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

September 22, 2016 | nicole

wedding-shot-list photo by Victoria Carlson Photography

Working with some of the most incredible photographers in the world, we’ve heard a thing or two about how the professionals feel when given a wedding shot list.  In case this is your first time hearing of it, a wedding shot list is like an instruction manual for your photographer with each and every image you want them to capture on your big day. While couples being excited about their wedding photography is obviously awesome, shot lists can actually keep you from getting the photos you really want. If you’ve been wondering if a wedding shot list is something you need, here are a few reasons why you don’t.

junebug-dmb-sized-0053-600x900-600x900 photo by Stephanie Rogers Photography

Leave It To The Professional

If you were hiring a mechanic to fix your car or a handyman to repair your dryer, you probably wouldn’t tell them how to do their job. You hired them because they’re the expert! Your photographer is a professional too, which is why you’ve hired them to capture your big day instead of leaving those moments to be documented by a friend with a camera. Experienced photographers know the photos they need to take on a wedding day. When you sign a contract with your photographer, you should feel confident that they will document your wedding to its fullest, including your first look, your well-planned details, and a special portrait with Grandma.

If your worry is that you won’t get a photo with your favorite cousin, wait until you’re hugging her at your reception instead of posing for a formal portrait in the lawn. Most photographers’ least favorite part of the day is arranging family members for formal portraits. While it’s true that these photos don’t allow them to stretch their creative wings, they also know that you and new brother-in-law crying together during his toast makes a more cherished photo than standing smiling in front of the church. Instead of filling your wedding timeline with posing for pictures with your loved ones, wouldn’t you rather make more time for actually experiencing your wedding with them?

this-couples-rainy-wedding-day-at-castleton-farms-is-too-pretty-for-words-the-image-is-found-20-600x399 photo by The Image Is Found

danielle_real_photography_mikeandmolly27-600x400 photo by Danielle Real Photography

Let the Magic Happen

While you my want every moment of your wedding to be perfect, those “perfect” moments you’ve seen in photos happened organically. If you hand your photographer a shot list with photos you found on Pinterest of newlyweds in cute poses, you hinder their ability to capture you genuinely basking in the glow of your day, in your own cute poses. What makes those photos you love so special are the authentic moments occurring without regard for the camera. When you and your photographer try to recreate something, you lose the natural element that made the image so striking in the first place.

More important than providing your photographer with a folder of your favorite Pinterest portraits is having excellent chemistry with them before the wedding day. If you truly love their photography style, feel inspired by their work, and click with them personally, we guarantee your photos are the ones that will inspire future brides and grooms.

orange-cranberry-wedding-south-40-glasser-images-21-of-24-600x901-600x901 photo by Glasser Images

Remember, This Is Your Wedding

Probably the most disappointing factor in a shot list is that a couple would want to replicate someone else’s wedding photos instead of having images that are uniquely their own. Your love, personalities, and style are what make your wedding day special. Forcing a photo you saw on a blog keeps you from living the candid moment in your day. You’ve spent all of this time building an extraordinary love, not to mention planning the celebration of your dreams, so live in the present — we hear it goes by pretty fast — and let your photographer capture what makes you shine.

After your wedding is over, the photos are what you keep to remember it by. The images you’ll cherish the most are the ones that remind you of the butterflies you had before your first look, the tears you shed walking down the aisle, and the excitement you shared after saying “I do.” It’s the feeling behind a photo that makes it so wonderful to look at, so give yourself the space on your wedding day to feel fully without faking it for the camera.

Are you feeling inspired to forego your wedding shot list? Now let’s see if we can convince you to have an unplugged ceremony!


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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.

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