Do You Need a Photography Shot List?

A photographer taking a picture in a field of a bride and groom.

While a couple’s wedding celebration usually only lasts one day, the memories live on in the hearts of the newlyweds and their guests—not to mention in their photo albums. Enter the wedding shot list: an element of wedding photography that’s hotly contested between photographers and future newlyweds the world over. Some photographers welcome shot lists. Others find them creatively stifling. But here’s the real question: do you need a photography shot list for your wedding? The answer depends on you (and your photographer), but let’s take a look at the pros and cons of requesting a shot list for your wedding day.

What Is a Shot List?

Simply put, a shot list is a list of certain photos a couple asks their wedding photographer to take. They can be simple (“The bride walking down the aisle”) to the very detailed (“The bride and groom during their first dance, edited for a spotlight effect on the couple and taken at a slow shutter speed so movement is slightly blurred”).

Most newlyweds are new to the wedding-planning world. So when it comes to photography, they take their cues from wedding magazines, which usually depict similarly-staged photos. Asking for recreations of these idyllic images seems like a no-brainer, which is why photographers have seen an uptick in shot list requests. And while shot lists can be a great idea for some couples, there’s a lot more to them than meets the eye.

The Pros of a Wedding Photography Shot List

A young boy and girl sitting on the floor of a wedding reception.

In a way, a photography shot list is like a gift registry. Sure, your photographer can deviate from the list if the perfect image crosses their lens, but they clearly know what type of pictures you’re hoping for. Providing a shot list will let your photographer know what to plan for, from time requirements to how to prepare for specific staged shots.

A shot list can also be a great way to ensure that certain people show up in your wedding album. Do you want a photo with your college friends from out of town? How about one with your great-grandmother? By telling the photographer ahead of time, they can make sure those special pictures get snapped during all the celebrating. By setting up a shot list ahead of time, you can guarantee to capture the memories that mean the most to you, no matter how crazy the party gets.

The Cons of a Wedding Photography Shot List

A bride embracing her mom before the wedding ceremony.

To best illustrate the drawbacks of a shot list, I’d like to talk a little about my own wedding. My husband and I had a very casual celebration in my grandmother’s backyard and as the ceremony started, some of our young cousins gathered together cross-legged on the grass. Our photographer snapped a photo with these little girls in the foreground, looking up at us as we said our vows. It’s a sweet shot, unquestionably my favorite from the day, and one I would never have asked for in a shot list. After all, I had no idea the kids would gather like that!

A photography shot list can help ensure that you get the wedding photos you want, however, in many cases it ensures that you only get those photos, and that any spontaneous moments may fall by the wayside. If your photographer is so focused on ticking off items in a predetermined list, they may not have the freedom to search out beautiful, candid moments—and it’s those moments that truly make your wedding memorable.

What’s Right For You?

Obviously, there’s no right or wrong way to do your wedding photography. Do you want to give your photographer a detailed shot list? Go for it! Do you trust the photographer to use their creativity and spot the best shots on their own? Do that! At the end of the day, these are your cherished memories, and they should be captured however you want them to be. But whether you opt for a shot list or total spontaneity, there is one thing you absolutely must do: talk with your photographer. Make sure you both understand the time constraints of the day and the shots that are the highest priority (candid shots vs. posed, for example). If everyone is on the same page, you’re far more likely to get the wedding photos you’ve always dreamed of.

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