Wedding Shot List: Essential Moments a Photographer Should Capture
In my complete guide to wedding photography, I addressed 10 critical moments that a wedding photographer can’t miss. In this guide, I want to dial in and take a closer look at what photos should be taken at a wedding.
I’m going to bring it up into a few categories to help you simplify how you think about your wedding photography shot list. It’s better to have a general, simple, and specific plan that you can achieve than a 1,000-item shot list that will likely end up in a focus on what you missed rather than what you got.
Table of Contents
What Photos Should Be Taken at a Wedding?
For simplicity, I’m going to bring things down into four main categories. These categories are important for the majority of weddings, and understanding why will help you determine what to shoot:
- The people photos: Moments with the parents, group pictures of the important people, couples portraits.
- The wedding ceremony: Walking down the aisle, vows, first kiss, exiting as husband and wife.
- Reception traditions: Dances, rituals, speeches.
- What is important to the couple?
Who Are the Important People at a Wedding?
The most important people at the wedding are the bride and groom followed by anyone who is important to the bride and groom. It can be easy to try to please everyone on the wedding day. You’re trying to take good photos for the couple and the crazy Aunt and the wedding planner and the venue, but when it comes down to it you need to think about the couple.
Couples portraits are an extremely important part of the wedding day because they are the photos that end up being printed and hung at various people’s houses. You need some solid portraits and maybe even some creative portraits depending on your couple. It’s also great if the couples portraits capture the joy and excitement of the wedding day.
Beyond that, often the parents are the most important people especially as they relate to their children. If you can capture tender moments between the bride and her mom, for example, those are going to be special. Pictures of the bridal party are important too especially if they have been friends for a long time but the immediate family members are often the people that will solidly be in the life of the couple.
I love that modern wedding photography has moved far beyond the boring traditional posed photos and I believe that candids that come from photojournalism have more meaning and storytelling. However, group portraits are still the photos that many people print and frame for their desks. Therefore, it can be important to get high-quality group portraits of any groups of people that are important to your couple.
Spending too much time on posed group shots can suck up the hours and negatively impact the wedding experience so try not to go overboard with group photos. Work with your couple to come up with a realistic list of combinations of photos that might actually be printed by various family members.
What Are the Important Moments During the Ceremony?
Typically one of the most important photos from the wedding ceremony is the expressions on the couple’s faces when they’re walking down the aisle both before they’re married and after they are married. This is where you’re telling the story of their excitement, anticipation, and then their joy. Some couples cry while others can’t help but smile their biggest smile and these photos naturally tell a story of what is happening.
Beyond those key photos are other moments that capture ceremony traditions. This can vary but most weddings include vows and a first kiss. If you can capture sweet and intimate moments during the vows as well as a first kiss, those are going to be key photos for the couple.
Other ceremony photos that can be nice to have include photos of the people sitting in the front row, typically immediate family members, looking proud and emotional. A wide-angle shot of the overall ceremony can be nice in order to set the scene and see who all was there. Pictures that include the bridal party can also be nice to have.
Ask your couple about their ceremony as some couples have cool traditions that will make for awesome photographs while others will have a super quick and efficient ceremony. It’s more important to be in the right place for the main photos than to try to do too much.
What Are the Important Moments During the Reception?
The important moments during the reception may vary based on the couple and the traditions they’re choosing to utilize. The most common traditions are speeches, dances, cake cutting, and a bouquet and garter toss. It can be helpful to ask your couple which of these events or any other they are planning to have on their wedding day.
These events can be the hardest to photograph because often they require additional lighting. Therefore, knowing when they are happening ahead of time will help you prepare. And if a couple says they aren’t doing something, be prepared just in case and check in with the DJ because sometimes there’s a change of plans.
The main three dances are the couple’s first dance, a father-daughter dance, and a mother-son dance. However, we’ve often seen additional dances with step-parents, a generation dance where all the married couples dance, the Hora, or a money dance. These can be fun moments to capture to show how fun the night was.
Another event that sometimes happens at a reception is a planned exit. Couples exit to sparklers, bubbles, glow sticks, and more and it can make a great final image to conclude the wedding album you design for your couple. These can be trickier to shoot so it’s good to know about them ahead of time and plan how you’re going to photograph them.
What is Important to the Couple?
This last category is customizable based on the couple. Be sure to capture whatever is most important to your clients in general and the specific couple that you’re working with on that particular day.
If they hired you based on your portfolio make sure you deliver the types of photos that are in your portfolio. Additionally, before the wedding day make sure to get to know your couple well enough to know what is most important to them about their wedding. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they’re most excited about or which photos are most important to them.
The Ultimate Wedding Photography Shot List
While carrying a generic 1,000-item shot list is not what I recommend, here is an ultimate shot list of subjects and moments commonly considered to be essential or important by wedding photographers and couples — looking over it can at least provide some basic direction and guidance as you focus on the four main categories described above.
Getting Ready and Pre-Ceremony
- Bride and bridal party getting hair and makeup done
- Bride getting dressed with assistance
- Groom and groomsmen getting ready
- Groom’s mother attaching boutonniere
- Bride and groom with parents
- Wedding party reactions and interactions
- Bride portraits (including back of wedding dress)
- First look between couple
- Bride and bridesmaid portraits
- Groom and groomsmen portraits
- Invitation and program
- Wedding rings
- Wedding dress (hanging and closeups)
- Bridesmaid dresses
- Flowers (e.g. bouquets, boutonnieres, corsages, flower girl basket, etc.)
- Venue photos (interior and exterior, wide and details)
- Guests arriving and seated
- Wide view of guests from the altar
- Groom and groomsman arriving and waiting
- Parents and family arriving and seated
- Bridal party entrance
- Ring bearers and flower girls
- Bride walking down the aisle and groom’s reaction
- Bride being given away
- Officiant performing the ceremony
- Exchanging of vows
- Exchanging of rings
- First kiss
- Wedding party, family, and guest reactions
- Introduction of the newly married couple
- Petal/confetti/rice toss
- Signing the marriage license with the officiant
Post-Ceremony and Group Portraits
- Candid photos of the guests mingling
- Couple with wedding party
- Couple with family
- Couple with friends
- Any combination of the people above requested by the couple during planning
- Portraits of the newlywed couple
- Venue photos (interior and exterior, wide and details)
- Venue and tabletops before guests
- Bridal party entrance
- Newlyweds entrance
- Toasts and speeches
- Detail shots of the table styling, food, and drinks
- Newlyweds at the bridal table
- Table photos of guests
- Newlyweds visiting guest tables
- Candid photos of the guests
- First dance between the newlyweds
- Father/daughter and mother/son dances
- Dancing on the dance floor
- The DJ, musician, or band performing
- Wedding cake
- Cake cutting
- Bouquet toss
- Taking off the garter belt and the toss
- Wedding party and guests lined up at exit
- Newlyweds leaving the reception, getting into the getaway car, waving, and driving away
It is important to remember that weddings may be highly personalized by each couple and that items on this shot list may not be relevant to a particular wedding. The items also vary in importance, and whether some subjects or moments are covered depends on the number of photographers working at the wedding and the load each one is able to carry.
The Most Important Wedding Photos
The most important wedding photos are the ones that help the couple remember the important moments and people from their wedding day. Instead of trying to nail everything on a huge shot list, focus on what’s important when it comes to weddings and when it comes to your particular couple. This might mean details if your couple made elaborate centerpieces and it will definitely mean a solid ceremony exit celebration shot.
Brides might care about everything from getting ready photos to drunken dance floor shenanigans but after over a decade of photographing weddings, there are four main categories that I’ve found to be key to capturing the most important wedding photos. Focus on the important people, the important ceremony and reception moments, and then whatever is most important to your couple.
These are the photos that end up printed on mom’s desk or sent as a Christmas card. These are the photos that end up in the wedding album and are shared with friends and family for years to come. And finally, these are the photos that will help the couple look back and remember what was important about their wedding day.
About the author: Brenda Bergreen is a Colorado wedding photographer, videographer, yoga teacher, and writer who works alongside her husband at Bergreen Photography. With their mission and mantra “love. adventurously.” they are dedicated to telling adventurous stories in beautiful places.
Image credits: Photographs by Brenda Bergreen.