The Wedding Photography Checklist

As wedding photographers, (and also as brides / grooms) we have probably heard about “wedding photo checklists” before.  Before we talk about good ideas and bad ideas for wedding photography checklists though, I’ll briefly explain what they are for those who may not have encountered one.

I know that some veteran photographers may have very strong opinions about wedding photo checklists and this subject in general, and if so then we would love to hear your opinion!  Just be sure to read the whole article first, then leave a comment below!

What Is A Wedding Photo List?

The concept is simple:  brides, think of a handful of critical photos that you are definitely expecting to have from your wedding day, write these photos down in a list, and send it to your wedding photographer before the wedding day.

Of course things like “first kiss during the ceremony”, and / or “first dance photos” are pretty self-explanatory to any wedding photographer.  In fact in our opinion, if your photographer needs to be reminded to capture your first dance at your wedding reception, then that doesn’t reflect well on their inteligence, nor on your confidence in them!  ;-)

So instead of creating a generic list of photos that every wedding photographer probably already has memorized, consider making a list of more specific thoughts and ideas that strike you.  For example, a creative angle that you’ve seen before at your own wedding venue, or other inspirational types of wedding pictures.

[Rewind: Creating a Mood Board is another great tool for clients and photographers!]

wedding-photography-photo-checklist-01Creative angles that are unique to your wedding venue are good to note…
Nikon D700, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8

The Best Wedding Photography Shot List

This may come as a surprise to brides, but many professional wedding photographers will  actually refuse to go by a “shot list”.  Why?  Because some photographers believe that accepting and following such a checklist will turn their job into an all-day scavenger hunt for specific photos.  In other words, having to follow a list could significantly reduce a photographer’s true creativity if they spend the whole day worrying about not missing this or that photo.

Is this a valid concern?  Yes, but we still recommend considering a modest shot list nonetheless.  It is important for brides and grooms to understand that the longer the list they create, the more overall creativity can be affected negatively.  Personally, having shot weddings for the past 10 years I have seen photo lists that top ~300 images even, with every last photo that could possibly be captured on a wedding day.  Clearly, this is a little overkill!

Therefore, as a photographer what I do is I attempt to educate my brides and guide them in the right direction with regard to creating a short, personalized list of wedding photos for me to take into consideration.  I would never promise to be able to exactly replicate a particular image, but if I choose my words carefully my clients aren’t worried by this disclaimer, they’re usually excited to see if I can take a concept image and improve on it!

I tell all my client that what I want to get two things from them:

  1. Tips about how their wedding day will be unique.
    A family heirloom that will be present, a special relative / VIP guest, or anything personalized that the couple may have invested a lot of time into creating themselves. Basically, items that I may not otherwise emphasize in my already comprehensive coverage of a day.
  2. A select few creative ideas related to style, posing, or a particular venue.
    Even if I have already been to a wedding venue a dozen times, it is still awesome to get a little input from the bride and groom.  My favorite question to ask a bride and groom is, “what is it about this venue that made you fall in love with it, and decide to get married here?”  That is of course what I want to emphasize in their wedding photos, but surprisingly many photographers don’t think to ask this specific, direct question.
    What if I haven’t been to a wedding venue ever before?  A wedding photo list still serves the same purpose:  Which areas are special to the couple, or what ideas might they have?

Most importantly, photographers need to guide their clients in the right direction and manage their expectations for the wedding photos.  If done properly a brief shotlist can be very helpful to the photographer, and the client is highly likely to be extra thrilled with their wedding photos!

wedding-photography-photo-checklist-02VIP’s, or personalized details, are good things to take note of!
Canon 5D mk3, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8

Drawbacks And Risks Of A Wedding Photo Shot List

What do you do if the bride, groom, or even their parents beat you to the punch and email you a huge “scavenger hunt” list of photos?  A lot of new professional photographers seem to have great difficulty in handling this situation.  They either refuse the list altogether, which of course frightens the client, …or they accept the list and internally begin to panick and may over-compensate by focusing on the list so much that they miss out on what is really happening.

If this happens with a client before their wedding, I simply make an effort to guide a client back to what I previously mentioned:  I explain to them that almost every photo on the list is already in my head, however I need to be free to photograph the moments in a more dynamic way, as they happen.  Therefore, I won’t be pulling the list out of my pocket every 5 minutes just to check and see if I’ve missed anything.

I encourage the client to narrow down their list to just those two categories I mentioned, with no more than 10-20 items on it.

wedding-photography-photo-checklist-03Dear Brides:  No need to remind us to “shoot the cake”. We got it covered! ;-)
Nikon D700, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8

Of course if you can sense that a client (or their parents) are very detail-oriented and it would still be in your best interest to study the list periodically throughout the wedding day, I don’t hesitate to hand off the list to my 2nd or 3rd photographer for them to manage.  This way I can focus on the events of the day as they unfold, but there will at least be someone present to remind me when something special is coming up.  This is one of the advantages I have found in shooting with a larger studio and a team of 2-4 competent, well-equipped photographers.  You can balance the burdens of the wedding day, and deliver a more comprehensive final product that is highly tailored to what the client is expecting to receive.

This isn’t to say that I don’t frequently ask my clients to simply trust me about something, and let me go for a photo that wasn’t on their list.  Often times if the couple shares a photo with me, or suggests a silly pose, I’ll work quickly to accomplish that image and give them peace of mind, and THEN I ask them to trust me, and give me another few minutes to try something unique and creative.  Every single time, this results in the clients being totally thrilled with one result or another!

One risk of being too strict and refusing / reducing a shot list is that the couple may be afraid to suggest photos that are truly unique to their personalities.  Many times, those are going to be their most precious pictures!

wedding-photography-photo-checklist-04A lightsaber in a wedding portrait, just for fun?  Bring it on!

wedding-photography-photo-checklist-05Canon 5D mk3, Canon 16-35mm f/2.8

The bottom line is to take an open-minded approach to doing wedding photo checklists if you are a photographer, a bride, or a groom.  True, they can pose a risk of false expectations if you take things totally overboard and don’t communicate properly in advance.  However for personalizing your wedding day, a wedding photo list will really help images to be unique and special for both the photographer and the couple.

If you are a wedding photographer or a bride / groom, and have a story of your own to share or just a few tips, please feel free to comment below!

Take care, and happy clicking!

[PS: to view more photos from this wedding, view the blog entry on Lin & Jirsa!]. All images copyright Lin and Jirsa Wedding Photography