You Don’t Need to Give Your Photographer a Wedding Shot List

September 22, 2019 | Junebug Weddings

photo by Jordan Voth

If you’ve hired a photographer for your wedding, you may have found advice discussing the need for a “must-have” wedding shot list. We’ve read some of these posts, too. Maybe an old-school family member has also done a little too much browsing—all in good intention, of course—and forwarded you one of these checklists. If they have, it’s okay to send them a link to this article. Let us do the talking for you! 

We’re here to assure you that you don’t need a wedding photography shot list. In fact—a shot list might hinder your photographer’s availability to capture the photographs you really want

If you’ve been wondering if a wedding shot list is something you need, keep reading to learn about why you don’t need a “must-have” photo checklist and more from Junebug’s carefully selected bunch of the world’s best wedding photographers.

What is a Wedding Shot List?

A wedding shot list is what it sounds like: A list you give to your photographer that describes “must-have” captures. A simple search on the internet will produce wedding photo checklist templates, suggestions of photographs you need for each part of the day, and many other resources you don’t actually need. 

Five Quick Reasons You Don’t Need a Must-Have Wedding Photo Shot List

  • Presenting your photographer with a shot list might make them feel like you don’t trust their professional expertise. 
  • An experienced photographer will already know the photos you’ll want to keep forever. 
  • The best moments on your wedding day cannot be planned. 
  • Wedding photography checklists prevent your photographer from being able to be creative. 
  • Receiving your photo gallery should bring you joy—not be a chore to make sure all of your “must-have” photos are there. 

photo by Hannah McMaster

Photographer Relationships are Important

There are certain vendors who you spend a great deal of time with on your wedding day—your wedding photographer is one of them. It’s important to choose vendors you enjoy and can form a genuine relationship with before your big day. 

Do you want to know one of the greatest ways you can ensure an excellent relationship with your photographer? Trust the vision that you hired them for

Teri Bocko of Teri B Photography told us, “Photography shot lists deteriorate the trust relationship in the photographer you hired. If I receive a photo shot list, it seems like my couple doesn’t trust me to capture their day.”

We also heard from Nikk Nguyen, who said, “I can’t emphasize this enough—make sure you feel comfortable with your wedding photographer! Finding a wedding photographer is like finding a hairstylist. Each photographer has their own style, personality, and way of approaching weddings. Find someone you jive really well with and can trust. This will help you and your significant other feels at ease and present in the moment while also helping your photographer capture those raw, candid, and intimate moments between you both.”

Hiring the Right Photographer for Your Day

It’s extremely important you choose a photographer who’s portfolio reflects the photographs you’re hoping to get on your wedding day. If you like posed moments, look for a photographer who already does that well—without a shot list. Or, if candid moments are more your style, search for a documentary-style photographer who will be looking for natural moments throughout the day.

Kerry Charlotte, Planner and Owner of Haute Weddings, gave us some insight on hiring the right photographer for your day. She said, “Photographers will explain if they prefer candid authentic moments, more editorial moments, if they focus on details, etc. Make sure the photographer that you choose really encompasses the same interests so you have the perfect wedding album!”

And, as Molly Gruenewald said, “If you’re lacking trust in your relationship with your photographer, I would reconsider that particular photographer for your special day.”

If the photographer search has been daunting, read these six steps that will steer you in the direction of finding your perfect match. 

photo by The Caryls Photography

Professional Photographers Know the Wedding Photos You Want

When we asked Hannah McMaster about wedding photography shot lists, she said, “Would you go to a mechanic and tell them all the things to check in your car? No. You relax and know that you chose that mechanic for a specific reason.” 

We agree. 

You’ve invested in an experienced, professional photographer for a reason. Trust them. Trust them to capture everything you’ve dreamed of and more. If you’re worried about them capturing a special moment, you might consider having a conversation with them about hiring a second photographer rather than asking them to check off boxes from a checklist on your wedding day.

Here’s some great advice from Kanoa Utler of Eyeconik Media: “Fast-Forward your life in your mind. You are now 10 years past your wedding, all the photos have been taken, and all videos have been captured. I want you to open up your wedding album or turn on your wedding film. What are the photos you dream of seeing in there? Most of the time, we get couples that can mention only about a handful of things. This is because the most important photographs and video moments are the moments that you can’t anticipate.”

Authentic, Candid Moments Win on Wedding Days

Weddings can be filled with many emotions—from celebrating while getting ready to tears rolling down your cheeks and you recite your vows. While it’s no secret we love the beautiful details at weddings, these unexpected, authentic moments are as important as the decor and details of your day. 

Hannah McMaster told us, “If you give your photographer a list, they will focus on that list and could miss the more precious, raw moments as they are unfolding.”

We don’t want that to happen to you. 

If you need more convincing, Lauren McGee of LIT Photography NI said something similar: “If I have to put my attention into ticking off a list, I can’t focus my attention on the real life events of a wedding. For example, if I’m too busy getting that shot of the bridesmaid gift bags that Pinterest tells you you should have, I’ll miss the moment your grandmother walks in to see you on your wedding morning. That Pinterest wedding shot list didn’t allow for that moment, because it’s generic. Shot lists are generic, and there is no such thing as a generic wedding.”

Be present on your wedding day, and let your photographer capture those moments that will bring back memories for years to come. 

photo by Lilly Red Photography

Capture Images that are Uniquely You

Your wedding day goes by fast. It’s true. Forcing a photo you saw on Pinterest keeps you from living in the moment of the already fast day. Couples shouldn’t want to replicate someone else’s wedding shots. 

Instead, trust the photographer to capture moments that are uniquely your own. Your love—your personalities, impeccable style, and sweet little quirks—make your wedding day special. That’s what should be captured.

Jenn Maurer of Wild Coast Photography said it best, “Basically, shot lists are expectations created prior to the event that simply can’t live up to the reality of being present and in the moment. They take away the creativity and spontaneity of capturing your day as it happens. Naturally, the moments you want captured with the people who are present will be a part of the gallery, but trust your photographer to do their best to use their creative judgement in capturing those moments.”

We also love this advice Kanoa Utler shared with us: “You can “fake” a candid moment, but if you want real authentic moments, you have to allow your photographer the ability to be present and capture what’s happening on your day—instead of running around and focusing only on a strict and rigid wedding shot list.

Family Photographs Are an Exception 

There are a few exceptions to photography shot lists. Many photographers will ask their clients to make a list of family members they want photographed with them. They’ll also ask questions about family issues that might require extra sensitivity (i.e. separated parents or family members who have passed). 

Kerry Charlotte told us what she recommends to her clients. She said, “Rather than a shot list, we do encourage couples to provide a list of important family members to capture. We often have couples tell us how much they cherish photos of the grandparents playing with their grandkids or of a baby in fancy dress for the first time. Little things like this are important to note with your photographer. We also ask couples to share if any of the details are really important to capture. Is your ring an antique? Was your something blue passed down? Things like this deserve more  focus.”

Photographer Jenn Maurer also explained, “This is a chance to disclose certain family tensions—like, if you want a photo with your divorced parents who don’t get along, I’ll use my discretion and not ask them to stand beside each other. A family portrait shot list is helpful in advance because on the day of your wedding you shouldn’t be checking off a list whether you got a photo with every family combination. Instead, I can go down the list and make the portrait session go quickly.”

Discuss Important Family Members With Your Photographer

Katy Caryl of The Caryls Photography told us this: “Do discuss your day with your photographer in detail. Talk to your photographer about things that are important to you and your partner—both in life in general and about your day in detail. Also talk to them about any guests who you would particularly value some beautiful, natural unposed images of—perhaps an elderly grandparent that you are very close to, for example. Your photographer will then be able to keep these as they go about capturing your day.”

photo by Afrik Armando

After your wedding day the flowers will fade, food will be in satisfied bellies, and your venue will house more ceremonies—the expertly captured photos are what you will cherish forever. The images you’ll hold dear are the ones that bring back the butterflies before your first look, the tears shed walking down the aisle, and every moment after saying “I do.” Give yourself space to feel every moment without scrambling for “must-have” wedding photos.

Your photographer is a professional. Their ability to document the most important day of your life is the reason you chose to work with them. You can thank them by making sure your guests’ faces aren’t buried in their phones. An unplugged ceremony will create a euphoric atmosphere, and when you receive your images back, you’ll be glad you did.

Take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy your wedding the way it was meant to be—without wedding shot lists.

photo by Jordan Voth

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  1. So, so true. Thank god I’ve never been handed with a shot list but I would definitely share this if that happens! :)

  2. Hi,
    I completely agree with your what you trying to say about wedding shot list. As a professional photographer, one should expert in their job, thus there is no need to give them instruction. Let them free to use their skills and ideas to make your wedding photo shoot awesome.

  3. So true!! Love seeing an article supporting photographers professionalism and eye, and letting couples relax and enjoy their day without a shot list in the back of their minds!

  4. Being yourselves on a wedding day is the key for a beautiful story presented in everlasting images. My brides and grooms understand that from the very first minute they meet me and there are no shot lists coming my way :). I am thankful for that and specially my clients love their organic story to be told the way it happened without being orchestrated through some lists… Thanks for sharing. Jozef

  5. Thank you for sharing this – completely agree with everything you’ve said – let the spontaneity happen and the magic follows!

  6. Mmm, nailed it.

  7. Nice and useful article, group photos can ruin the wedding, indeed. When there’s 100 guests it can take an hour to capture all of them! It’s exhausting for the couple and their guests would definitely prefer to spend that time having fun, dancing and enjoying that beautiful day :) So yes! No posing photos, just real emotions :)

  8. Thanks for this. Finally, a simply written, convincing article why shot lists are a bad idea. :)

  9. Excellent article guys!! Completely agree!

  10. Love love love this!

  11. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, for writing this article. It is absolutely pertinent to our creative capacity as memory-seekers and storytellers, and it’s exactly what couples need to hear when it comes to hiring a professional photographer for the most magical occasion of their lives to-date. I LOVE this. Thank you for putting this good info out into the world.

  12. Yes, we agree that brides don’t need a shot list and we never ask them for one. However, photographers should build their own shot list and use this list as a guide. We have been shooting weddings for over 5 years now and we always use a shot list and will continue to use one. It helps to ensure that we get all the important shots and that we stay on schedule.

    Believe it or not, even a mechanic uses a guide. When you take your car to a mechanic, you first have to tell the mechanic what you think is wrong with the car and then they will use a trouble-shooting guide to diagnose what the problem really is with your car. After your mechanic identifies what the problem is with your car he or she will explain the problem to you and then give you some choices for solving the problem. So while you may not tell your mechanic how to fix your car, your input will be vital to properly solving your car problem.

    The same goes for wedding. Your pre-wedding consultation should be a diagnosing process where you identify what photos are important to the bride. Once you have identified what is important to your bride, you should make note of it so that you don’t forget those all important shots. Yes, your bride may not understand your creative process and the technical requirements to create beautiful photos but they sure do have ideas of what they would like.

    We always explain to our brides that we will do everything within our power to create the photos that they would like but due to time constrain, lighting, and environment we can’t guarantee that we will be able to get all the shots they requested. This is also stated in our contract. A shot list does not prevent you from been creative and it doesn’t take away from the photos you create. On the contrary, it is a big help in ensuring that you get all the important shots and that you stay on schedule. In the end your bride will be a lot happier.

  13. well said!!!! Photographers need to be able to freely take photos in the moment, not from a piece of paper.

  14. Wow.. we have never gotten this kind of shot list… Any shot list we get is “us with dog” “us on a bridge”. We so rarely get a “pinterest board” saying “This is exactly what we want, do not deviate” Our clients seem to trust us… haha.

    Also our group and family photos only take like 15 minutes.

    We love getting shot lists because it lets us be inspired by what our clients want from their photoshoot. It lets us collaborate on something bigger than ourselves. :)

    Happy shooting, friends!

  15. I totally agree. I wish more couple read this before hiring a photographer. Great tips!

  16. We always ask our couples for a brief shot list of which “formal” family photos they’d like captured on the day. We emphasise that any more than half a dozen for example will disrupt the flow of the day and mean they miss out of the real moments they love- our couples are totally on board with this and the rest of our coverage is totally natural.

    We still ask for this brief list because although most of the time it’s the same key photos time and again, every family dynamic is different. Having been there myself not too long ago, in the haze of the celebration it can be hard for newlyweds to remember which pictures they’d like. Not having a list can make them feel obligated to have photos they don’t really want. Having a small pre-agreed list to work to is a great way of brushing off overly eager distant relatives for example. Aside from that though, for us, lists just aren’t necessary or part of the day.

  17. Interesting article and I agree and disagree. Most couples who’s wedding we shot never really gave us a shot list, but we would always get one for the formal shots to speed things up and get it done. I think if couples are going to give you a massive list of you can decide if you want to shoot their wedding or not. If they have particular shots that they would like to have of the venue or them e.t.c then this is okay too. I think it’s just having that fine balance.

  18. I always phrase it as “On your wedding day I’m working better looking through my camera viewfinder than staring at lists”

  19. Oh that is so true! I really don’t like it when there is scheduled time for group photos! It is so stressful for everyone and very often it ends up being not as you wanted: because the light was too bright, it was too cold so everyone hated the photographer instead of event manager :D And so on…
    People, please remember: you will get the best photos from that day and you really will have group photos taken throughout the day, don’t worry about it! As long as your photographer is professional ;)

  20. great article shot lists spoil the flow of a wedding

  21. I completely agree with this entire article…spot on!

  22. Excellent article! Thank you

  23. Looks really great!

  24. I agree with some comments saying that photographer does not need to have a shot list.
    However if customer wants specific shots that they really want, they are more than welcome to advise their photographer about it.

  25. Great article! Thank you so much for sharing. Shot lists would definitely interrupt the natural flow of your wedding day.

  26. This is such an important subject and I wish more people talked about the downsides and complications of shot lists. I’m a documentary wedding photographer and after many years of shooting I’m aware of the “important” shots, it’s also important to ask couples about any particular family dynamics which can sometimes indicate a very special person to include in a shot that may not be a “traditional” one. The main point is that if I’m referring to a list constantly during the day to make sure I shot ‘the flowers’, ‘the decor’, ‘putting my dress on’, ‘the first kiss’ or setting up and staging scripted shots, then i’m not being present in the moment and seeing all the other little moments around these key shots that usually happen anyway. And these little moments are often the ones that will mean more in the future.

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