When I make photographs of a wedding day, i typically divide those photographs into six different categories: Details, Preparations, Portraits, Ceremony, Formals, and Reception. Not every photograph will fit neatly into one of those categories (behind the scenes, bloopers, bad shots, etc.), but it is close enough to make it easy to arrange the photographs of your day. When most people think about wedding photography they usually have one of two ideas, or maybe both: Portraits, those lovely, emotion filled photographs of the bride or groom or both in ideal settings with beautiful lighting and posing, or Formals, the photos of immediate family, extended family, close friends, and the wedding party.
I want to focus on the Formal photographs (see what I did right there?). Formals are the one part of the wedding that many photographers dislike, and for the life of me I cannot understand why. I think that Formals are one of the most fun times of the day. Is it the most organized time of the day? Well, certainly not, but that is part of the fun of it all.
Formals are the point in the day where I get to see the true personality of the bride and groom as they deal with their loved ones. It usually ends up in hilarity of one sort or another. Many photographers complain about it being stressful, but I don’t see that. Watching family members try to corral wayward and socializing relatives for pictures is entertainment in and of itself. Not to mention trying to get the adults to keep looking at the camera while I try to get 7 toddlers to do the same.
Here is my approach to Formals: First, and most importantly, have a plan. My brides and grooms sit with me and make a list of exactly who will be included in the Formal photographs. At the end of this planning we know exactly how many groupings / photographs there will be and exactly who will be in each group. By doing this initial step I can then arrange the groupings for effective flow of people. I generally start with the biggest grouping and then remove people as needed; this way we can catch everyone right after the ceremony with one announcement and not have to go search for great uncle Charlie who is looking for the food line or sister Hilda who is off flirting with the caterer. I usually ask for an outspoken family member to help during this time, and my assistant is the one getting the next group ready as I photograph another.
As for the setting of Formals, I try to do something a little unconventional. The shots taken at the altar of the church are standard, but I like to go beyond standard if possible. At a recent wedding I did quite the opposite: I stood at the altar and placed the family in the aisle of the church; primarily so I could take advantage of the beautiful stained glass window at the back of the auditorium.
A garden in the spring is the perfect setting for Formals provided the weather, particularly the wind, cooperates. Even a stand of trees makes for a beautiful backdrop for Formal groupings.
A house with great architecture is a treasure trove of posing possibilities.
And let’s not forget the steps of the Senate Chamber as a palace of marble. What could be more fitting for Formals?
Another thing to expect at this time is multiple photographs. You can expect me to make at least 3-6 photographs of each grouping, if not more. I will take a minimum of three quick shots of each grouping for the security of having everyone’s eyes open at least once. It never fails that someone is going to blink, or heaven forbid, half-blink and look like they are drunk. If I take 3 photographs in succession I will always get everyone’s eyes open in at least one of them. Should I get three photographs and a different person blinks in each one of them, I can then “swap heads” in Photoshop if needed. Not my favorite thing to do, but it can be done. If the groupings permit I will also make the photographs in both camera orientations: landscape (wide photographs – the way most people hold a camera) and portrait (when I turn the camera sideways and the photograph is taller than it is wide). Sometimes a photograph will look better in one orientation than the other, and sometimes I need a different shape photograph for the wedding album.
Let’s have fun with the Formals. After all, isn’t this a day you celebrate with close friends and family? Then enjoy the time together with them and let me (and my assistant) make Formals a time to relax, have some fun, and create great memories of your wedding day.