Formal Wedding Photos: Before or after the ceremony?
Wedding days are fun when you have everything laid out with the right schedule. Part of your planning process is going to be figuring out when to do what, how long, and then getting everything in the order where it flows to your liking. One particular part of the schedule that is important to make time for is the group photos for the bridal party and family. As wedding photographers, we are often involved with the couple and the coordinator/planner when it comes to scheduling times during the wedding day to allow for various photo moments. Many of these only take a few minutes such as a cake cutting or a first dance, but the group photos with the bridal party and the family takes a slightly bigger chunk of your day. In most cases it’s good to plan for around 30 minutes to an hour for these, depending on the following factors:
How many family members will be included in these formal photos
How many different combos of different family members you choose
Whether or not you will have friends in addition to family in these photos as well
How big your bridal party is
How creative you want to get with the bridal party photos (i.e. a few standard formal shots will go by much quicker than creative ideas like staging everyone on a hill with the bride and groom kissing in the front, while everyone is jumping in synchronized fashion - - you can get very creative with these)
In general, if you don’t have many family members or combos that you want, if you’re not planning on adding any/many friends to these photos, and if you have a smaller bridal party that you only want a few of because you’re more interested in candid photos throughout the day, then plan for around a half hour for these. If you find yourself on the opposite end of the spectrum, plan for around an hour. Most clients we’ve worked with end up being somewhere in the middle on their wedding days, so we always suggest around 30-45 minutes of time allotted for these. That being said, if you have (and we have had this before) a very large number of family members and friends, and a multitude of combos, you may want to plan for more than an hour. Most reputable pros will either send you a shot list for these formal photos, or have the shot list memorized in their head so it will likely run smooth. The great thing about having this shot list for these formal photos is it gives a bit more structure to what can sometimes be a challenging time (i.e. has anybody seen Grandpa!?). Once you’ve figured out the general consensus with your wedding photographer on the approximate time, number of family members, etc. you can start to figure out if you would rather the formal photos before the ceremony or after.
In either case, both decisions have their advantages so let’s go ahead and discuss some of the good reasons to do these photos before your wedding ceremony. One of the biggest reasons many couples opt to do these photos prior to the ceremony is because they simply want to get them out of the way before the rush of the wedding day starts with guests arriving and the reception starting. By doing them before the ceremony it allows you to spend more time with your guests once they arrive, enjoy the all of your wedding reception, and if the schedule gets off and you had these photos scheduled for later in the day (post ceremony) this cuts into the time that you get to see family and friends, not to mention dancing and other festivities! It also allows you the flexibility to move this chunk of time to after the ceremony if let’s say your hair and make-up are taking a little longer than expected. In our experience it usually appears easier for all those involved to take these particular photos before the ceremony as there are less distractions for the others in the photos besides the bride and groom. Once your aunts and uncles arrive, let’s face it, your mom and dad are going to be distracted and you’ll likely have to hunt them down for these photos! One of the other benefits of doing these before the ceremony is you are likely fresh from getting your hair and make- up done (for the ladies). If you think there is any chance of you sweating or crying during your ceremony and it ruining your make-up, it may be a good option to do most of these before your ceremony so that you look your best for the photos.
Now let’s talk about some of the benefits of doing your photos post ceremony! First off, it does allow you more time to get ready and relax before the ceremony and for those couples that are anxious, this may be a good option to help ease any nerves. It can also allow you time to schedule a first look. Many times couples would like to do a first look but end up cutting it out due to the schedule being too tight (or perceiving it to be too tight), by moving your formal group photos to after the wedding ceremony, this allows more time for a first look earlier in the day. One thing we’ve been able to observe for couples who choose to do these photos post-ceremony is it allows for a bit of a relaxation period. Regardless of how tight the schedule is, and how good your planner is, there usually ends up being a little flex time between the ceremony and these post ceremony photos of about 10-20 minutes. This period often times allows couples to ‘take it all in’, give hugs, receive congrats, and relax a little before the reception. Heading straight from the ceremony to the reception where you are likely to jump right into a few first dances, cake cuttings, possibly some games, speeches, eating, etc. can sometimes make a couple feel like they are being overwhelmed with having to be present for every little thing right after they get just got married. This little bit of a period between the ceremony and reception usually allows the bride and groom to relax a bit and ultimately it can allow you to enjoy the rest of your day a little more.
If you find yourself torn between some of the benefits of both of these options and are just having trouble making a decision, consider doing some before and some after! Maybe do the bridal party photos with the groom and groomsmen beforehand and the bride and bridesmaids beforehand. This would allow you to get some of the group photos out of the way but you can still stay separate from each other if you don’t want to do a first look. It also cuts down on the time post ceremony for these photos if they are already completed, allowing you to focus on the bridal party as a whole and your families. In our experience, performing the separate bridal party photos beforehand, and the bride with her family as well as the groom and his family beforehand, can really split up the time well and make the whole day run a little smoother, leaving with you to have more time for couples portraits later in your day, and most importantly to enjoy the fun of your wedding day! Splitting them up can also be a good option if you are planning to have a large number of formal group photos as attention spans can only take so much!
In the end, here is all you need to know: It’s going to be alright! Assuming you’ve done your homework, communicated well with your planner and photographer, things are going to be fine! Working with a reputable professional when it comes to planning and photography will always lead to less stress on the day of, and smooth handling of a schedule that goes awry!
-Joe & Jenny