster

The solution to all these problems is to plan to have everyone you wish to be into the formals pictures for your wedding, stay in the formals area and have these photos taken right after the ceremony (with a gap of 10 minutes allowing anyone to visit the restroom or catch their breath after your 45 minutes ceremony). For more information on the wedding group pictures, you can read this article: Wedding Photography Styles Explained

‪10. Know Your Wedding Party Mix:

No one knows your wedding party than you and your groom, and maybe the both sides of the parents. If most of the people invited on your wedding party, don’t like or usually dance on family events, investing lots of money in huge dance hall and DJ, might not be a great idea. Could be that other activities on your wedding would make more sense and would let them enjoy your wedding more: cigar bar, photo booth or photo wall, setting up Guitar Hero on a projector, etc.  Not every wedding party will rock the dance floor and if people are mostly sitting around while you and your groom are trying to get them to dance, you would feel awkward after a while, wouldn’t you?  Accept that you cannot change the wedding party, access their interests accurately and plan your wedding party accordingly.

11. Leave The Posing and Photographing to Your Photographer:

Trying to dictate what makes a good photo or not is not always a good idea.  A professional photographer has years of training and experience or posing people and creating good compositions at every situation and location. He is being paid to know how and where to pose you and your party, so: Trust him or her to do the right thing. If he or she doesn’t, then you have a wedding photography contract to protect you from missed or not well posed pictures. Many times as a photographer I have been told, “Taking our images at this beautiful rose garden at noon would look great” or “This old gazebo would look great in our pictures” However all the beautiful colors a bride see would look wash off at noon time simply because the light is way too harsh. It’s the sunlight and harsh shadows which will not make this a good idea. And yes, the gazebo in the middle of a parking lot filled with cars and surrounded by an office buildings would be a distraction for whoever latter looks at your photos.  You hired a professional photographer for their experience and skills. Trust your photographer and you would appreciate it later.   ‬

12. Bridesmaids Are Fun But Not Always a Helpful Bunch:

Don’t over relay your bridesmaids to help you during the day. Best idea is to get planning coordinator or assistant. If you cannot afford one, ask your siblings or immediate family to help you with this. Keep in mind that your bridesmaids will be too busy having fun, and getting themselves ready, than to really focus on helping you out with getting ready. Sure, when things fall apart, they will move the Earth to try to get your wedding on track…  but by the time it has gotten to the point that they notice things aren’t going perfectly for the bride… it might be already too late. You will be frustrated, behind schedule and who needs that on a busy wedding day anyway?

13. Plan a Buffer Time Between Your Venues:

A wedding happens on multiple locations (venues) and you and your family, friends and guests will move from a location to location. It’s best to plan a time gaps between these location to allow your photographer to prepare for each venue. To transition from a dark and in most cases no flash photography churches, synagogues or mosques to bright sunlight outdoors for after the ceremony pictures, requires time for the photographer to adjust. The same when you enter the dark and cramped limo to take you to the reception venue. Grand entry, first dance, etc. Work with you wedding planner to add small gaps of 10 minutes between venues to allow ample preparation time.  It will mean day and night difference and allow light stands and additional flashes or strobes to be setup and ready for you when you arrive.

‪14. Keep Your Photographer Informed:

On your wedding day you will be surrounded by vendors who you personally interviewed, got to know and trusted to do the services you expect from them. Plans can change and this is OK. If you or your wedding planner decided to do something in the last moment, please consider letting your photographer know.  Most likely you would expect to have pictures of this surprise or new additional event to your wedding. An experienced photographer will know how to handle even little things like running super fast into the hall during the grand entrance and trying to get the wave going.  Giving heads up to your photographer even if this is a 5 minutes of lead time would mean he or she is prepared and will capture the moment. By no means is this an ask not to be spontaneous.‬ Just a communication and giving heads up to others so they are ready to take the images of it.

‪15. You, Adequate Time and a Photographer Result In Great Pictures:

Allocate time to your photographer as you do for your guests, fun and party. When a photographer ask you: “There is a beautiful light right now. Can I borrow you and your groom for 15 minutes? It will be well worth it” trust him or her and find time away from your party. Photographers rather have multiple 15-20 minute chunks of time spread throughout the day (especially some time around dusk when the light is soft and pleasing) than a one large chunk of 2 hours at 12pm or 2pm in one location.‬

16. Prioritize Your Wedding Time:

Consider how much time you wish to allocate for pictures and how much for the rest of the wedding day activities or your guests. If you wish to have pictures of every single moment of your wedding and expect these moments to be carefully choreographed and executed, you need to allocate time, energy and patience for it. This will mean your wedding would be like a modeling photo shoot and your wedding photographer will be on the front stage of everything you do. However if you expect your wedding photographer to simply document the real moments of the day and how all of your guests where there to celebrate your love and passion to your husband, then you might want to discuss this with your photographer and plan accordingly. This would mean less formal and posed images and more candid and genuine moments captured in your photos.‬ For more on how much photography time is required during each stage of your wedding day you can read this article: How To Prepare For Your Wedding Day

‪17. Trust Your Vendors:  

On your wedding day trust your vendors and the advise they are providing.  If you did your research right and hired the competent people, why not allow them to do their job.  Sure they have much more experience performing multiple weddings in the last while this is your first wedding most likely.  So, kick back, enjoy your day and let your year worth of planning come to fruition… Don’t drive everyone crazy by trying to micromanage them and impose your own view, which might not be always the right one.


I hope you found these tips useful and easy to understand. If you appreciate the insights and think this information might be useful to anyone who is planning or might plan their wedding in the future, please share it by using the multiple sharing options on the bottom. As many people learn about these tips and consider them, everyone’s wedding images would be better eventually.

Agree, disagree, have comments or feedback? Think I am missing a point or two or three? Drop me a line in the comments section and I will consider adding it (with full credit to you, of course).

About the Author:

Trifon Anguelov Photography is a Premiere Bay Area Wedding and Events Photography business  based in Mountain View, CA 94040. He has been serving clients in San Francisco Bay Area since 2010. You can follow him on social media (links in the top right sideblock of this blog) or check his latest photography projects on his Wedding and Portrait Photography Site