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Traditional Wedding Photography: Creating the Essential shot list to capture the Couple's Big Day

Updated: May 9, 2023

Creating a shot list for a wedding can be daunting, especially for inexperienced or beginner photographers. Proper planning with detailed feedback from your clients will help achieve a smooth wedding day shoot and improve the service you deliver to your clients.


First, I compartmentalize and plan for each section of the day - The Preparation phase, the Ceremony phase, the Formal Shots, and the Reception phase. I then further divide each section into its own segments. The ability to refer to your shot list and prioritize your shots is essential to managing your time and exceeding your client's expectations.


Next, I'll ask the couple what shots they prioritize and make note of "MUST HAVE" shots. Also, ask what style would they like ... More staged and posed or more candids? More shots of the setting, or more intimate shots of the couple and attendees? I'll also ask them if they have a planned itinerary for the day listing times and locations for each event. With this information, you can plan your shots around the logistics of the day and make adjustments if needed.


Also, seriously consider adding a second photographer. Having a second shooter can help achieve more variety in your client's album and allow you to utilize more angles and perspectives. A second shooter also provides insurance in the event that you miss a shot. You can provide photographers in two separate areas simultaneously. having a planned shot list will allow for clear and easy communication with the second photographer.


Utilizing this guide and adapting it to your specific style in accordance with your client's preferences, you can be certain that you capture all the important moments and details of the big day.


Before the Ceremony - Preparation Phase


This phase of the day photographs the events leading up to the wedding ceremony. The focus during this time is to get candid moments of the bride and groom and their families while they are preparing for the wedding. It also includes capturing details of the dress, shoes, and jewelry, application of the bride’s hair and makeup, the groom’s suit and accessories, the rings, and the flowers. Capturing the emotions of the bride and groom, along with their loved ones, as they prepare to say “I do” is the main goal during this time.


It is also a good idea to ask the couple about any special or unique moments to capture as to add a very personal touch to their photos. Like all wedding shoots, a good combination of candid and staged photos from different perspectives makes for a well-balanced portfolio to help tell their story. There is a lot that goes into planning a wedding and as the photographer you want to document and tell the story of this wonderful event. It is a great way to capture memories of the moments leading up to the main event.

Some getting-ready shots might include:


DETAILS

Wedding rings (details)

Bouquet and Garter (details, closeups, and wide)

Bride's shoes, dress, jewelry, and other accessories (full, details and closeups)

Groom's shoes, suit, watch, and other accessories (full, details and closeups)


BRIDE AND GROOM PREP

Bride getting hair and makeup done (before, during, and after)

Bride getting ready (with maid, matron, mother, sister and/or another friend or relative)

Bride getting dressed (the veil, fitting the dress, applying accessories, putting on garter, putting on shoes)

Groom getting ready (with best man, brother, father, and/or another friend or relative)

Groom getting dressed (putting on socks and shoes, adjusting tie, jacket, watch, etc.)

Bride fully dressed (candids and posed; wide and closeups)

Groom fully dressed (candids and posed; wide and closeups)

Bride leaving for the ceremony

Groom leaving for the ceremony


WEDDING PARTY & FAMILY

Bridesmaids' dresses and accessories

Groomsmen attire and accessories

Bridesmaids and Groomsmen getting prepared

Bride with bridesmaids (posed and candids)

Bride with Maid and Matron

Bride with other family and friends (parents, friends, family, etc.)

Groom with groomsmen (posed and candids)

Groom with Best Man

Groom with other family and friends (parents, friends, family, etc.)

VENDORS AND STAFF

Also include the vendors and others who have been essential in the facilitation of this special day. Make sure to try and include vendors like makeup artists, hairstylists, hotel staff, friends and family, limo and limo drivers, doormen, valet, and anyone else who may have assisted during the day. Even engaging onlookers and congratulatory bystanders make for great memories of the story.


VENUE AND DECOR

Many photographers fail to capture the beauty and uniqueness of the getting-ready venue. Capturing this space is a big part of the story as much of the day is spent here and where the transformation into bride and groom begins. So be sure to try and include shots of the venue's interior and exterior, and also some interesting details of the decor as well.


The Wedding - Ceremony Phase


The ceremony phase of a traditional wedding day is a special and meaningful moment not only for the couple but also for their family, friends, and attendees. This is the moment the couple exchange their wedding vows, rings, and other symbols of their commitment to each other. Many weddings have a processional march when the groom and wedding party formally march down the aisle preceding the bride before the exchanging of the vows begins. At this time, the couple will have an officiant who will lead the ceremony and provide words of encouragement and blessings for the couple.


The ceremony may also include readings, music, and other customary events that are meaningful to the couple. After the vows are exchanged, the couple will share their first kiss as husband and wife and will be pronounced married. Finally, the couple will be presented to their family and friends as a married couple.

The ceremony includes many candid moments including:


GATHERING

Church venue and decorations (interior and exterior; guestbook, altar; wide shots and details)

Family friends and attendees arriving and being seated (wide and closeups)

Bride, groom, and bridal party arriving (wide and closeups)

Bridal party gathering and lining up for the processional (wide and closeups)

Bride in the limo or other vehicle awaiting to exit


PROCESSIONAL

Groom walking the aisle and at the altar (front and rear; wide and closeups)

Officiant at the altar (wide and closeups)

Groom at the altar (wide and closeups)

Musicians and other participating vendors (candids, closeups)

Parents and grandparents' entrance and being seated (wide and closeup)

Bridal party march down the aisle (mids, full, and closeups; candids and posed; portrait and landscape)

Ringbearers, flower girls, junior maids and grooms and other processional participants (wide and closeups)

Bride entering the venue (near and far; wide and closeups)

Bride walking the aisle with father or another escort (wide and closeups; high and low angles)

Groom greeting bride (wide and closeups)

Guests and onlookers (wide and closeups)


EXCHANGING OF VOWS

Bride and groom at the altar (wide and closeups; various perspectives and angles)

Bride and groom looking at each other (wide and closeups; various perspectives and angles)

Officiant speaking (wide and closeups)

Bride and groom looking at officiant (wide and closeups)

Bride reciting vows (wide and closeups; various perspectives and angles)

Groom reciting vows (wide and closeups; various perspectives and angles)

Bride and groom praying (wide and closeups; various perspectives and angles)

Bride and groom holding hands (wide and closeups)

Exchanging of rings (wide and closeups)

Customary ceremonial events (candle lighting, sand pouring, etc.)

Signing of marriage certificates


RECESSIONAL

The Kiss (closeups - wide if second shooter)

Introduction as husband and wife (wide and closeups)

Jumping the broom or other (closeups)

Recessional march (wide and closeups; various perspectives and angles)

Couple entering vehicle

Couple together in vehicle

Posed photos of Family and Bridal party - Formal Shots


Formal wedding shots are pictures of the wedding party and the married couple. These shots are usually captured at the ceremony or reception venue or another planned venue. They normally include various shots of the entire wedding party, the bride and groom alone, and the bride and groom with family. It's important to communicate the "MUST HAVE" shots as this time is limited in capturing all the shots. The size and space also needed to be factored into what shots can be achieved. Too large of a wedding party or too many family members may hinder obtaining well-composed shots. Formal wedding shots are an important part of any wedding album and capture the work and preparation of the special day.

popular formal shots include:


BRIDAL PARTY

Couple with the full wedding party (full and half-length; various poses)

Couple with bridesmaids (full and half-length; various poses)

Couple with groomsmen (full and half-length; various poses)

Bride with wedding party (full and half-length; various poses)

Bride with bridesmaids (full and half-length; various poses)

Bride with groomsmen (full and half-length; various poses)

Groom with wedding party (full and half-length; various poses)

Groom with groomsmen (full and half-length; various poses)

Groom with bridesmaids (full and half-length; various poses)

Bride with flower girl and Junior maids (full and half-length)

Groom with ringbearer and Junior groomsmen (full and half-length)

Other combinations as time allow, try creative and unique posing ideas and compositions.


FAMILY

Couple with all family members (full and half-length)

Couple with bride's family (full and half-length)

Couple with groom's family (full and half-length)

Couple with both Parents and/or Grandparents (full and half-length)

Couple with kids (full and half-length)

Couple with bride's siblings (full and half-length)

Couple with groom's siblings (full and half-length)

Bride with immediate family (full and half-length)

Bride with Parents and/or Grandparents (full and half-length)

Bride with siblings (full and half-length)

Groom with all family members (full and half-length)

Groom with Parents and/or Grandparents (full and half-length)

Groom with siblings (full and half-length)

Bride with cousins, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews (full and half-length)

Groom with cousins, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews (full and half-length)

Other family members as time allow




BRIDE AND GROOM


Private and Intimate moment before the wedding: First Look (optional)

Many modern weddings will consist of a first look. This is a special moment for the bride and groom as the groom gets to view his bride in her dress for the 1st time. The goal of the photographer is to capture the intimacy and interaction between the two and to compose the images in a way that displays that dynamic.


The couple will usually meet for the first time at a private location, away from the rest of the wedding guests. be sure to capture the pure emotion as the couple embrace, hold hands, and share a few words. The bride and groom may also exchange gifts, or share a special kiss. This moment is filled with anticipation, love, and excitement for the couple as they prepare to begin their life as husband and wife.

Groom facing away from Bride (wides and closeups; alternate focus; vary angles; candid and posed)

Bride approaching Groom. (wide and medium shots; alternate focus; candid)

The emotion of the moment the groom faces the bride (wide, medium and closeups; vary angles; candid)

Exchanging gifts (intimate composition; vary angles; details of gifts; candid)

Couple hugging, laughing, holding hands, and walking together (intimate composition)



Couples portrait session

The portrait session is a common way to capture the personal connection between the couple in a romantic, timeless way. During the session, the couple will have a relaxed and fun atmosphere to express their love and personalities in a variety of poses and locations. The goal of the photographer is to help the couple create stunning, memorable images. Utilize all aspects of composition to create a diverse gallery of images, including; lighting, framing, negative space, symmetry, texture, rule of thirds, and leading lines. This variety will capture the emotion and beauty of this story and provide memorable images for the couple to enjoy.


Couple Portraits (wide, half, and full; vary poses and position)

Couple walking away and towards (wide, full, mid and closeups; vary perspective; guided candids)

Couple snuggling, hugging, kissing, and looking at each other. (candids and posed)

Couple seated (optional)

Couple laying (optional)

Bride individual portrait session

Groom individual portrait session




The Party and Celebration - The Reception Phase


The wedding reception is an event where wedding guests and family members gather to celebrate the newly married couple. It typically consists of the bride and groom sharing a first dance, followed by a catered meal, speeches from close friends and family, and plenty of dancing and music to make certain all who attend have a great time. Receptions are usually decorated with flowers, balloons, and other festive touches, and also include cocktails and a wedding cake. Guests may sometimes be given a favor as a thank you for attending, and the newlyweds oftentimes make a grand exit to end the night. The wedding photographer is tasked with documenting this joyous occasion and ensuring that the fun at the reception is commemorated forever.

Here are some popular moments to capture at the wedding reception:


VENUE AND DECOR

Venue (interior and exterior; wide and details)

Table Decor and settings (details, closeups and wide; above, straight-on, vary angles)

Floral arrangements (portrait and landscape; details)

Cake and accessories (portrait and landscape; details)

Groom's Cake table and accessories (portrait and landscape; details)

Gift table, Guestbook, backdrops, and other features (details, wide and closeups)

Bar & Catering including staff (wide and closeups)

Band or DJ (wide and closeups)


WEDDING PARTY ENTRANCE

Couple's venue first look

Bridal party entrance

Bride and groom entrance

Guests entrance


FORMAL EVENTS

Couple's First dance (wide and closeups)

Bride dance with parent(s) (wide and closeups)

Groom dance with parent(s) (wide and closeups)

Cake cutting (half-length and closeups)

Bride and Groom champagne toast

Best man and maid speech

Other speeches

Garter and bouquet toss

Money Dance

Other planned events


GUESTS

Candid shots of the guests mingling and having fun

Couple dancing and interacting with guests

Couple exiting the venue


Recap


Creating your shot list is an important element in executing your wedding photography shoot. It's paramount that you clearly communicate the vision and direction of the images with the couple in order to highlight the "MUST HAVE" shots and organize them according to the itinerary to create a seamless flow to the day. It's a good idea to print out the full shot list and use it as a physical reference and share it with the wedding planners, other photographers and videographers, and the couple themselves so everyone is on the same page. Be sure to use the rules of composition and varying exposure settings to generate interest and variety in each shot to tell a visual story that is timeless and classic.


Use this shot list as a starting point and incorporate your own unique shot opportunities to help create a unique gallery specific and personal to your style and your clients. And always remember to be classic, but also be creative and have fun!


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