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1090 Clark Avenue, Mountain View, CA 94040 | (650) 930-0743 | http://www.trifonanguelov.com


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8 Tips for Photographing Wedding Formals


Bridal Formal Portrait at Rengstorff House, Mountain View, CA

Formal Wedding Portrait at Rengstorff House, Shoreline Park, mountain View, CA

Anyone who has been on a wedding knows that right after the wedding ceremony, it is time for the wedding formals (or group pictures). And guess what: this is not what everyone is looking for. Including many wedding photographers who actually dread the formals. The reason: Posing and getting everyone ready for these photos is not an easy task.

I have already written a full tutorial on How To Photograph Wedding Formals which I hope contains many of the preparation steps a wedding photographer can consider. This guide has some additional tips and gotchas on how to make the process of taking group pictures easier and less stressful.

These are by no means all the points that a wedding photographer should consider but in my view and the most important and useful I have found to work for me. Feel free to share your comments or feedback in the Comments section below.

So here are 8 tips to help a wedding photographer take the formal photos in less time and with better success.

1. Let Your Clients Pick and Confirm the Shots List:

Many wedding photographers have a list of shots they must take during the formals. In many cases the bride has her own list as well (more on: How To Deal With Bride’s List of Wedding Images). So which one to use?
I have found that letting the bride and groom decide on the images is a great idea. First, they best know the group images they would like to have in their album. And second, letting them pick the group images instead of taking a “cookie cutter” approach is simply a matter of listening to client’s needs. No matter if there are just few or lots more formal images to take. After all, it is their own wedding and they are paying for it.

2. Control Your Own Fate:

Another good idea for the wedding formals is to find and pick the location for the wedding formals instead of relaying on the bride or groom to pick one for you. First, you as a wedding photographer would have more experience and knowledge on which location (background, light, composition) works best. So go ahead and put this knowledge to use rather than having to explain to your clients why the location they picked doesn’t work. It might sound to the couple like you are making an excuses not to shoot at their location.
Second, wedding photographers are paid to guide the clients on what’s best for their pictures. So take charge and be in control. You would have much better light and photos when selecting the formal’s location by yourself.
Wedding Ceremony at Corinthian Event Center in San Jose, CA

Wedding Ceremony at Corinthian Event Center in San Jose, CA

3. Eliminate Eye Blinks:

When photographing large groups of people, the inevitable happens: Someone would always have their eyes closed or look on the side (away from looking into the camera). Well this makes the whole group photo not as good as when everyone’s eyes are properly aligned towards the direction intended.
So what most wedding photographers do in this case is: taking multiple shots from the same pose.Well, while this is good approach and works, there is a drawback. All these extra images need to be downloaded, reviewed and culled latter which means extra post-processing time. Taking multiple images also drains power from the flashes or strobes batteries (if such are used for the formals), not to mention space on the memory cards and wear the camera shutter.
So what to so? The solution is simple. Get everyone to close their eyes and open them on a count of three. Then take the shot just after counting to three. You will never get closed eyes that way and can quickly go through the group photos in less time and with less effort.

4. Use The Allocated Time Wisely:

One approach many wedding photographers take is to work through a list and sequence of formal shots. This is the most common way because it is easy for the wedding photographer to keep track of the shots that needs and were taken. It’s a shots sequence to works through.
For example many start with bride, groom and both sides of the parents. Then with one side of the parents. Then bring bridesmaids with the bride. Than bridesmaids with the groom, etc. While doing so, they expect the people required for the shot to be available and if not, they wait for them to come over. Well this approach means valuable time is wasted. Waiting on people to show up is the most challenging but if someone is not there.
More efficient approach is to look around and shoot the formal photos with whoever is available. This way no time is wasted to wait for people to show up and while they are coming up to the formal location, photos are still taken. Of course, this requires the wedding photographer to keep track of the shots taken and make sure he or she doesn’t miss any.
One last thing to help you use your time wisely: If you have an assistant, use it to bring guests to the formals. Enlisting random people who have other things to do can slow you down. I you don’t have an assistant, ask in advance for one uncle or aunt from each side of the family to help find and arrange people.
Groom and Groomsmen on Catholic Wedding Ceremony in St. Cecilia Church in San Francisco, CA

Groom and Groomsmen on Catholic Wedding Ceremony in St. Cecilia Church in San Francisco, CA

5. Tripod To The Rescue:

I know. Tripods are just another think to remember to bring, to set up and getting ready to use things but it is very helpful to have one for the formals. Why?
Few reasons:
  • A tripod really helps keep people out of your space.
  • In low light conditions (churches, pass sunset, shady areas) it would allow you to use slower shutter speed with the larger apertures required for the formals (f/5.6 -f/ 8)
 So, if you still don’t have one, consider buying a good quality and solid one. There are so many carbon fiber tripods which might cost you money but would make your formal pictures so much sharper.

6. Stool or Step Ladder:

For working with large groups (30 or more people), what is going to happen is that you will have to arrange them into rows in order to be able to capture them all. The most correct way to arrange such large groups is to put the tallest people in the group in the further away from the camera rows while the not so tall in the front.
However, even with this approach and when there is no way to put each row on a different level (stairs for example), the people in the back rows would always be blocked by the one on the front. One way to deal with this is to bring and use small stool or step-ladder. Bringing your camera and point of view higher would allow you to capture everyone’s face not matter in which rows they are positioned.

7. Use Ultra Wide Lenses:

On a full frame sensor camera And yes, having ultra-wide lenses. For Canon shooter this would mean 16-35mm f/2.8 or 17-40mm f/4 or 14mm f/1.4 . Frame wider and plan to crop later instead of trying to compose very tight in the camera.
The reason is that first you would need to straighten and align the final images so some cropping would be required just to get the image aligned. If you compose too tight, you would have to crop someone’s feet.
Plus on an ultra wide angles there is a distortion at the edges which means, any person who is on the very left of right ride of the frames would have his face and body bloated out and distorted. If you crop wider the last person’s distortion would be less and you can then crop out the excessive space around and have less distortion. Believe me, this makes perfect sense once you known it, but not that obvious at first.

8. Get Your Equipment Ready:

If you would need an artificial lighting as strobes or flashes with diffuser, it is a great idea to get these ready before the formals. Setting up the light stand, mounting the flashes or strobes, putting the diffuser and triggers (testing the triggering is highly recommended) would save you time when the group is ready for pictures. Not to mention that you would look like a pro having everything ready. no body likes to wait for the photographer to tinker with their gear and check things.
Bride & Groom Formal Wedding Photo at Saint Cecilia Catholic Church in San Francisco, CA

Bride & Groom Formal Wedding Photo at Saint Cecilia Catholic Church in San Francisco, CA

Conclusion:

Group pictures (formals) are required on all weddings nowadays. Preparation is required in order to make the posing and picture-taking process easy and less stressful. The simple tips outlined above and the preparation tutorial are just two of the resources to help the wedding photographers. I hope these are helpful and you found them informative.

Feel free to share with fellow wedding photographers or anyone who can benefit from it. We all can be better photographers and make our clients happier, if we all are better prepared. If you have any other experiences or tips, feel free to leave a comment in the comments section.

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 and to book your wedding, visit his Wedding Packages page.

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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.

Conclusion:

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.