Formal Shot List

Formal Shot Lists: A How-To Guide


Your wedding day is fast approaching, and you're humming along, taking care of all the final details leading up to the big day. Go you! But now you're staring at your to-do list and you see an item you've been skipping over for the last few days (okay, weeks); The formal shot list. 

What is a formal shot list? It's a list of must-have formal (i.e. posed) photos to be taken with your family and wedding party either immediately before, or immediately after, the ceremony. (I vote for before, in case you're wondering.) 

You've been putting it off in part because you're just not sure what to include! You know you don't want to be taking formal photos for forever, but you also don't want to miss anything important. 

First, let's dispel a few myths about formal photos, then we'll get into the meat and potatoes (or tofu and potatoes, for my fellow vegetarian friends) of how to craft the perfect formal shot list! 


Myth #1: You should always include extended family in your formal shot list.

Reality: The reality is that most formal shot lists only need to include your immediate family (parents, siblings, nieces, & nephews) and any living grandparents or godparents. The larger the group of people, the tinier the faces are in the photos, the more likely it is that someone (or multiple someones) will be blinking, the longer the photos take, and the likelier it is that folks will be cranky when they're done (or before they're done in some cases, *ahem* Uncle Joe *cough cough*).

What You Can Do: You can choose to only include your immediate family and any living grandparents or godparents, as well as your officiant, in your formal photos, and rely on capturing fun, candid, and real moments of your extended family throughout the reception. This helps formal photos go by quickly, and makes sure your time is spent connecting with people, instead of standing in a line not talking to them! 


Myth #2: The family who are in pictures will know that they're supposed to be in pictures. 

Reality: Sadly this is just not accurate (and we really wish it were!). Other than perhaps your parents, the rest of your family will have no idea if they're supposed to be in pictures or not. They also will not know when to show up for pictures, and even if they do, not all of them will be on time. 

What You Can Do: To make sure everyone is on the same page, email or message your formal shot list to all family members who will be taking part. Let them know where they should meet for formal photos, and tell them to arrive 15 minutes before the photo start time to give yourself some wiggle room. 


Myth #3: Formal Photos are boring. 

Reality: Okay, this one has a kernel of truth, because, let's face it, a lot of times formal photos can be a little boring. But they don't have to be! A lot of this depends on what's important to you during formal photos, the number of photos you need to get through, and the number of people in the photos. The smaller the number of people (immediate family, grandparents, godparents, and officiant only for instance) the more time you'll have to get a little creative! 

What You Can Do: The easiest way to shake things up a bit is to do something fun with your wedding party photos! Consider other locations within easy driving or walking distance (notable places nearby make for great photo opportunities!) If you have immediate family members (or grandparents and godparents) who have mobility issues, or families with young children who would have a hard time traveling to other locations for photos, consider doing your family photos before the wedding party photos so that once your family members are done, they can rest, take a break, or just head to their next destination a little early! Then get the rest of the gang to a fun spot to hang out, and take some more candid photos, like at a local pub for a round of drinks, a favorite hangout spot for coffee, or an iconic spot nearby (Capitol Building or Memorial Union Terrace in Madison, anyone?) 


Okay, now that we've dispelled a few common formal shot list myths, let's talk about how to build your own wedding formal shot list! 

  • First, look at what formal photos will be most important to you, and who should be in them
    • Tip: Consider limiting your formal shot list to immediate family, grandparents, godparents, and officiant to allow for more time in your day, and less cranky extended families being kept from appetizers! 
  • Once you have your list of people, type up your list of photos, making sure to list each person by name, and how they're related to you
    • Example:
      • Bride, Groom with Jake & Sara (Bride's Parents) and Emily (Bride's Sister)
      • Bride, Groom with Jake & Sara (Bride's Parents)
      • Bride, Groom with both sets of parents
      • Bride, Groom with Bill & Anne (Groom's Parents) 
      • Bride, Groom with Bill & Anne (Groom's Parents) and John & Tara (Groom's Siblings)
  • Once you have your list of photos, try rearranging them in order of most number of people to least number of people (first on your side, then on your partner's side, or vice versa) so that folks who are only in one or two photos can be done sooner 
  • Consider where you would like the photos to be taken (and when!) 
    • Tip: Busy backgrounds can detract from formal images, so think of places where there can be an unobtrusive background (such as a row of evergreens, the front of a church, in front of an autumn field)
    • Tip: If you will have more than 10-12 people in a single photo, it's good to also look for places that have stairs so that folks can be staggered for the photo! 
  • Consider if you would like to go to any additional locations with you and your partner or your whole wedding party! This can be a super fun way to get in some non-traditional pictures with your closest friends and best wedding-day cheerleaders! 
  • Share the list with your photographer first to see if they have any suggestions or input
  • Once you've chosen a place and time for your formal photos (and any wedding party photos taking place at a different location) and run that list by your photographer, make sure to communicate that info clearly (and often!) with the necessary family members and wedding party members so that things go smoothly on the big day! 

I hope this helps demystify formal shot lists, and helps give you the confidence you need to craft yours to be exactly what you want it to be, and still have time to do all the fun things on your wedding day!

-- Sam