Build Your Wedding Formal Portrait List

Every photographer will want a list from couples detailing their formal shot list. This avoids the chance an important photo will be missed and time being wasted deciding which photos to take. Having a formal shot list also make it easier to tell relatives who want to keep adding more photos in “no.” (And you likely already know who in your family I am talking about!)

I send my clients a questionnaire with check boxes they can select from. This is such an important part of wedding planning. Not only does the length of your list impact your timeline, this list determines who your VIP guests are. I also ask for the names of immediate family and wedding party so I can customize the list. (However, some clients send in a personalized list.)


This is the standard list I have on my questionnaire. (I also have same-sex ones as well, and can customize to the terms you are using) At a minimum, I highly recommend doing:

  • both immediate families with the couple
  • the wedding party (if applicable)
  • couple with all parents
  • couple alone

Permutations are up to you. Speak with your family members about which photos they want the most.

  • Bride and groom
  • Bride with mother
  • Bride with father
  • Bride with siblings
  • Bride alone
  • Groom alone
  • Groom with mother
  • Groom with father
  • Groom with siblings
  • Bride’s parents with the bride and groom
  • Groom’s parents with the bride and groom
  • Bride’s family with the bride and groom
  • Groom’s family with the bride and groom
  • Entire wedding party with the bride and groom
  • Bride’s siblings with the bride and groom
  • Groom’s siblings with the bride and groom
  • Bride and groom with grandparents
  • Bridesmaids with bride
  • Groomsmen with groom
  • Individual bridesmaids with bride
  • Individual groomsmen with groom
  • Bride and groom with both sets of parents
  • Bride and groom with bride’s siblings
  • Bride and groom with groom’s siblings
  • Bride and groom with groom’s extended family
  • Bride and groom with bride’s extended family

Grandparents and Elderly Relatives

If your grandparents are able, I suggest they take formal photos with the rest of the family either before or after the ceremony. Older relatives may need chairs or other considerations, for instance, like going first if they can’t stand or wait long. With mobility or other issues, make sure to tell your photographer and have the grandparents be photographed first. If they can’t make the formal photos, there is no reason not to take photos at another time like during the reception

Divorced Parents

When dealing with divorced parents, it is best to determine what your family wants to do in advance. Some parents are happy to be photographed together, others not. Additionally, some have remarried and want photos with their current spouses, stepchildren, etc. I’m happy to take any groupings you come up with. However, I suggest getting your photographer the list a few weeks in advance so there isn’t any confusion or hurt feelings the day of.

Significant Others

If you have siblings or parents with significant others who aren’t yet married into the family, you will need to decide how to handle this ahead of time. In addition, if you aren’t sure, you can take some with these persons and some without.


Typically formal photos are taken either before the ceremony or during cocktail hour. Some can be taken just after getting ready if you aren’t seeing each other before. (This will save time during cocktail hour.) If you want a lot of formal photos, I highly suggest doing a first look and taking them before. The other option would be to extend cocktail hour. Plan on devoting at least 30 minutes to 1½ hours to taking your formal photos. Never leave these images to the end of the evening.

Read my article on timeline here.

Extended Family

Weddings are a rare opportunity for many families to be together in one place. Therefore, it can also be a good time for a group photo or extended-family photos, if that is something that is meaningful to you. Provide your photographer with the number of guests in each photo.

Some examples include:

  • School groups (high school, college, etc)
  • Extended family variations
  • Sorority or fraternity
  • Entire wedding

I usually recommend doing extended family photos before the wedding ceremony or during cocktail hour. However, it may work during a bank break. Same with groups of friends. In addition, I recommend doing these during the reception on the dance floor. They can be large and a DJ or MC can be helpful in calling everyone together.

Entire wedding photos are the most difficult and may not be possible or may be too time-consuming. As a result, this will work better at some venues than others.

Where to Take Your Wedding Formals

In general, I suggest taking these photos at your venue or house of worship. (The less complicated, the better!) If your group is small, you can be more flexible. With larger groups, you will need to consider transportation if selecting another location and leave ample time.