I can’t be the only one with a fear of the wedding photography shot list can I? There has to be an official name for this fear, something like wedshottelphobia. Regardless of what led you here to this article, let me persuade you against the anxiety producing and creativity reducing piece of paper know as a shot list.
Maybe it’s not a piece of paper, maybe it’s a excel file or an app or a Pinterest board. I don’t really care, I’m not a fan.
I do know that the shot list came about for a reason. In order to acknowledge and address that, I would like to share what is important about a shot list and then give you some alternatives that will help you accomplish the same goals while also capturing better wedding photos.
Feel free to disagree. One thing I have learned over the years is that the reason there can be so many photographers is that there are a variety of clients to serve and we are not the right fit for everyone.
This information is helpful for wedding couples and photographers alike. Read the blog below or watch the YouTube video
Some important things about a wedding photography shot list
a) Familiarize yourself with weddings
A photographer needs to be familiar with what is important on a wedding day. I think that’s probably where the shot list originated. First the bride will get ready so you must take a picture of 1. Putting on make up 2. Doing hair 3. Zipping up the dress 4. Putting on the veil.
Wait, but first you must shoot the details: dress, shoes, jewelry, perfume, deodorant, toothbrush, underwear. All the things.
Yes, we must know the different parts of the day so that we can be aware of what we are photographing. For a new photographer, getting familiar with what the elements of a wedding are is important. Learning to speak the language is key
However, shooting by the shot list can result in a photographer saying, “wait, can you pretend to zip of the dress again so I can get that shot” rather than taking a photo of the mom tearing up as she looks at her daughter in her wedding dress.
A shot list causes the photographer to interrupt the real and true moments for the shot list. Instead the shot list should be used to help bring awareness to what moments to look for.
I’m not sure how many weddings you need to go to in order to learn what moments to look for and learn the language of wedding photography. It probably differs from person to person. And what is important might vary from person to person.
I suggest you figure it out and then go to that many weddings. Familiarize yourself with the elements of a wedding day so that you can be prepared. Wedding days you will discover are generally predictable and the last thing you want is for your wedding photos to be predictable.
When I send a bride her photos I want them to be custom, unique, and emotional. Not predictable. A picture of her shoes could be a picture of any brides shoes, a picture of her shoe peeking out under her dress as she takes a nervous step down the aisle, now that’s something she will want to remember.
b) Get to know your couple and their priorities
A wedding photographer needs to be aware of what the couple’s priorities are. If you are going to have a shot list, it shouldn’t be a generic one. It should be a shot list tailored to your couple.
Maybe your bride doesn’t care about her shoes one iota but the groom got his dress custom made by his grandfather’s tailor. Maybe the centerpieces simply came with the venue but the bridesmaid dresses were handmade by the bride’s aunt. These are the types of things to put on a shot list if you’re going to have one.
I find that when you take the time to ask your couple what is important to them, it’s actually less about the stuff than it is about the people. It’s about dancing with their college friends or dad walking me down the aisle or grandma with her kids.
Don’t let the shot list get in your way
It bears repeating that a wedding photography shot list can be an anxiety producing creativity reducing piece of paper. A shot list can take you out of the moment, or worse yet ruin a moment because you’re focused on getting a certain shot rather than capturing what is happening. And a shot list can actually result in you capturing the wrong things for the wrong people and spending valuable time on something that doesn’t matter.
On a personal note, I think the wedding photography shot list contributes to a culture of consumption. A wedding should be about getting married rather than all the stuff. It’s a lot of pressure for brides to think their wedding has to look like something out of a magazine when that is not what really matters.
The pretty flowers and the candles on the table are nice for setting the mood and creating ambiance but that’s not the story that we are telling. That’s just the setting and those things are just descriptive elements to enhance the feelings. The subject of the story is the couple and their friends and family.
Lastly, for a photographer to be creative it requires the time and space to see the story and capture it in a meaningful way. Watching a moment unfold and being prepared to capture it in a beautiful image requires presence and clarity. That’s much different that running around taking a bunch of pictures on a pre-determined list.
Alternative to a wedding photography shot list
Don’t worry, I would never leave you hanging without a better alternative to the wedding photography shot list.
a) Minimize and streamline your shot list
If you just can’t let go, start by creating a short shot list, a minimalist list. The shorter the shot list the better for a couple of reasons.
- If you have 1000 items on a shot list then that is 1000 photos you feel stressed about making sure you get which leaves you no time to respond to what is actually happening on a wedding day.
- I’ve found that most couples have just a few actual priorities so if I find out what they are I can focus on those and not waste time on the others. Even if you still want to shoot everything in sight, you can conserve your resources and not spend ten minutes shooting the invitations if the bride just got whatever design was the first to pop up.
- Now that you have freed yourself up creatively, you can focus on telling the story of the wedding day without restraints or expectations or some cookie cutter formula.
b) Analyze your style and priorities
As a photographer you need to develop a style and decide what your priorities are. Your website, portfolio, and client meetings need to reflect what your style and priorities are. As a bride, you need to pay attention to the style and priorities are of the photographer you are selecting.
If you hate photos of couples in nature, it would be a mistake to hire Bergreen Photography. It is very clear on our website that we work with adventurous couples and we take them outside on cliffs, in snow, exploring for a landscape photos. That is obviously more important to us that shoe pictures, in fact what’s important to us about your shoes is that you are proficient enough to walk in then so when you’re standing on a rock you don’t fall down. At the same time, if you love your shoes I will likely notice that and include them in my picture.
Attracting the right clients or picking the right photographer is about making sure that the style and priorities are a match.
c) Do have some notes and a family picture list
While I never use a shot list, I do have notes and a family picture list. I make sure that I know what my couples’ priorities are and if there is anything outside of the realm of what I normally do or typically pay attention to, I have that written down in a manner that I am aware of it.
The one time that I use a shot list on the wedding day is when it makes life easier and more efficient. That time is during family pictures. Family pictures are really important to a lot of couples at a lot of weddings. However, no one really enjoys waiting around for family pictures to happen. Having a list made ahead of time and put into an efficient order allows us to be quick, efficient, and breeze through that part of the day.
d) Always focus on what is important
Do some soul searching to determine what is important on a wedding day. Is it the things that are on the shot list? Or is it the intimate moments between the important people. I think that you’ll find that if you truly examine what is important to remember about a wedding, it’s the things that you can’t predict.
The job of a wedding photographer is to document this important day so that the couple and their families can remember how it felt and share the stories with people that weren’t there. It’s the laughter and tears that matter. It’s the stories of mishap or heartfelt joy.
So, I encourage you to throw out the wedding photography shot list. Throw it out for the sake of your creativity. Throw it out for the sake of your couples. And throw it out for the sake of not allowing the industry to become more materialistic and more about consumption.
If you need help prioritizing your planning, you’ll find our free comprehensive e-guide here.
About the Authors
Marc and Brenda Bergreen are Colorado-based photographers, focusing on weddings and commercial work. This husband and wife team is all about love and adventure, and their photography sure reflects it. Make sure to check out more of their photos on their websites (adventure | wedding), and follow Marc and Brenda on Instagram. This article was originally posted here and shared with permission.
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