Being a wedding photographer isn’t easy – you need to be on your A-game the entire day, even if that day is 14 hours long! Not only do you have to take the standard and expected shots, but you need to constantly be watching for those special, candid moments too. Most new photographers start googling “wedding photography shotlist” before their first wedding, and most of those photographers are floored at the length of the shotlists they find! Some of the most popular search results yield must have shotlists that have over 300 items! How on earth is a new photographer supposed to memorize a list that large?
You’re not supposed to. That’s how.
The technical side of photography, exposure/composition/lighting, is a learned skill but there’s also a side of photography that’s simply based on common sense – and I’m talking about the “shotlist”. As you read through the shotlists your google results pulled up, please, take them with a grain of salt! No two weddings are created alike and there is no one particular shot list that will fit for all weddings.
Instead of providing you with yet another shotlist, I want to teach you how to create your own! It’s all about breaking down the day and asking yourself “Hmmm… what do I think the important parts of this chunk of the day will be?”
Getting Ready Shots
Many brides want the photographer present for “getting ready” shots. When you think of a bride getting ready, what comes to mind? A dress being done up, or the bride putting on deodorant? If you answered “the dress” then you’re already on the right track. (If you answered “deodorant”, you’re hilarious and I should have a coffee with you!) The “getting ready” process is all about the regular girl transforming into a princess. The transformation includes: hair, makeup, dress, jewelry and shoes. These are the key moments you want to capture. How you choose to capture them is up to you as every photographer has a different style.
The second part of “getting ready” usually includes the brides dad (and sometimes mom) seeing their little princess for the first time. This is usually a very special moment and often happens very quick, so be prepared. You’ll want to focus on the faces of the people who are seeing the bride, as they are often teary yet smiling. These photos will be very sentimental to the family in the future.
Some of the other things that can happen during the “getting ready” process include: the bride not being happy with her hair, the makeup artist dropping a glob of mascara on the brides cheek, the bride defying the laws of physics and somehow managing to squeeze into not one but TWO pairs of Spanx before getting the dress on, watching as bridesmaids and mom struggle to do up a corset back dress which results in the bride having a near melt down and dad disappearing for a beer when he’s supposed to be there to take a first look at his little princess. These are moments you don’t want to capture nor are they moments the bride really wants to remember so use your judgement when snapping photos. No bride will want a photo of her having a meltdown.
Traveling to the Ceremony
Whether the bride has chosen to ride in a limo, a vintage car or the family car, it’s always nice to get a few pictures of the transportation process. Pictures shot through rolled down car windows are always nice, as we photos of the bride stepping out of a car. These moments don’t always happen gracefully, though, and often times need to be created or posed. (Trust me, there is nothing graceful about a bride in a tight dress with a massive train, climbing out of a hummer limo with 4-inch heels on!) Don’t waste too much time getting limo shots, though, because your next step will be to get in the church and prep for the ceremony.
As with “getting ready”, there are key moments in a ceremony that need to be photographed and not much more. The ceremony is all about the words that are being spoken and photography doesn’t capture words, only reactions. My advice is to be aware of the key moments of the ceremony and then, focus on candid reaction/emotion shots the rest of the time.
The bridesmaids and bride will be walking up the aisle one at a time. You’ll definitely want to snap shots of that. Also, don’t forget to take a shot of the grooms reaction as the bride is walking down the aisle. The bride usually walks up with her father or, if the father is not present, a family member, who then “gives her away” to the awaiting groom. There are often handshakes between the father/family member and the groom before the bride and the groom then process up to the altar together. Capturing these candid moments is a must; however, it can often be quite difficult if you’re in a small church as there isn’t always a lot of room to work in.
Once the bride and groom are standing at the altar, they begin listening to the beautiful words of the pastor/priest/officiant. Take this time to get some nice, sweeping ceremony shots. Try different perspectives such as low to the ground or up from the balcony. After this, there may be some friends/family members speaking during the ceremony. If that happens, snap those shots, too. The only 3 remaining “super important moments” in the ceremony include the exchange of rings, the kiss and the signing of the register. Everything else will just be reaction shots and candids. Getting some nice photos of the bride and groom walking down the aisle, post-ceremony, as husband and wife is always a nice addition to the album.
Formal Photos – Family
Okay, here we go. Here’s the list. Nah, just kidding. We’ll work this one through, too. The first thing you need to realize is that the bride will want photos with important people in her life. Important people generally include her parents, grandparents and siblings as well as very close friends (which are usually the wedding party). Same goes for the groom. The second thing you need to realize is that not all photos need to include both the bride and the groom! The bride will often have a photo taken with her dad, her mom, and then her mom and dad. These don’t need to include the groom as these photos are sentimental to the bride and her family. The same goes for the groom; he’ll often take a photo with his mom, his dad, and his mom + dad.
When taking family photos (whether it’s groups of two or large groups) always take full length shots as well as close-ups. It’s a good idea to take several photos of each group as you’re bound to have someone blinking in at least one of them. Keep focal lengths in mind when photographing large groups. The 24-35mm range is ideal for group shots. Keeping your aperture size in mind is equally as important as focal length. If you have two or three rows of people, you cannot shoot with a 2.8f aperture or the majority of those in the photo will be out of focus! At bare minimum I would recommend f5.6 however, I try to hit f8 or higher when I have the means.
Formal Photos – Wedding Party
The wedding party members are just as important as family members! These are the people the bride and groom chose to have by their side as they take the leap into married life! Again, make sure you get a variety of shots; close-up, full-length, straight-on, angled, etc. There’s no need to have everyone in every photo, either! Mix it up! Take the bride and have her pose with the groomsmen, vice versa for the groom! Don’t forget to take some individuals, too! It’s all logic.
Formal Photos – Bride & Groom
As with any portrait session, ensure that you get a variety of shots. You’ll want some traditional-esque types of shots (looking at camera, smiling) and then you may want to branch into creative compositions, too. You can photograph the couples sitting, standing, lying, leaning and you can photograph them close up, at 3/4 length and at full length. Discuss with your clients, prior to their wedding day, their expectations for their portrait session. If you clients have any specific ‘must have’ shots, they should let you know at this time.
You can Google ‘formal photos shot list’ all you want – but you’ll never feel confident about your own skills unless you logically think through what types of shots you’ll want and need and create your own list.
Reception coverage can vary considerably depending on the amount of action at the wedding. Part of the reception usually involves a cocktail hour; this is a great opportunity to photograph the hugs, kisses and high-fives from friends and family as well as finding the little details of the evening and capturing those such as the cake, guestbooks and centerpieces.
Whether the bride and groom choose to dance before or after dinner is their preference. Regardless of when the dance occurs, be sure to capture a variety of dance shots; close up, 3/4 length and full length. Ensure that you play with your composition, too! Dance shots can be very creative and beautiful, especially if you’re using off-camera lighting.
You’ll want to avoid photographing guests while they are eating; the vast majority of people become annoyed and self-conscious when they are being photographed with food in their mouths. Luckily, most couples choose to do their speeches during dinner which would give you something to photograph. Photographing receptions is all about actions & reactions. Photograph the person speaking, then photograph the bride shedding a tear of joy because of the beautiful speech.
Rarely will couples ever have their photographer stay late enough in the night to capture the bouquet toss and garter removal so you generally do not need to worry about this; however, if you are photographing a late-stay wedding, get creative with these shots! Use your creativity to help showcase the energy and excitement that these events create.
So there you have it, a summary of a must-have wedding shot list! As you can see, the ever so mysterious ‘shot list’ doesn’t actually exist! No two weddings are identical and no 1 shot-list will ever be suited for every wedding. If you want to ensure you capture the special moments of a wedding day you need to understand the day as a whole and the importance and significance of key events during that day.