I have always taken a slightly different approach to the idea of a wedding shot list.
As a professional wedding photographer for over a decade, I know that a wedding photography checklist is more likely to stress me out and distract me from being creative than it is to guarantee that I won’t miss a shot.
Whether you’re a Bride looking to make sure your day is captured perfectly or a photographer tasked with that seemingly impossible task, I have another way of looking at it for you to try.
I don’t want you to marry yourself to a wedding photography checklist that resembles a grade-school quiz, where every wrong answer is one step closer to failing.
Instead, I want you to view the wedding day as a story and your checklist as your outline.
If you take this approach, your wedding photography will be more focused on the shots you get than something insignificant that you missed.
Table of Contents
Ultimate Wedding Photography Checklist: What Photos to Include?
1. The Setting: Meaningful Couples Portraits
One of the most important photos to nail on the wedding day is an epic portrait of the Bride and Groom.
While all the photos seem important, most couples, after ten years of marriage, will have one meaningful portrait hanging in their hallway.
Most parents will print a nice portrait of the couple for their family photo wall.
Therefore, there’s a lot of pressure on making sure you have one epic photo, which is more pressure than having 100 good photos.
You need one photo that tells the story of the day in one frame.
It will be important to think about the photography style that you’re drawn to because this will impact your wedding portraits.
Will you look candid and natural in a landscape setting or formal and traditional in front of the venue?
The portrait will show the who, what, when, where, and why.
It’s identifiable as your wedding day by what you’re wearing, where you are, your expression, and more.
Think about walking into a friend’s house, and you see their wedding photo of them dressed in wedding attire on the beach or in the forest or at a castle; the photo tells the story of their love.
2. The Introduction: Anticipation, Preparation, and Getting Ready Shots
After you’ve nailed a portrait that matches the style of the couple, it’s time to tell the story of the wedding day.
Every story has a beginning.
Where are we, who is there, and how are we feeling?
An editorial wedding photographer might tell this story through photos of the details of the wedding dress, shoes, flowers, jewelry, invitations, and more.
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A photojournalist wedding photographer will tell this story through important moments between the bride and her bridesmaids or the groom and his dad, or the groom with the groomsmen.
Sometimes people think of getting ready photos as being about hair and make-up when they’re actually about telling the story of the anticipation, preparation, and pre-ceremony excitement.
My suggestion isn’t to get buried in an exhaustive list of potential details but rather to determine what special moments are important to the Bride and Groom.
Instead of a list of photos, here’s a list of questions.
- Who will you be getting ready with, and in what ways are they important to you?
- What do you see as important moments pre-ceremony?
- Are there any details that are significant to you, such as grandma’s earrings?
- What emotions do you think people will be feeling as the wedding ceremony approaches?
3. The Climax: The Main Event Ceremony Shots
Now it’s time for the main event.
I spend a lot of time at weddings, and I love marriage.
But sometimes it seems as though people forget the point of this big expensive party that they’re throwing.
The wedding ceremony is the main event. It’s when vows are exchanged and a commitment is made in front of witnesses.
Most ceremonies follow a script that includes a processional, exchanging of wedding vows, exchanging of rings, first kiss, and processional.
Instead of a list of photos that may or may not be important, here’s a list of questions.
- Who are the people that will be involved in the ceremony, whether it’s the processional, readings, people standing up with you, musicians, or officiants?
- What are the special traditions you have chosen to incorporate into your ceremony?
- Are there any significant religious or cultural things that you’re incorporating into the ceremony?
- What emotions do you think people will be expressing?
- Is there significance to the chosen ceremony location?
Don’t miss our guide on how to photograph wedding rings.
4. The Characters: Bridal Party and Family Photos
Now, the one time that I think a literal wedding photography checklist is essential is when it comes to the bridal party and family pictures.
Even so, this wedding photography checklist should be customized for each couple.
I have a template that I use for immediate family pictures, but family dynamics and structures vary wildly so it’s important to make a list of the various combinations that the bride and groom want.
One note here is that more is not always better.
Each family photo takes time away from the rest of the celebration.
These are important photos, maybe the second most important photos, because they are the most likely to be printed, framed, and hung on walls.
But no one likes spending a ton of time on these photos, so being efficient is key.
Don’t take a million combinations just because you think you need to.
Instead, think through the actual combinations you might want.
Below is a list of questions to ask when you’re building the wedding photography checklist for family and bridal party pictures.
- What are the names and relationships of the bridal party and family members?
- What are the various family photo combinations that might get printed by various family members?
- What are the different combinations of wedding party participants that might benefit from a unique group photo?
- Do you want posed portraits of immediate family only or extended family group shots as well?
- Are there any grandparents to be honored, and how is their mobility?
- Are there any small children as ring bearers or flower girls that have limited attention spans and should potentially go first?
If you want a laugh, don’t miss our guide to the naughtiest wedding photos, just so you know what not to attempt on the big day!
5. The Conclusion: Wedding Reception and Happily Ever After
The couple is married, and now it’s time to celebrate their happily ever after.
This often means cocktail hour and reception.
Cocktail hour is a good time to check in with the DJ and make sure you know what to expect from the reception events so that you can plan your lighting as it gets dark.
Below are some questions to ask when building your wedding photo checklist for the reception.
- What reception events has the couple planned, and how meaningful are they?
- Will they be doing a grand entrance, first dance, father-daughter dance, mother-son dance, bouquet toss, hora, or any other special events?
- What is the significance of the reception space and details such as table settings?
- Is there anything the couple spent a ton of money, time, or research on during the wedding planning process?
- Will it be a crazy dance party, an elegant five-course meal, or a toast that turns into a roast with a ton of speeches?
Wedding Shot List FAQs for Brides
What Makes the ‘Perfect’ Wedding Shot List?
The perfect wedding shot list is customized to the specific bride and groom and their unique tastes, values, style, and personality.
Weddings are fairly predictable, and an experienced wedding photographer doesn’t need a wedding photography checklist to remind them to photograph the wedding dress.
Instead, the photographer needs to know their couple and what is important to them so they can be sure to focus on the right things rather than just all the things.
A shot list can be useful in the right situation, just as long as both the clients and the photographer have communicated eachother’s desires.
How to Use a Wedding Shot List with Your Photographer
Every photographer is different, so the first step is to ask your photographer if they want anything from you in terms of a wedding photography checklist.
We have our couples fill out a worksheet that helps us make a group shot list for family photos as well as learn what is most important to that specific couple.
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We ask them what they’re most looking forward to for their wedding day as well as what they are most excited about for their photography.
Most of the time, these questions are better than a detailed wedding photography shot list because we can focus on what is important to our couple and not get distracted by a cumbersome and overwhelming list.
If there is something or someone important to you as a bride or groom, be sure to tell your photographer if they don’t ask and get on the same page.
I think that if you choose an experienced photographer you trust, you should let them do their job, but if, for budgetary reasons or otherwise, you have a less experienced photographer, then you will want to be more involved in creating a wedding photography checklist.
Wedding Shot List FAQs For Photographers
Should wedding photographers use a Shot List?
Wedding photographers shouldn’t need to use a shot list.
Instead, they should know the important aspects of a wedding day that they are expected to capture without a list.
They should be able to customize their game plan towards the values and priorities of each couple.
The one exception is a list of wedding party photos and family pictures, as those are unique to each couple.
How do I make a family shot list for my wedding?
Your photographer should be able to help you with this based on their expertise.
First, make a list of all your family members.
This means parents, any step-parents, siblings, siblings, spouses and children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Then, create a list of the various combinations of photos that you or your family members are likely to print.
Finally, put the list in an efficient order building up a picture and moving people in and out minimally.
For example, you might start with the bride and groom with the bride’s parents, add the bride’s siblings, add the siblings’ spouses and kids, add the grandparents, and then add all the aunts, uncles, and cousins.
The more complicated your family dynamics are, the more combinations you might end up with.
One of the main reasons to get clear on your priorities for family photos is that every posed group photo adds up to minutes that you’re spending standing and smiling rather than enjoying your reception.
Say you have a list of 25 photos, and each photo takes an average of two minutes; you’ll be spending 50 minutes taking family photos.
The more people in the photo, the longer it takes to arrange, especially if we have to go fetch a cousin from the bar.
With the help of an efficient list, we typically knock out family pictures in 30 minutes or less.