Stress-Free Family Formal Wedding Photos: The Ultimate Guide for Wisconsin Brides & Planners

Stress-Free Family Formal Wedding Photos

Planning a wedding is filled with unforgettable moments, and capturing family formal photos is a crucial part of the day. For Wisconsin brides, especially those in Central Wisconsin with large extended families, efficiency is key to enjoying every moment. James Stokes Photography understands the unique challenges faced by brides in this region, where Polish-German Catholic communities often have numerous first and second cousins. Crafting a comprehensive guide tailored to Wisconsin brides, we emphasize the importance of detailed shot lists and clear communication. This approach ensures that every cherished relative is included, and the photo session proceeds smoothly, allowing you to fully savor your special day.

Importance of Family Formal Photos

The moments immediately following your ceremony are filled with excitement and emotion, making it the perfect time to capture family formal shots. These photos not only document cherished memories but also include loved ones who have come to celebrate your union.

Customized Shot List

Our expertly designed shot list ensures that every important combination is captured efficiently, allowing you to move seamlessly from one group to the next. Here’s a breakdown of the essential shots to consider:


1. Both Families Together

  • Bride & Groom with Both Families Together

2. Bride’s Entire Family

  • Bride & Groom with Bride’s Entire Family

3. Groom’s Entire Family

  • Bride & Groom with Groom’s Entire Family

4. Extended Family

  1. Bride & Groom with Bride’s Grandparents
  2. Bride & Groom with Groom’s Grandparents
  3. Bride & Groom with Both Sets of Grandparents
  4. Bride & Groom with Bride’s Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins
  5. Bride & Groom with Groom’s Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins

5. Immediate Family

  1. Bride & Groom with Bride’s Parents
  2. Bride & Groom with Groom’s Parents
  3. Bride & Groom with Both Sets of Parents
  4. Bride & Groom with Bride’s Siblings
  5. Bride & Groom with Groom’s Siblings
  6. Bride & Groom with Both Sets of Siblings

6. Parents Only

  1. Bride with Her Parents
  2. Groom with His Parents
  3. Bride with Her Mother
  4. Bride with Her Father
  5. Groom with His Mother
  6. Groom with His Father

7. Siblings Only

  1. Bride with Her Siblings
  2. Groom with His Siblings

8. Grandparents

  1. Bride with Her Grandparents
  2. Groom with His Grandparents

9. Special Combinations

  1. Bride with Maid of Honor
  2. Groom with Best Man
  3. Bride with Bridesmaids
  4. Groom with Groomsmen
  5. Bride & Groom with Flower Girl and Ring Bearer

10. Any Additional Specific Requests

  1. Special Friend Groups
  2. Family Members with Significant Others (if applicable)

Tips for Efficiency

  • Assign a Coordinator: Have a trusted family member or friend help gather the right people for each shot.
  • Pre-Inform Family: Ensure family members know where and when they need to be ready for photos.
  • Have a Clear Timeline: Allocate sufficient time in the wedding day schedule for these photos.

This order ensures that you start with the largest group shots and systematically narrow down, dismissing people as they are no longer needed, making the process smooth and efficient.

To ensure a smooth and efficient process for capturing formal wedding photos, it’s essential to create a detailed shot list that includes both first and last names, titles (e.g., Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc.), and their relationship to the bride or groom. This specificity helps the photographer identify individuals quickly and accurately. Additionally, inform all guests who are required for photos about their scheduled time well in advance, so they can be prepared and present when needed. Starting with special groupings of friends at the very beginning of the photo session is a great strategy, allowing them to participate quickly and then proceed to the cocktail hour or other festivities without delay. This organized approach minimizes confusion and ensures that all desired photos are captured efficiently, allowing everyone to enjoy the celebration without unnecessary interruptions.

Example Shot List with Names, Titles, and Relationships

  1. Bride & Groom with Both Families Together
    • Mr. John Smith (Bride’s Father)
    • Mrs. Jane Smith (Bride’s Mother)
    • Mr. Robert Johnson (Groom’s Father)
    • Mrs. Emily Johnson (Groom’s Mother)
    • Miss Sarah Smith (Bride’s Sister)
    • Mr. Michael Johnson (Groom’s Brother)
  2. Bride & Groom with Bride’s Entire Family
    • Mr. John Smith (Bride’s Father)
    • Mrs. Jane Smith (Bride’s Mother)
    • Miss Sarah Smith (Bride’s Sister)
    • Mr. David Smith (Bride’s Brother)
    • Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Bride’s Grandparents)
  3. Bride & Groom with Groom’s Entire Family
    • Mr. Robert Johnson (Groom’s Father)
    • Mrs. Emily Johnson (Groom’s Mother)
    • Mr. Michael Johnson (Groom’s Brother)
    • Ms. Jessica Johnson (Groom’s Sister)
    • Mr. and Mrs. Johnson (Groom’s Grandparents)
  4. Bride & Groom with Bride’s Friends
    • Ms. Anna Brown (Bride’s Friend)
    • Mr. Mark Davis (Bride’s Friend)
    • Ms. Laura White (Bride’s Friend)
  5. Bride & Groom with Groom’s Friends
    • Mr. James Wilson (Groom’s Friend)
    • Mr. Daniel Thompson (Groom’s Friend)
    • Ms. Emma Garcia (Groom’s Friend)

By including these details, the photographer can efficiently manage the photo session, and all participants can enjoy the wedding festivities without unnecessary delays.


  • Assign a Coordinator: Have a trusted family member or friend assist the photographer by gathering the right people for each shot. I like the loud and funny ones who aren’t afraid to get on a microphone or loudspeaker and like to cheer! 
  • Use a Microphone (if available): It helps in calling out names clearly and keeping the process organized. We sometimes hit up the officiant to assist if the crowd is a little unruly. 


  • Start with Larger Groups: Begin with the biggest group shots and then dismiss people as they are no longer needed.
  • Keep the Flow Moving: Ensure that people are ready and waiting for their turn to minimize downtime.


When organizing formal wedding photos in a church setting, it’s important to consider the comfort and convenience of all guests, especially older guests like grandparents. To avoid having them navigate stairs or move around excessively, plan to take all necessary photos with them in one session, ensuring they only need to be present once. This can be achieved by starting with the largest group photos that include grandparents and then narrowing them down to smaller group shots. Additionally, positioning them in a comfortable, accessible area where all the necessary photos can be taken will help minimize their movement. This thoughtful approach not only respects the physical limitations of older guests but also contributes to a more efficient and organized photo session. Ensuring that guests do not need to come up multiple times allows everyone to enjoy the day more comfortably and keeps the photo-taking process smooth and quick.

For outdoor weddings, it’s crucial to be mindful of the weather to ensure a comfortable and pleasant photo session for everyone involved. If it’s hot, look for shaded areas to keep guests cool and prevent harsh shadows in the photos. In colder weather, choose locations that offer some protection from the wind and cold. Utilize natural light with open reflectors to enhance the quality of your photos, avoiding direct sunlight that can cause squinting and unflattering shadows.

Select locations that are free from distractions, ensuring that guests in the formal photos remain focused and attentive. This will help keep the process smooth and efficient. It’s also important to communicate clearly with all participants about when and where they are needed for photos, and assign a reliable person to help gather everyone. This helps avoid delays, particularly from family members who may tend to wander off or be late. By considering these factors, you can create a more enjoyable and seamless experience for your wedding photo session.

For outdoor weddings, it is crucial to always have a backup location in case of inclement weather. Being prepared for unexpected weather changes ensures that the photo session can proceed smoothly without stress or disruption. Choose a nearby indoor location, such as a covered pavilion, tent, or an indoor area of the wedding venue, that can accommodate the entire wedding party and guests comfortably.

When planning the backup location, consider the same factors as you would for the primary location: lighting, accessibility, and the aesthetic backdrop. Ensure the indoor space has ample natural light or that the photographer has sufficient lighting equipment to maintain the quality of the photos. Communicate the backup plan clearly to all guests ahead of time so they know where to go in case the weather takes a turn.

By having a well-thought-out backup plan, you can handle unexpected weather with grace and keep the photo session organized and enjoyable for everyone involved. This foresight allows you to focus on capturing beautiful memories without the added worry of weather disruptions.

If you’re a bride who is opting for a first look and wants to knock out the photos before the ceremony, here are some things to consider:

1. Timing and Schedule for Family Photos 

  • Plan Adequate Time: Ensure you allocate enough time for the first look and subsequent photos. This might mean starting your preparations earlier in the day.
  • Stick to the Schedule: A well-structured timeline helps keep everything on track, so you have ample time for photos without feeling rushed.

2. Location for the First Look

  • Choose a Meaningful Spot: Select a location that is private, scenic, and meaningful to you both. This ensures a special, intimate moment.
  • Check Lighting Conditions: Ensure the lighting at your chosen spot is favorable for photography. Natural light is ideal, so aim for times when the light is soft, like early morning or late afternoon.

3. Weather Considerations for Wedding Photos

  • Have a Backup Plan: In case of inclement weather, plan an alternate indoor location that still provides a beautiful backdrop for your photos.
  • Comfort: Consider the comfort of you and your fiancé in terms of temperature and weather conditions. You don’t want to be too hot, cold, or wet during these special moments.

4. Photo List and Organization

  • Create a Detailed Shot List: Work with your photographer to create a comprehensive list of all the shots you want to capture before the ceremony. Include all family combinations and important groupings.
  • Coordinate with Family and Friends: Inform all necessary family members and friends about when and where they need to be for photos. This ensures everyone is present and ready, avoiding delays.

5. Emotional Preparation

  • Take a Moment: The first look is an emotional moment. Take a few deep breaths and enjoy this private time with your fiancé before the whirlwind of the day begins.
  • Stay Present: Focus on each other and the moment, allowing your photographer to capture genuine emotions and reactions.

6. Hair and Makeup for Wedding Family Formals 

  • Durability: Ensure your hair and makeup are designed to last, especially if photos are being taken a few hours before the ceremony.
  • Touch-Up Kit: Have a touch-up kit ready for any quick fixes needed after the photo session and before the ceremony.

7. Bridal Party Photos

  • Involve the Bridal Party: Consider having the bridal party join for some of the pre-ceremony photos. This can streamline the photo process and allow them to enjoy more of the cocktail hour later.
  • Coordinate Outfits: Ensure everyone in the bridal party is dressed and ready on time to keep the photo session moving smoothly.

8. Personal Touches

  • Special Items: If you have special items, such as a family heirloom, bouquet, or accessories, make sure they are with you for the first look and photo session.
  • Relax and Enjoy: Remember to relax, smile, and enjoy these moments. This time is a chance to create beautiful memories and set a joyful tone for the rest of the day.

During the planning of your first look and pre-ceremony photos, it’s important to consider any personal dynamics or sensitive situations that may impact this part of your wedding day. This could include divorced parents, awkward family relationships, or any other dynamics that may create tension or discomfort. Communicate openly with your photographer about these circumstances so they can approach groupings and interactions sensitively. Consider discussing seating arrangements or photo groupings that minimize potential conflicts. Ultimately, focusing on the love and celebration of your union can help navigate these complexities with grace, ensuring everyone feels respected and included during this special time.

By considering these factors, you can ensure that your first look and pre-ceremony photo session go smoothly, allowing you to enjoy the moment fully and create lasting memories before the main event begins.


A well-planned shot list is crucial for capturing those special family moments without disrupting the flow of your wedding day. By following the custom list and tips from James & Katie Stokes you can ensure an efficient and stress-free photo session. Wisconsin brides, wedding planners, and photographers can use this guide as a starting point to create their own personalized and efficient family formal shot list.



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