wedding shotlist

The Best Wedding Photographers Shouldn’t Need A Shot List

Recently we published one of our weekly #bride2bride wedding advice posts on Instagram that was met with some mixed feelings from the professionals it concerned – wedding photographers. One wedding photographer, in particular, Julie from Julie B actually felt that the advice from our bride shouldn’t be required at all if you find the best photographer for you.  So not wanting to miss an opportunity to let you guys have some advice from the professionals we dug a little deeper to shed some light on why Julie felt a wedding photography shot list is something that the best wedding photographers just shouldn’t need if they are the right photographer for you.  

When it comes to booking your wedding photographer one of the jobs on your wedding to-do list is to provide the photographer with a shot list and it was missing this step of the pre-planning process that our real bride Juanita regretted. For those of you who haven’t seen the post in question here it is:

photography shot list

Talking about her experiences with her wedding photography, Juanita had only this one regret when she reflected on her wedding, not providing the photographer with a shot list. When we talk about a shot list we refer to a list of must-have photographs that you provide your photographer in advance of the day so they can be sure they get the shots you want to be captured. An essential part of every wedding to do checklist and also, in our honest opinions, something we have always seen as a good thing for a bride to do – that is before we caught up with Julie! But that’s enough from us, let’s leave it to the professional photographer to elaborate.

photography shot list

A bride having a little moment to calm her nerves before the ceremony. Her mum placed her hands on her for reassurance.

Hey Julie! So what was it about this post that made you want to reach out initially?

Hi!  It’s a great opportunity to be asked to speak with you on this topic.  It’s certainly a hot topic for debate in the photography world and perhaps one of the things that some seasoned wedding photographers find a little stifling when it comes to capturing real weddings in an organic and truthful way.  Wedding photography has developed so much over the years and it’s now so much more than just a handful of group shots outside of a church: couples are looking to document the day from start to finish and want to have a varied collection of images that include a range of stylish portraits, some traditional formals shots and their story told through thoughtful reportage – which is a tall order that many of today’s wedding photographers are skilled enough to accomplish and love being able to create!

However, it should not be down to the couple to provide a list of images the photographer should take.  Hiring the right photographer for you should mean that you can relax, enjoy your day and trust that your day will be captured creatively, thoughtfully and naturally.

photography shot list

A groom being helped with his bow tie by the best man.

photography shot list

A bride shows off her rings to friends. An action shot like this tells much more of a story than rings sat in a box.

In your professional opinion, why is it do you believe so many couples feel the need (and are advised) to provide photographers with a shot list?

Each year, newly engaged couples are exposed to a wide variety of wedding planning resources (like your good selves!) that offer a wealth of insight and advice for planning the perfect day.  Whilst the array information on offer is incredible, sometimes couples feel they need to follow all advice by the book and perhaps lose sight, through no fault of their own, about what is truly important when it comes to their wedding.

A number of wedding magazines and blogs have published different ‘must have shot list’ articles and checklists that some couples have felt instructed to tear out and present to their photographers because they feel like that is what they need to do.

We’re also of an age dominated by Pinterest, Instagram and the likes, which I’m totally on board with (being a keen pinner and Instagrammer myself!), but it does mean that couples are bombarded with the most perfect images of couples, styled shoots and weddings that can perhaps lead to a desire to recreate and even copy in the hopes of capturing the same magic they seen on screen for themselves.

And of course, sadly, there will be couples who are influenced by the experience of others.  If a friend is disappointed with their wedding photography, this may lead to doubting the capabilities of all wedding photographers and creating a list to hopefully ensure that this won’t happen to them.

All are completely valid reasons for believing that you need to present a shot list to a photographer!  Most couples have never gone through the process of planning a wedding before so we cannot assume that all potential clients will understand what makes a great photographer or wedding supplier – which is why this is the perfect opportunity to provide a little bit of insight from the other side!  What isn’t being communicated is that most photographers have shot countless weddings and know exactly what to capture on the day.

photography shot list

A couple spends some time talking to elderly relatives.

And why do you think shot lists are so unnecessary?

Most photographers understand that couples will have an idea in their mind of what they want their wedding day will look like – we all have hopes and dreams and this is how we form our own plans.  But the beauty of planning your own wedding is that it will be your own. You may pull ideas together from various outlets of inspiration but ultimately you are a unique couple, marrying on a brand new day with your venue styled for you by the vendors you have chosen and surrounded by your own friends and family.

Wedding venues can host hundreds of weddings each year and all will be unique and different.  The weather and light on a particular day can change the mood and feel completely and two weddings at the same venue on the same weekend could end up looking completely different because of this.

Light is one of the most important factors for photographers and many of the decisions they make on the day will be based on the way the light is falling and the quality of it.  What would make an amazing shot one day may not be able to work on the next.

This is where picking the right photographer, and being able to trust them implicitly, comes into play.  No couples are expected to make decisions based on light, location and particular moments; the photographer should be able to make these decisions as the day goes along.

Providing a ‘shot list’ is unnecessary if you have picked your photographer based on their previous work.  Looking at their blogs and full weddings galleries will give couples a clear idea of what to expect from start to finish.  The beauty of wedding days is that they all unfold in different ways and your chosen photographer will be looking to capture those natural and beautiful moments.

photography shot list

A father, stood just outside of the room, gazing at his daughter as she makes the final preparations before the ceremony.

photography shot list

During the speeches, a lady was helping her husband raise his glass for a toast. I love this image so much, as do the bride and groom.

In your comments (on Instagram) you referred to getting a record of things that actually happened on the day – not one that is set up, can you elaborate, please?

Staged photographs can cause stress on the day.  If there’s a specific Pinterest-style shot that you have decided that you want, it may be on your mind all day until it has taken place.  And then, chances are, it may not turn out exactly like what you had in mind and this can lead to disappointment that overshadows the other unique images that you have of your day.

A photographer would much rather have the freedom to catch the laughter between the bride and her friends; an impromptu hug; a tear being shed – all the unique and natural moments that happen during each wedding that will give couples much greater happiness to look back on after their day.

This does not take away the importance of a few ‘formal’ images on the day and most photographers will agree on a handful of shots that will be organised for posterity.  An image with each set of parents and the wedding parties are usually advised and can be conducted in a minimal amount of time.  Handing over a list of 20+ formal images will lead to a big chunk of the day being dedicated to standing still and having guests wait around for photos.  This is something that most of my couples want to avoid; having experienced this at a wedding they have attended as guests, they would much rather keep the formal images to a minimum and get back to enjoying their wedding.  This, in turn, allows your photographer to capture real images of you both, family, and friends enjoying the day that you have spent so much time planning. Although capturing images on the day is important, they should not be the focus of the day nor should they eat into the precious time that you have.

photography shot list

Wedding guests taking full advantage of the outdoor facilities!

You also touch on the idea of hopes vs reality when it comes to wedding photographs – what do you mean by this?

I think this goes straight back to selecting your wedding photographer and trusting the way they document weddings.  You should pick a photographer because you love their work and you’re excited about how they will capture your own day.  Once you’ve found the person for you, you should be able to relax in the knowledge that your day will be documented in the style that is right for you.  There’s nothing more exciting than delivering a set of images that perfectly captures the essence of a couple’s day – all of the real, natural moments that happened – some perhaps even the couple were not even aware of at the time.

If you set your hopes on replicating images that you have seen before and have pre-selected as part of a list, not only might this lead to disappointment if they aren’t captured or if they don’t turn out exactly how you saw them in your head, even worse, your day will be focused on checking off a list. For example, on one of the ‘must have’ lists I found online, there was ‘Dad giving last minute advice to groom’ – that sounds lovely!  But what if that doesn’t happen naturally?  Would you rather the photographer set up that moment and checked it off the list or were free to capture something else that was actually happening – a Grandmother arriving on the arm of a family member or friends embracing on seeing each other.

We appreciate that there are so many beautiful ideas out there – images that I would have liked to have inside of my own wedding album – but if they didn’t happen naturally, I would know this when looking back at my images and it wouldn’t be a true record of the day.

Most photographers have shot countless weddings and are well versed in what typical things should be documented.  For example, a shot of the bridal jewellery laid out will probably happen – but not at the expense of a real moment.  I’d rather have a picture of my best friend throwing her head back with laughter, rather than a shot that simply documents items that I used for the wedding.  The storytelling and memories come from the real moments.

photography shot list

The bestman, on discovering he still has the ring box, decides to propose to other guests (maybe or maybe not after a few glasses of alcohol!)

photography shot list

Wedding guests enjoying the decorations (they were posing for a friend and I snapped them whilst going un-noticed).

Just to play devil’s advocate (and ask the questions on behalf of all those brides now thinking it) what are the chances of a photographer getting the shots with all the people who may not initially seem the ‘important’ ones? We mean with the average wedding have between 70-100 guests you aren’t going to capture a shot of the bride and groom with every person surely, especially if they don’t plan on having a receiving line and you’re a single shooter? So how can they rest assured the memories they would like captured will be?

Memories don’t come from capturing an image of every single guest and you’d be hard-pressed to find a photographer who would promise that.  Even formal photos lack storytelling – but a small number with parents and the wedding party are one of the older traditions that we like to pay a small homage to; our parents and grandparents probably have their own images like this and they are nice to show future generations.

Again, it comes down to how you want your day documented and how you wish to spend your time on the day.  You may find a photographer that will happily conduct dozens of formal images that include wider family and friends but this will be at the expense of your time on your wedding day.

I have a set, small list of formal images that I will take straight after the ceremony, followed by a small session with the couple alone.  As much as I would love to spend hours capturing a couple in various locations, I know how precious time is on a wedding day and I feel it’s my duty to work as efficiently as possible to allow the couple to get back to their guests and take part in their day.  My couples book me for this reason and guests are always pleasantly surprised at how streamlined and swift the process is in comparison to weddings they have attended in the past.  No guest attends a wedding in the hopes that they will be standing around, waiting to have images taken – and most couples are aware of this. Working in this way allows me to get straight back the festivities and capture the real moments happening – which couples are much more excited to see once the day is over!

If you have your heart set on having an image of every single person that attends, you could opt for a photobooth on the evening.  This is a much less formal and fun way to get guests on board with having their photo taken! However, it’s still not a guarantee that everybody will be up for it and it’s not down to the photobooth attended to recognise who has or hasn’t been over to the booth – there are always guests that manage to avoid cameras at all costs (but maybe they’ll have had photos taken by a guest… you’ll be treated to a wealth of candid images from friends and family too!).

photography shot list

A bridesmaid and her husband interacting with their baby.

You talk about finding the right photographer for the couple as a huge factor in the wedding planning process, how would you advise couples of the best plan to find a photographer that suits?

Starting the process of sourcing wedding vendors and suppliers can be quite a daunting task! The market is completely saturated and whilst you have more choices than ever before, it can also be a little overwhelming when looking for the right suppliers for you.

When it comes to photography, couples are spoilt for choice.  You also have so many different styles and personalities out there that it’s important to get an idea of how you want your day to be captured (cue taking a little time to look at Instagram, Pinterest, blogs, and magazines).

Once you have a general idea of style, it’s time to start looking at photographers in a little more depth. Perhaps you’ve found someone who seems like they take images in the style you’re looking for – great! First of all, it’s important to remember that we all showcase our best shots on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram – that’s how we generate initial interest and probably why you chose to look at us in the first place.  From here, you should look at photographer’s blogs; this will give you a better idea of how they capture a wedding from start to finish. Again, the images we share on blogs are the highlights from a particular day but they will give you a much better idea of how that particular person approaches a wedding.  It’s also useful to see a full wedding; most photographers will be more than happy to share a full gallery with you and it’s here you will see what their couples are presented with in the end.  You want to be sure that you’ll be receiving a consistent set of images flow from start to finish. These steps will ensure that you are able to choose the perfect photographer for you, allowing you to relax on your day and focus on what’s most important – each other.

photography shot list

This bride chose to only get dressed with the help of her mother. It was a really beautifully, small moment in time. Mum was quite emotional when they had finished.

So there you have it, the best wedding photographer for the job shouldn’t need a shot list!  Cross it off the to-do list, focus your attention on finding the perfect photographer to reflect your wedding day organically.  The professionals out there, such as Julie, are fully aware of your concerns, and also the mass amount of pressure surrounding brides to be to have a Pinterest perfect wedding. Rest assured, they have your best interests at heart and want that day, and photographs captured from it to be just as perfect as you do.

wedding shotlist


photography shot list


A special thank you to Julie for reaching out and offering her expert advice when it comes to wedding photography shot lists and the stunning images. Julie has been photographing weddings for 5 years and with over 80 happy couples to vouch for her, we know we will certainly be taking her advice on board and saying goodbye to the wedding shot list! If you haven’t done already do be sure to go check out her fab work for yourselves.


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