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The Essential Wedding Photography Shot List

One you can actually use

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As my sister kindly noted over drinks last month, my wedding was kind of a hot mess. (It was our hot mess, but still.) Not having any idea of how events are produced, I didn’t realize the importance of such documents as a timeline, a packing list, or a photography shot list. Which is how my poor photographers ended up photographing nearly an hour of family portraits after our ceremony, followed by approximately thirty seconds of formal portraits of Michael and me, snuck in just as the sun was going down. Whoops.

Not The Knot List

Despite my obvious lack of planning, the standard wedding industry shot list wouldn’t have helped me anyway. Most of the stuff you find on websites like The Knot list dozens of things you don’t have (don’t need photos of the ring bearer pillow if you don’t have one). Plus, the list is packed with shots your photographer will take pictures of without you asking. (If your photographers don’t understand that the first dance is important, you probably should look into hiring new photographers.) And just to keep it fun, they throw in a bunch of nonsense that you really don’t want, like this gem: “Wide shot of audience during ceremony, from bride and groom’s point of view.” While that sounds nice in theory, it means you get to enjoy your ceremony with your photographer standing directly in front of you, trying to take a picture from your perspective. More importantly, if you’re hiring a documentary-style wedding photographer, these exhaustive shot lists will ensure that your photographer spends the whole day looking down at a piece of paper instead of doing the job you hire them for.

The Info Sheet

All of this is why, when I shoot weddings, I send out an info sheet instead of a shot list. An info sheet helps me understand what parts of your wedding are important, from your perspective. Rather than having to supply an endless list of all the things at your wedding, you only have to think of the most important things. The more minimal info sheet lets your photographer to use their talent and skill to shoot your way the way you hired them to, while also making sure that they understand that your necklace isn’t just an average necklace, but is instead a family heirloom that you’d really like documented.

At the end of this post, you’ll find a link to download APW’s own shot list (which is an adaptation of the shot list shared with me by the super talented Justin & Mary, some of my earliest photography mentors). But before we get to that, here’s the basic rundown of the essential information your photographer needs in order to do the best job for you:

  • A timeline of wedding events, listing the major important moments like your ceremony, first dance, toasts, and when you plan on doing formal portraits. You can read APW’s series on crafting a timeline to get you started, as well as filling out our timeline spreadsheet. But beyond that, lots of photographers are happy to help you craft your timeline so that you don’t spend your whole day taking pictures. You just have to ask!
  • Contact information for you, your partner, and alternates for each of you. Deputize whoever will be closest to you to be keeper of your phones, because you’re not actually going to be taking those calls. (In fact, giving your photographers a copy of your Vendor and Important People Contact Lists isn’t a bad idea.)
  • The names of your wedding party (if applicable) and the members of your family who will be in formal portraits.
  • A list of 5–10 combinations of formal portraits, with each person you’d like in them.
  • A list (and this is important) of 5–10 of the most important things you want captured at your wedding. This can be things, people, or moments. We’ll talk more about this in a second.
  • Your general expectations from your wedding photography Do you want lots of photos of your guests? Do you expect multiple photos of all your details? Help your photographer understand you priorities so they can focus their energy on the stuff that’s most important to you.

A note on details

Most photographers will do their best to capture all the important parts of your wedding: the moments, the emotions, the space, the details, etc. But weddings are fast-paced events with a lot of moving parts. By giving your photographer a list of the most important parts of the day, it helps laser focus on the stuff that’s most important. If you worked really hard on all of your table decorations, but don’t really care about your programs, you’d rather that the photographer spend more time getting the best shots of your tables, and only grab one or two pictures of your program. Are the kids at your wedding really important? Do you really want a photo of your best man helping you put your cuff links on? That’s what those 5–10 spaces are for. That doesn’t mean you’re only going to get 5–10 detail shots from your day. What it does mean is that your photographer isn’t leaving until they have those shots.

K-I-S-S

The real issue with those pre-fabbed shot lists is that they list things you can’t really ask for, like, “Bride’s and groom’s parents whispering to each other during dinner.” I mean, if want your photographer to go up to your parents and say, “Excuse me, but could you please whisper for a minute? Your daughter requested it,” then I guess you can ask for it. But it’s better to keep things simple (and organic). Ask for photos of your parents interacting with people at the wedding, or shots of your partner’s parents during dinner.

As for the actual K-I-S-S, if the kiss shot is a must-have for you, I entreat you, please kiss for longer than a peck. Camera shutters move really fast, but you’d be amazed how frequently a quick kiss can slip right through them. So if you want that shot, make out a little. You don’t have to get all seventh-grade-dance-party with it, but make it count.

What’s The Point?

The point of providing your photographer with a shot list isn’t to come up with as many different shots as possible for your wedding (that’s the photographer’s job). But rather, the point of the shot list is to clue your photographer in on the parts of your wedding that are unique and specific to you and your partner, so that they show up to work armed with all the info they need to shoot the shit out of your wedding. Because that’s what you hired them for anyway, right?

To Download APW’s Essential Photography Info Sheet, click here.

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