Knowing What You Want
Knowing what you want to do on your wedding day is a valuable tool. Even better is when both partners and the photographer are on the same page.
When I first started shooting weddings in October 2017, at my first paid wedding ever (I shot three for free before that), there occurred something that I will never forget and which shaped the way I would shoot weddings for a long time. After the ceremony, the bride wanted a photo of her and her kids waving at the groom and his kids (the bride and groom were an older couple). The groom thought it was the most ridiculous idea, and because he thought that, so did everyone on his side of the family. Suddenly, I was the enemy, trying to give the bride what she wanted, but forcing this "ridiculous" thing on his side of the family. We did it, got through it, and I kept smiling the rest of the day while dying on the inside (being so sensitive is one of the things that makes me a great wedding photographer in the first place - I care).
So, when I got home, I went on Pinterest and found every single wedding photography shot list I could find, compiled it into one GIANT shot list, and started making my clients fill it out, signed by both the bride and groom, with space for them to fill out additional shots they wanted as well (I wasn't leaving anything to chance).
The problem was, I then focused so much on my 7-page shot list - mostly on the shots my clients didn't check off - that I would miss so many of the loving, authentic, real, heartfelt, organic moments that inspired me to become a wedding photographer in the first place. This happened with Pinterest boards, too; I would invite clients to share their Pinterest boards with me, but then I would get so fixated on capturing every single shot on the Pinterest board that the same thing would happen - I would miss that crying hug with mom because this shot of the dress hanging up outside was so important (I thought).
A Healthy Balance
So these days, in order to both capture those real, amazing moments photo-journalistally - which keeps me loving what I do - but also to capture what (both) clients want, I now like to have a real conversation about it before the big day, talk about what's most important to them, and invite them to give me a (minimal) shot list and/or (small) Pinterest board of their "Must Haves". I think a healthy balance is definitely key; no more 7-page shot lists or 150-photo Pinterest boards, but also no not planning or talking about things together whatsoever.
So here, I'm going to share that original shot list of mine, as well as the tips that followed it (some of which are also on my sample timeline). While I won't shoot from this entire shot list any more, since I miss too many of the moments that I know you will appreciate looking back on (the moments you hire a photo-journalistic photographer to capture), I think this is still a very helpful tool for planning your day, and it gives us a great starting point for your wedding photography planning session.
And as for those "Must Haves" - the photos that, no matter what is happening, you need me to drop everything else to get that shot - please feel free to email that list to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or share that board with me on Pinterest @rachelfawnphoto. I still want to capture what you want, of course (just don't send me a shot that your groom doesn't know about - unless it's that sexy boudoir photo!).
Most of the shots on the list below are those I try to capture anyway. I made this list and have worked from it so much that I have it memorized. But some things will be more important to you than others, and that's what we should talk about. The shots during the ceremony are all captured, for example, but, you may want to have your first married kiss captured from the altar side with your guests in the background (just be sure to have the officiant tell them to not have their cell phones in front of their faces!). Or, you may especially want your cathedral-style veil captured from behind as you walk down the aisle, for example.
Wedding Photography Shot List
BRIDAL PREP & PORTRAITS ____Wedding rings, invitations, shoes, jewelry, perfume, veil, other accessories ____Wedding dress hanging up outside / inside / lying over a chair or the bed ____Flower girl / bridal party / Mom's dresses ____Bride putting on makeup / getting hair done ____Looking into mirror ____Hairstyle close-up ____Bride opening gifts ____Bridal party wearing robes ____Bridal party opening gifts ____Saying “cheers” with drinks ____Bride writing note for Groom ____Bride putting on garter / sexy photo for Groom ____Holding up the dress ____Dressing for the ceremony w/Mom's assistance / fastening Bride's dress / necklace / earrings / shoes / veil ____Bride putting on Mom's corsage ____Portrait with Mom ____Solo portraits w/bouquet ____First look w/Dad ____Portrait with Dad ____Gifts for Mom and Dad ____Portrait with Mom and Dad ____First look with bridal party ____Bridal party portraits (all together & with each bridesmaid individually, flower girls) ____Other bridal party portraits - Client’s Pinterest ideas
GROOM PREP & PORTRAITS ____Shoes, watch, flask, cologne, tie, boutonniere, cuff links, other accessories ____Groom opening gifts ____Groomsmen opening gifts ____Saying “cheers” with drinks ____Groom tying shoes, fastening tie / cuff links, putting on suit jacket ____Groom looking into mirror / out window / Groom portrait ____First look w/Groom & Mom ____Mom fastening Groom's boutonniere ____Groom putting on Mom's corsage ____Portrait w/Mom, Dad ____Groomsmen portraits (all together & with each groomsmen individually, ring bearer) ____Other groomsmen portraits - Client’s Pinterest ideas
COUPLE’S NOTE SESSION and/or FIRST LOOK & PORTRAITS ____Groom in position ____Bride walking up from behind Groom ____Couple holding hands / hands over eyes / backs together ____Pray / talk together ____Exchange notes / read notes ____First looks ____ First Looks - Client’s Pinterest ideas ____Couple’s portraits ____Couple’s portraits - Client’s Pinterest ideas
WEDDING PARTY PHOTOS (if 1st Look) ____Wedding party walk ____Wedding party cheer ____Wedding party formal portrait ____Fun wedding party photos - Client’s Pinterest ideas
CEREMONY ____Wide angle shot of the ceremony site / church / venue ____Decorations, ceremony program, floral arrangements, altar backdrop ____Guests arriving / signing guest book ____Seated guests ____Shot of the musicians / DJ ____Grandparents / parents being escorted down the aisle to their seats ____Wedding party members walking down the aisle ____Ring bearer / flower girls / sign holders walking down the aisle ____Groom’s face at his bride ____Bride walking down the aisle from front ____Bride walking down aisle from behind ____FOB “giving Bride away” ____Couple joining hands ____Officiant speaking ____Guest speech(es) / song(s) ____Unity ceremony (candle / knot / sand, etc) ____Couple exchanging vows ____Couple putting on each others’ rings ____Couple’s first kiss (standard view) ____Couple’s first kiss (with guests in background) ____Couple announced as husband and wife ____Newlyweds exiting down the aisle ____Throwing of confetti / rose petals / blowing bubbles etc. as newlyweds exit
POST-CEREMONY ____Couple with Officiant ____Marriage certificate signing ____Family formals ____Wedding party portrait ____Couple’s portraits ____Additional portraits - Client’s Pinterest ideas (if time) ____Cocktail “hour” candid shots of guests, games ____Wide angle shot of the indoor reception site / venue ____Reception decorations, centerpieces, table setting, couple’s table, favors
RECEPTION ____Couple’s Reception first look ____Guests entering reception / signing guest book / taking their seats
GRAND ENTRANCE ____Wedding Party ____Couple
____COUPLE’S FIRST DANCE
____WELCOME MESSAGE / PRAYER / BLESSING
DINNER (Couple / photographers eat dinner) ____ Table guest photos
TOASTS ____Maid of Honor ____Best Man ____Father of the Bride ____Other: _____________________________ ____Couple’s thank you's and toast
FAMILY DANCES ____Bride and Father dance ____Groom and Mother dance
CAKE-CUTTING ____Wedding cake display ____Cake-cutting ____Couple feeding cake to each other
COUPLE'S SNEAK-AWAY SUNSET SESSION ____Candid walk ____Portraits - Client’s Pinterest ideas
BOUQUET / GARTER TOSSES ____Bouquet toss ____Garter toss
GRAND "EXIT" ____Guests lining up along exitway ____Lighting sparklers ____The newlyweds kiss half-way through sparkler line ____Getting into getaway car and driving away
Additional Tips & Info
- Be aware that each of your planned photographs will take 3-5 minutes to set up and capture - or longer, in the case of the wedding dress hanging up outside, for example, which can take 15 minutes - so be sure to account for each of them in your timeline when you are providing a shot list and Pinterest board of "Must Haves".
- If you can, try to keep a portion of each “getting ready” location / hotel room clean, near a window with good light, for the details / “getting ready” / portraits area. This will protect your photography investment; your photographers can start taking photos instead of cleaning up first.
- Have your details / accessories that you want photographed readily accessible in each of the rooms. If you want the wedding rings photographed together, have them in the bride’s suite at the start of the day for the Lead Photographer to shoot them with the best camera and lens.
- If the bride, bridal party and mother of the bride are going to be wearing robes, fun socks, or matching outfits, etc. for the "getting ready" portion, be sure that they are wearing them before our arrival; it is wise to have just one person in charge of bringing all of the robes or bridesmaids' accessories to ensure that no one forgets theirs.
- Designate someone to put boutonnieres on the groomsmen who has practiced or has learned how and where to attach them. For the groom's boutounniere, it can be a nice moment for the mother of the groom to attach his boutonniere after a first look.
- For any first looks (parents, bridesmaids, other family members, etc), let us get into position before the moment begins. It also helps not to tell the person it is a "first look," which can make them feel like they are on stage. Photo-journalistic photographers are skilled in helping these moments occur organically, so we can help bring the people to you who will be seeing you for the first time and use gentle language that won't make them feel like they are being pressured for a reaction.
- For the ceremony, remind or have your day-of coordinator remind your wedding party members to look up and smile as they walk down the aisle, as well as to take their time and not rush down the aisle too quickly, so that we can capture good photos of them for you.
- If you want the ceremony kiss captured with your guests in the background, have your officiant announce for them to please not hold their phones during that moment, and instead congratulate you with their clapping hands and smiling faces. You might also opt for an "unplugged ceremony," and have signs that encourage your guests to enjoy this moment with you and leave the photography to your professionally hired photographers. If you opt for this, be sure to also have your officiant announce it at the start of your ceremony as a reminder.
- For your after-ceremony family formals, give a list of your family portraits to a designated "family portraits coordinator," and have your officiant announce for the family to stay at the ceremony site for photos after the ceremony. Remember that each photo takes about three minutes to set up and capture, so keep your list to a size that can be accomplished in the allotted time, or extend your cocktail hour accordingly.
- For the reception grand entrance, have the DJ/MC introduce your wedding party in a fun way and have them do a fun pose halfway or on the dance floor for fun photos! This goes for the couple, of course, too!
- If you want a sunset couple’s sneak-away portrait session (and we hope you do!), allow a slot in your reception timeline thirty minutes prior to sunset on your day (check Google), and be sure you inform your MC or DJ so he/she can keep your guests entertained during this time.
- If you would like to have a large photo with all of your guests, have your DJ announce it before open dancing begins, which will get everyone up on the dance floor! Allow 15 minutes for us to get every one into position and to set up any necessary lighting (as it may be dark by this time).
- If you plan to visit with tables for a portrait with each table, or just to visit with your guests, be sure to allow 3-5 minutes per table and schedule your dinner time accordingly.
- If you do a bouquet / garter toss: For the bouquet toss (bride), do a “fake-out” toss first for us to capture a good photo of you, then the real toss so we can focus on capturing the catch. For the garter toss (groom), hide a dinner napkin in your pocket and throw that first, so we can capture a good photo of you, then do the real garter toss so we can focus on capturing the catch. There are also ways to make your bouquet and garter tosses non-traditional - look online for alternative ideas if you wish!
- If you have or stage a sparkler grand exit, buy “wedding sparklers” rather than 4th of July or other sparklers that burn out too quickly and create too much fire and smoke. If your venue doesn't allow sparklers (as in El Dorado County where I live!), there are also light-up balloons or glow sticks that you can use as alternative grand exit options! Also, just a note: When your photography time ends before the end of the event, the grand exit may also be staged for photos - this is a common choice!