Whether you choose to do you your formal photographs prior to the ceremony or immediately afterwards, you'll find that these formal group photographs will become some of your most treasured memories in years to come. How your photographer organizes these groupings will have a great effect on the outcome of these photographs. There are a number of different philosophies when it comes to photographing families, bridesmaids and ushers and the biggest obstacle facing you and your photographer are the time constraints which are an unfortunate part of the wedding day.
This is where having a gameplan will be of great benefit. It has been my experience that a "formals" session will typically last anywhere between forty minutes and one hour. Clock-watching becomes a necessity because everyone involved in your wedding day has a job to do, and running late is never a good idea. Your function director will generally have a pretty tight timeline regarding seating your guests and getting dinner on the table. Timely completion of your formal photography session may prevent the burning of 250 plates of Chicken Cordon Bleu, and there's nothing worse than dry, overdone chicken!
I like to start a photography session with the largest groups first. If you have a sizable wedding party they'll appreciate the fact that you've completed their photographs and now they can go enjoy a cocktail and some hor's doerves. Next I like to photograph the bride's family and the groom's, followed by any aunts, uncles, cousins and special requests. Finally, I can concentrate on the Bride and Groom and give them the attention they deserve without worrying about the "next" shot we'll need to take. At this point everyone is ready to be introduced into the reception hall, with nothing but free-flowing candid coverage for the remainder of the day.
If formal photographs are important to you, (and why wouldn't they be) I strongly suggest that you create a list of the formal groupings that you wouldn't want to miss. On such a busy and exciting day you're likely to forget a grouping or two, and you certainly can't hold your photographer responsible for missing a family photo if you never told him to take it! My photography assistant plays the role of "second-string quarterback", holding the clipboard containing the shot list and checking them off as we go. Another tip is to let those folks who you'd like involved in photographs know in advance that they'll be needed. Remember, you may have less than one hour to get this done. You don't have time to track people down and get them to the photography area.
Another possibility which works for some couples is to complete the formal photographs prior to the ceremony. I know some of you are cringing at the thought of breaking with tradition, but if you analyze the advantages you may find that this is an option worth considering. Obviously, a pre-ceremony photo session isn't possible in all cases, but works particularly well when the ceremony and reception are taking place at the same venue. I'll simply have the key parties arrive about one and a half hours prior to the start of the ceremony and then go through the groupings in much the same way as described above. The advantages here are obvious: Time restrictions have been eliminated, cocktail hour can now be enjoyed by everyone, including the bride and groom and best of all, no burnt chicken!
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