Offbeat guide to the wedding photo shot list

Offbeat Bride's managing editor Megan, who used to be a wedding photographer herself!
Offbeat Bride's managing editor Megan, who used to be a wedding photographer herself!
Megan,

I know you used to be a wedding photographer, so I'm deferring to you.

Our photog is asking us for a shot list. I found a very *ahem* THOROUGH list in the Wedsite-That-Must-Knot-Be-Named.

What do YOU suggest for pictures to get us started on our own personal list?

-Lena

One of my favorite things is when a bride sends me her personal shot list. One of my pet peeves is when brides send me a copied and pasted THOROUGH shot list.

Yeah, I get it: I know what all the traditional shots are… tell me what's special to YOU about this wedding.

Perhaps you DIYed your garter belt and want me to shoot it in all its glory before you fling it into the crowd, or maybe the groom made customized chucks for the wedding, or your wedding band was his great-grandmother's so those are must-have detail shots.

Or you and your bridal party are planning on shotgunning beers before the ceremony… These are all things you should include in your personal shot list.

But that being said, here is my list of all the shots that I personally like to make sure that I hit and some advice on how you can make sure these go off without a hitch…

Pre-wedding (or as I call it, pre-gaming):

Some brides like to have pics of them getting ready, like getting their hair did, make-up done, etc. It's not the most important thing to have documented, but the pics can be really pretty at times. And I'll be honest, it's my favorite part of wedding shoots. I love getting to know my bride and all her best friends. So if you want to have some bonding time with your photographer, definitely book them to come hang during the pre-game.

  • Bride getting her hair did.
  • Bride getting make-up done.
  • Bridesmaids getting ready.
  • Any pre-game activities like doing shots, mimosas or high-fiving.
  • Obligatory shots of the dress, shoes, and any special details that are around, etc.
  • The bride putting on the dress, shoes, etc.
  • That moment of OMG! I'm dressed and ready and a bride!
  • If they are at the same location, some shots of her groom and the groomsman pre-gaming.

Ceremony:

I mean, I think these are all self-explanatory, pretty much anything that happens here. If there is going to be some great surprise like our groom is parachuting into the site, or instead of a first kiss you're going to do a first backflip, then you should let your photographer know to be looking out for that. Other than that, any photographer will know what to typically shoot…

  • The bride making her entrance/walking down the aisle.
    Just Married!
    Just married and the groom is freaking stoked! I love it.
  • The awaiting partner's "holy shit I'm so lucky" face.
  • Any ceremony ritual, ie. sand ceremony, candle lighting, etc.
  • The wedding parties lined up all pretty.
  • A wide-angle shot of the whole shebang.
  • First kiss bitches!!!
  • The grand exit.

Oh, and let your photographer know if you want a little alone time right after the ceremony. Most times I feel strange about following the bride and groom all the way out of the ceremony, but if you guys really want them to document that very first moment of "alone" time, definitely give them a heads-up that it's okay to impose.

Post Ceremony (or pre-ceremony if you don't mind seeing each other before the wedding):

My first request for a family totem pole. I'm thinking of making this a mandatory shot.
  • Family photos, or as I like to call it, "pure torture." But you gotta do it! Your mother really wants 'em. One way of making sure this time is less torturous is to come up with a detailed list of ALL of the photos of you want taken. Ex: bride and her family, bride and groom and her family, groom and his brothers, bride and groom and the cousins that flew from France, and on and on. I love when I get these because I have my second-shooter read through the list and we can speed through this without people wandering around lost and confused. ALSO, please, as much as possible, tell your guests to get lost during this time and tell your family to put away their cameras. I can't tell you how many times I haven't been able to get one photo where everyone is either a) all smiling, b) not blinking, or c) even looking at me because half of the crowd is smiling for aunt Edna because she asked to take just one picture.
  • Wedding party shots: the bridesmaids, the groomsmen and a shot of them all together.
  • Bride and groom portraits!!! Omg, I can't tell you how many times we've been putting together bride profiles only to find out that there are seriously NO photos of the bride and groom together — how does this happen!? Make sure you set aside time to do a fun portrait shoot together.

Reception

Some detail shots from a fancy-shmancy wedding.
  • Details like centerpieces, wedding cake, cake topper, wedding favors, etc.
  • The introduction of the couple to into the reception.
  • A lot of couples will ask me to shoot group photos of the guests at their tables — don't ask for this. The photos usually suck because of the odd groupings and everyone looks awkward.
  • Speeches — the person speaking and the couple getting all weepy.
  • First dance and any other special dances.
  • Cake cutting.
  • And then much much partying with lots of candids.
  • The grand exit/waving goodbye shot if you're doing that kind of thing.

Hope that helps you give you a better idea of how to trim down that crazy overly-thorough shot list. And be sure to let us know how it goes!

  1. Great post. I also want to add something… There's a couple little things that my fiance does when no one is looking (hell, sometimes he doesn't even realize he's doing it) that mean so much to me that I want a picture of if possible. So I'm going to warn my photographer that if he sees Justin kissing my hand or absentmindedly rubbing the back of my neck, to snap the picture! hehe

    18 agree
    • Exactly! THOSE are the things to include in your shot list that *no* downloadable shot list will ever contain, no matter how THOROUGH.

      13 agree
  2. Thank you for posting this! My husband does wedding photography as a hobby (as in, he never wanted to get into it but he is actually really awesome at it and people keep begging him to do their wedding – can you tell I am a proud wifey?) and when he asks them for a shot list just for the family part, they often say, "Well, you know, just the usual shots".

    Let's face it… there are no usual family shoots anymore, especially at weddings. There are stepdads and half-sisters, and the cousin that you grew up with, and the cousin you hate but tries to get in every picture, and the grandma that is totally ticked off with the wedding but you want in the pictures but the photog should be forewarned that she WON'T be smiling and the niece that the bride and groom raised for the first three years of her life due to family drama….

    I think we get the point. A family shot list can be soooo helpful.

    3 agree
  3. Working on a family list is a really good idea. And I'll definitely need to come up with ideas for the special stuff that will really matter to my FH and me.

    2 agree
  4. Great Post. I never really thought about any of this. Although, to be honest I haven't really started planning, but this was great information.

  5. i had my wedding done pj style, but i still had a list. i also gave the photographer a map of the area & a timeline so they'd know where to be to get certain shots (b/c the area was about 1/4 of a mile long). another big thing was making sure there was someone there to point out who was family since i didn't do the formal wedding party thing or the posed shots.

    • What is pj style? I assume it wasn't a sleep-over. Although that sounds kind of fun…

      9 agree
  6. I'd to make a "forbidden photos" list…starting with the "Charlie's Angels" pose and definitely including the duck face, gang signs, peace signs, etc.

    *Just for my wedding. If anyone else wants to have those things, knock thyself out!

    11 agree
    • That is actually a great idea! I think everyone has a "type" of photo they don't like… I personally hate photos of people holding beer bottles. I think it looks sooo bad. However, another bride I knew had her groomsmen holding beer bottles for a couple of the shots… she thought it looked more casual and fun.

      2 agree
  7. i like the idea of the forbidden photo list to. i DO NOT want the kissing under the veil, jumping in the air or posing in ridiculous unnatural poses.
    I'm meeting with my photographer at the weekend and i've got some inspiration photos from gorgeous shots i've found on the offbeat bride flickr pool that I'm taking to show her

    3 agree
  8. This is super, super helpful. Thank you for making my next task sooo much easier!!

    1 agrees
  9. Eeep! Just what I was thinking! I am shooting my first wedding this weekend, and I can't really get anything more detailed than one idea. So stressful!

    • I'm shooting my first this weekend too! Good luck to you :) And this post was very helpful!

  10. Our photographer caught a few really fun shots without prompting, and the less posed ones turned out really well.

    Over a year later, my mother is still disappointed that the photographer didn't go around to all the tables for pictures.

    1 agrees
    • Ugh…this has been a constant argument with my parents. They really want table pictures so we have photos of everyone who was at the wedding. But when someone passes away later, looking at a picture of them standing awkwardly won't look as good as a picture of them interacting, looking happy, tearful, etc. I hate table pictures.

      4 agree
      • I'm a few months behind on this, but I'm planning my photography list right now, and this exact thing came up. Well, not exact as in people dying, but the "every table" photos. I told my photographer to get a REAL picture of every single guest, a real NON-POSED photo. I want to see every person having fun so I can see it through their eyes for a moment, rather than seeing every person forcing a smile or feeling awkward.

        • As a wedding photographer, that request is really tough… just because there will be a lot of guests that just sit at their tables and watch everything else happen. They won't be standing around laughing and dancing. Photojournalist style shots of those people will look like they aren't having a good time. If you want your photographer to have to basically count all your guests to make sure they got a picture of each one, that's cool.. but just know they will probably miss capturing real moments trying to fill this request. Not saying they shouldn't try to do this anyway… But if you make it a must have, then other things have to call to the side to complete that.

          1 agrees
    • We solved this in another way. At the entrance of our venue, we had a beautiful deep red wall with a big window next to it. Our photographer asked people to pose for a portrait in front of that wall as they arrived (before even greeting us).

      The results are amazing: I have a beautiful portrait of everyone at our wedding. Everyone looks at their best: already in a party mood, but still fresh. I'm very happy we did this.

      3 agree
  11. Two of my very best friends are wedding photographers (so fortunately they know us so well that I don't really have to worry about this.) But they are always complaining about the ridiculous, long lists of obvious shots that people give them, probably downloaded from above mentioned site. They say find it to be very insulting when they have four page outlines of things written in bold, underlined and in some ridiculous font that says "Bride and Groom Cutting the Cake!!!" and "Bride and Groom's First Dance!!!"
    But it is helpful for things that aren't so by the book like "Bride and Groom enjoying snow cones."

    Also, don't be too hard core with specific shots and poses. You have picked your photographer for a reason. You like their style. Trust them, let them do their thing and you will be very happy with their artistry. If you chose them because you love the way their photo journalistic approach looks, you may not be as happy with your photos if you bog them down with a check list of super posed pictures. "Bride standing at alter with all 7 bridesmaids bouquets strategically placed on her train…."

    4 agree
    • Those kinds of detail shots are EXACTLY the kind of thing all the photogs I interviewed asked us to include in our list. A checklist of all posed pictures we want, including a list by name w/ titles of all the important people, and any candids we want them to catch if they can.

  12. on noes….

    i had no idea that photogs wanted a list..(sigh) one more thing to add to the list of things to do….

    though i can definitely see it coming in handy when doing group shots.

    4 agree
    • It's definitely not necessary. Your photographer will pretty much already know what you want unless, like I said, there are some extra special weird parts to your wedding that they're not expecting. I'd say skip making the entire list if they didn't ask for one and JUST make the family/friends group shot list. It will help that time go by a LOT smoother.

      1 agrees
      • My husband also just asks for a family/friends list. I like it as the "assistant" to avoid family drama. He likes it because of sensitivity reasons… he lost his Mom at a pretty young age, and he didn't want to be reminded at our wedding that she wasn't there by having some photography go, "Mother of the Groom, where are you???"

        Plus, a lot of people ask for photo-journalistic style with just a few posed shots of family. Most photo-journalists don't want shot lists for the whole wedding.

        2 agree
        • That's a good point. My dad passed away and I am finding it stressful to have to remind vendors in advance to not mention or ask where my dad is. I hadn't thought of the photographer as a person I should warn in advance.

          2 agree
      • That's what we're doing. I trust our photographer to document the day well; that's why I picked her. So we'll give her just the list for posed photos. We'll probably also talk her through key moments of the ceremony, but that's just because she hasn't been to a Jewish wedding before.

  13. My husband and I own a videography company. Everyone has a relative with a new digital camera who thinks he is a pro. If you are PAYING professionals to do your photos/video, please tell Uncle Dick to not get in the way. We want to do what you are paying us to do, but at the same time, we don't want to cause drama with your family.

    2 agree
    • You know, I keep hearing this (and I personally am terrified of the idea of 20 different camera flashes blinding me during the most important parts of the day because for some reason everyone feels the need to get their own picture of everything) — but how does one graciously tell people (who IMO ought to have more common sense anyway) to put their cameras away or not interfere? I can't exactly bark out "I'm not walking down this aisle until you all quit it with your freaking cameras" as I enter the chapel.

      • I've heard of (but haven't seen used successfully) using signage at the entrance to the ceremony, reminding people to turn off their cell phones and put away cameras. You could also ask someone to make an announcement, but that may appear a little pushy. But you're right–it's hard to avoid.

        1 agrees
      • My friend was adamant about this and had the celebrant remind the guests not to take pictures right before the ceremony started.

        Of course, a friend of her mother-in-law still took video of the whole thing surreptitiously, which she's still pissed about and refuses to watch…

        • A friend had the celebrant tell guests not to use their cameras during the ceremony and it seemed to work. I was a little unsure of when I was then allowed take photos again though, so I don't have many of their wedding. It might be a good idea to let people know when they can use their cameras again if you do tell them not to at any point. :)

          • We posted a notice about "Unplugged Weddings" on our wedsite, and I am putting a snippet about it in the program as well. In addition, we plan on having a small sign on the table where the programs will be placed. I think three "heads ups" about not taking pics should do it, and if not, then oh well!

            1 agrees
    • I am guessing you want paid for prints. Myself and my husband are photographers. When we go to a family wedding you bet we are taking pics whenever we get a chance. Not during the ceremony necessarily.

  14. We just got married in June and opted out of any posed photos (although we ended up getting roped into a few!) It was more important to us to have the relatively short time filled with fun, instead of guests waiting around for us to finish with the photos after the ceremony(we did the whole he didn't see me thing until the ceremony, so before shots were out!)

    One thing that worked well for us was that we had our photographer stick with us for the first half of the reception (we had also agreed to stick together for the first half.) That was our greeting time, as we didn't do a receiving line. We made sure to talk to everyone there and with the photographer with us, we pretty much got a picture of both of us with everyone. For the second half of the reception, we had a list of details we wanted (you know, dog, garden, amazing cupcake table…) and then just asked her to take as many candids as struck her fancy. In addition, we asked friends to take as many shots of the crowd as they could – they weren't the most beautifully framed photos, but we were so busy mingling, it was awesome to see who was hanging out with who throughout the night!!

    Our photos are mostly back to us – from the photographer, friends and family. There are a few shots we wish we had gotten, but the shots we DO have really show the story of the night, which I think we will like more in 20 years than the family photo, prom-like pictures!

    1 agrees
  15. This list is just another reason why I'm so glad we're doing the wedding the way we are. We're not having a ceremony or a formal reception. In fact, we're calling it our 0th Anniversary, haha! I'm not comfortable in front of cameras and in fact, we don't have many photos of us at all (either of us!)

    I had no idea there were so many "shots" that most people wanted included in their wedding day, it's insane! I mean, 90% of the stuff on that list we won't be doing like the dancing, the speeches, the introducing of the couple, anything of the ceremony… yikes!

    My FH is a graphic designer and all his friends are designers and amateur photogs, so we were just going to tell people to bring their cameras and go crazy :)

    Kudos to all you photographers out there for (especially Megan for this list!) I'm in no way creative and would never have thought about any of this stuff.

    1 agrees
  16. We have been married 38 years, and I also do wedding photography (friends and relations only). Now our own most valued wedding photos are the group shots, of friends and relations that are no longer with us. A wedding is one of the few times when a family will come together, and there is a photographer on the scene to record it.

    I see so many professional photographers spending hours doing the arty stuff with bride and groom, but who don't then take any group shots at all. In years to come the lack of group shots will be keenly felt.

    I urge you to take group shots whilst you have the chance – tomorrow/ next week/ next year may be too late.

    2 agree
    • But what if you're not comfortable with posed group shots and want to do something more candid (like just sitting with my parents enjoying the atmosphere or giving my in laws a little tour of the park where the wedding and reception will be held)? I found out when I first started taking pictures even a little bit seriously that the candid shots of groups turned out to be much more poignant and simply more beautiful to look at as time went by. I also think it's a better way to spend time with your various family members, as opposed to everyone getting arranged a particular way. Anyone else considering this?

      4 agree
    • I think so much depends on the individual couple and their individual families.

      For example, one of my best friend and her husband have tons of family drama and getting everyone to stand around for a bunch of posed shots would have been a nightmare of infighting and pettiness. (You think people could set that stuff aside for one day, but no.) So they did a lot of artsy shots of the bride and groom and mostly candid shots from there. Because when they look back on their wedding they want to remember the beauty of the day and their love, not which family members weren't speaking to each other or threatened not to attend or gave them backhanded compliments at their own reception.

      Anyway, that's just one example. I think that every couple has different elements of their wedding that they want to remember. Those with close families will want lots of those types of pictures. Those with families they tolerate will not.

      2 agree
  17. I'm a rather odd person so my photos will probably end up including things like "Bridesmaids jumping as Bride pokes them in sides", "Groom wrestling with Best man", "Mother of the Bride making the Muppet face", and "Groomsmen throwing dice at each other".

    2 agree
    • Ok that's just CUTE! I love the muppet faces!! It's got me thinkin'!

  18. I once had a shot list given to me by the bride and the first one on the list was "Bride and Groom'…no kidding! :D Sorta goes without saying, I would have thought.

  19. This is on my mind because we just did a wedding where "Uncle Dick" invaded the family formal photos and started directing. "Oh, let's do this shot, let's do that, blah blah." This WILL make your photo/video session go longer and delay your ability to be at the party with everyone else. In this particular case, it would have been nice if the bride/groom had said, "Oh, Uncle So and So, we have a list that we are following to make sure we get all the ones we want with our professional photags. We'll be around later and can do some more shots with you then." Maybe? I don't know. Then do it later with Uncle Dick only if you REALLY want to. I mean it all comes down to family dynamics too. My main point is that as a vendor, we want to make you happy. Missing the party may not make you happy. Uncle Dick being in the shots, reducing the total number of good shots may not make you happy. Especially for video, which is totally different than still, it is a pain. In terms of the ceremony, it is inevitable that guests will be taking photos of you coming down the aisle. That's not really a problem from my perspective.

  20. @Jennifer: Perhaps you can put some wording in your program to the effect of "Please delay taking photos of Jennifer until she has reached the "altar" (or whatever you are calling the end of the aisle). She and "Name" want to see stars when they first see each other, but not from flashes. ;) We promise that we will have our professional photographer's pictures of her coming down the aisle available to you, mailed to you, etc." Again, only you know if your family will appreciate the humor or will be offended.

    4 agree
  21. Thank you for highlighting the need to PLAN bride and groom together in a photo shots. Out of the hundreds of photos from our wedding, there was not one photo of just me and my husband together. We were so caught up in the day that we totally forgot to do this. Even our photographer who was extremely organised forgot. Luckily we were able to 'cut out' the best man from a shot of the three of us and now that's our 'couple shot'. Thanks you digital photo cropping!

  22. I wish I had this before our wedding a few weeks ago! I was so NOT into the preplanned photo thing, but now I'm missing a bunch of shots I wish I had. Great stuff!

  23. Great advice! Love the family totem pole pic… I should have seen this a couple of months back! :)

  24. It never occurred to me to make a list of the shots I wanted, but in retrospect I really wish I had. It was so chaotic the day of my wedding that no one knew what was going on, and I somehow managed to not get a single picture of me with my family. There are pictures galore with me and my husband's fam, but none of me with mine. It bothered me so much that a few months after the wedding, I had my parents and siblings put back on the clothes they wore to my wedding, and we took a family photo in the living room, using the timer on my dad's digital!

    BTW, I love the idea of a Do Not Photo list – my photographer kept asking me to do all kinds of cliched poses that totally weren't me (i.e., look dreamily at your bouquet) and it was kind of annoying after awhile.

    I appreciated that people wanted to take pictures at my wedding, but honestly, that's why we hired a photographer. After the wedding I had all these people sending me pics they took of us, and it was really sweet, but every photo we got sent was of something our photographer had already taken of picture of, but in better quality!

  25. Great article! As a wedding officiant, I'm always kind of just lingering around after the wedding, not quite sure if I'm supposed to stay for pics or not. I like to get a shot or two with my own camera since I blog about my weddings and like to include a shot of me with the couple. I usually take a few other shots as the "official" wedding party poses for the photographer, but I'll be more sensitive in the future.

    It's a little awkward as the officiant to stand around waiting for the time or the opportunity for my photo with the newlyweds. Is this a standard shot? Am I expecting something that's not typically included in a shot list?

    One other comment..you have a great set of shots concerning the bridal party, but I'd encourage you to have a male assistant who can take shots of the groom and groomsmen getting ready as well, even if they're getting ready at a hotel or other location before coming to the wedding venue. Does that make sense? Not necessarily poses but candid shots that would balance all the bridal party shots.

    1 agrees
        • At my church, no men are allowed in the the female area and vise-versa, so having a male assistant would definitely be helpful here! I don't think it was sexist cuz when it comes to religion you never know what the rules might be!

          2 agree
          • Yeah, but you can just say "an assistant." If there's a need for that assistant to be gender-specific, I'm pretty sure that can be discussed circumstantially.

  26. Megan, awesome post. I definitely look forward to your future advice!
    I am curious about shots that people who are already married say "I wish I had a picture of…" I have a ton of married friends, most with very traditional, posed shots, and I'm so nervous I'll forget something. Like, I don't have a high school grad photo of me with my grandparents. Or with just my Mom, etc. And I can't even imagine the photo nightmare that is waiting to happen with my Mom's family and my hated wicked-stepmother. *sigh* I'd love some advice on how to deal with those 'awkward' situations too. And your work is fabulous and has so much energy!

    1 agrees
    • Hey Jen, wish I had more to say than this but… sometimes you will forget to take certain photos and it will always suck. And as far as awkward situations… welcome to weddings! I try to stay neutral as I shoot complicated family situations and it's great when the couple warns me before-hand as to whether or not their families will be awful. ;) GOOD LUCK!

      1 agrees
    • We totally forgot to include my MIL's boyfriend. He is known as a part of the family and when they called up his side the BF didn't come up. I didn't think of it that day but hadn't I made a note beforehand I/he/photographer/someone might have realized it. I still feel really bad. If you have a non-traditional anything where someone isn't sure if they are included – make a note.

  27. One point I think worth making is that when you think you need to schedule in 'family' photos they can be anything, really they're just group shots! Our chosen family of friends is just as important to us, as are people from so many different groups in our life. So we had masses of group shots in a mingling time after the ceremony, we gave our photographer a crazy-detailed list, had a guest wrangler who knew who most people were, but also made photo lists that matched the seating plan (along with an index because we're geeks). The list made an intimidating amount of group shots go really smoothly as people knew what was going on and roughly when, and they were really fun as we posed all over the venue, so it really created movement at the party.

    I also liked this approach because it's so hard as a guest sometimes to know when to go up. If a photographer calls out 'bride's family!' you think, I'm a cousin, should I go? Or I'm a partner of a cousin, does that mean me? Plus it was important to me that my extended family shots included my 'life' aunts, long term friends of my mum who had always been in my life, so I wanted to honour them as well and make sure they knew they were expected.

    Chosen family is the way forward!

    3 agree
  28. This is so helpful! I'm so glad I found this! I think my mom does want gobs of pictures! I'm thinking of organizing a picture treasure hunt for guests with cameras for some extra shots…

    2 agree
  29. My list have shot is me jumping on the he's whilst getting ready because I'm So fucking excited to be getting married to the best guy ever. Aside from that, I'm going to have to make a list of family shots or I'll forget to take them, and we will definitely need to tell people to keep the cameras away during the ceremony.

  30. The only list I work off of is a formals list to make sure I get all the family/friends desired in the posed portraits. Otherwise, I work in a straight photojournalistic way. Having any 'moments' list in general will slow down your photographer and just encourage 'staged' moments, which to me.. always look staged. I do ask for timelines and details on things like the ceremony, reception, etc, so I know what to look for. This approach has always worked with me. To me, the key is open communication with your photographer.. not a list. You honestly never know exactly HOW the wedding day is going to go. It normally doesn't go quite as you planned. The best thing is to have a photographer who uses their mad ninja skills to stay on top of what's going on and uses their eyes and brains to catch the moments you don't even KNOW should be on the list ;)

    1 agrees
  31. I agree with someone else, my besties are shooting my wedding photos and they do A-M-A-Z-I-N-G work. They know us well enough that they know what we want. I do not have to make lists for her, or fear that she will not journal all of the important details. She also ALWAYS catches my husband-to-be doing something really stupid because she thinks he is funny for some reason unbeknownst to me. Anyway, I trust her to get it all done and let me just be the bride that day.

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