Hi there! Welcome to the Heather Marie Journal. Here you can find my most recent shoots all the way to different highlights throughout my life.


More Categories





tips for the brides

find me elsewhere:

Browse Posts


Browse Posts



Browse Posts


3 Tips for Stress-Free Family Formals

Mar 23, 2021

One of the biggest worries my couples have on their wedding day is how to have stress-free family formals. Either family members don’t listen, or people don’t like each other, and it turns out to be a stressful situation trying to get through all of the different combinations. Through the years, I have created a system with my couples that allows family formal portraits to breeze along and allows the bride to enjoy the time with her family. Instead of wishing for it to be done!

Family formals can be a headache, but here are 3 tips for stress-free family formals.

family formal of husband and wife with their parents in front of willow tree at the Barn at Silverstone

1. Work with photographer to lay out combinations beforehand.

Your photographer has done numerous family formal portraits, so reach out to them and work together to create a family formal list. For my couples, about thirty days prior to the wedding day, I send out a wedding day questionnaire. One of the sections in there is all about their family formals. It asks them who are all the people they want in their family formals, their names, and their relations to the bride and groom. From there, I lay out all the different combinations I usually do with the family members they have listed, and send it over to my couple to review and make any necessary tweaks.

Not only does this allow the couple to know exactly who they need to touch base with about the timeline, but it is a huge lifesaver for the couple on the wedding day.

With a list already pre-made, the photographer can easily run down through the list and quickly switch from one combo to the next. Also, if you have a member of your family that loves to add tons of combinations to any family portrait session, this list allows the photographer to step in as a “body guard” so that when that family member tries to add combinations, the photographer can say that the timeline was only planned long enough to get this list of photos in but any additional ones can be taking during the reception time. It allows the photographer to buffer any of those tough situations with family members, so you can truly enjoy that time with your family.
family formals in front of white barn at Lakefield Weddings

2. Do big parties first.

This is a huge tip for saving time! The more people that are around, the more chatting that happens which means the more unfocused everyone is to get through the photos. So, plan it out to do your biggest combinations first, typically the ones with aunts and uncles. Once that big combination is complete, all the people who were only needed in that large family photo are able to leave and head to cocktail hour. Those family members will love you because they can go grab a drink or food and relax right away, and you will be happy because people will be able to stay focused for the remaining combos!

Extended family formal in front of willow tree

3. Do them immediately after ceremony.

My last tip is one of my favorites! Picture this, the ceremony just ended and you have to do bridal party photos and family formals before you can join cocktail hour. You decide to do bridal party photos first. By the time you get back to the ceremony location for the family formals, only a few family members are there. The rest decided to go grab and drink or go to the bathroom and then got caught up talking to someone and forgot they were needed for pictures. So you or your mom or photographer are forced to run through the cocktail hour area hunting down each remaining family member.

Not only does this cause extra time to be taken up, but it also causes unneeded stress on your wedding day.

There is an easy fix to eliminating this headache. Write up your timeline for the day so that the family formals occur right after the ceremony. This allows the family members to easily be rounded up, and your photographer is able to instantly jump into the family formal list. Once it is finished, the family members can head to cocktail hour and don’t have to worry about being pulled away for any reason. Bonus tip: Have your officiant remind everyone at the end of the ceremony that if they are a family member needed for photos to stay at the ceremony location after the recessional.

That insures no one decides to wander over to the cocktail hour location.

You may be wondering, won’t you have to do the same thing with all the bridal party members then? The easy answer is no. For two reasons. First, often times, bridal party members are in the family, so they will already be needed for the family formals. Second, when each of those people agreed to be in your bridal party, they also agreed to all the photos that would be involved. So you are able to tell them to just stay at the ceremony location for the family formal duration and hang out, and then they will all be in one place to go straight into bridal party portraits.
If you are able to follow these three tips, you should have stress-free family formals on your wedding day. Potentially even get them done earlier than planned and have a bit more time at the cocktail hour to see all your friends and family. Either way, remember this: if something gets off track, it’s okay. Try to go-with-the-flow and enjoy every moment of the day. Let your photographer and planner be the one to worry about the timeline. All you need to worry about is remembering as many moments of the day as you can.

XOXO ~ Heather Marie

family formal of three generations of women in family in front of brick house


Looking for more helpful tips?  Check out these recent blog posts:

When to Schedule Your Engagement Session

Wedding Day Timeline Tips


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Photographer, go-getter, and ice cream lover
Based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania