I’ve got good news. You don’t need to come up with a detailed wedding shot list for me to follow throughout the day. You hired me (or you’re thinking about hiring me – say hey!) because I take an organic approach to wedding photography, allowing me to photograph you, your future spouse, and everyone you’ve brought together to celebrate your marriage with genuine, spontaneous emotion.
I encourage my clients to “go with the flow”, but sometimes, just the tiniest bit of photography-oriented pre-planning will go a long way to help your wedding day unfold naturally. Some brides worry they should write down every moment and photo they like would like captured – but we do our best work here when we can capture everything as it’s happening, rather than imposing reproductions from the entirety of Pinterest. (Planning out every single photo is the murder of creativity, and I promise – we will organically create your own “Pinterest” worthy moments!)
Here’s my alternative to the “wedding shot list” – and the only “list” we suggest you make: in short, a family group shot list. We also like to make note of any unique moments or special momentos we should be aware of. Don’t worry, we’ll provide you with a template to fill out for your wedding. Below are some tips and explanations!
I promise I’m not suggesting that we develop a storyboard that would rival pre-production for a Tim Burton movie, but I do recommend that you make an outline of group photos, including the names of everyone you’d to include in each shot. It really helps to have an organized list ahead of time, that way you’re not put on the spot that day and I can pre-arrange the most strategic way to nail all of the shots as efficiently as possible. While family photos are usually the hectic part of the day, we’ve simplified the process over the years with a few certain tips and tricks:
Some photographers call them liaisons, others call them cat herders. The terms superhero and photographer’s best friend also apply to a person who knows most of the important members of your family and your circle of friends.
Choose someone reliable who will help you keep organized those who’ll be included in your family portraits, or whom I should keep an eye on throughout the day for special candids.
In my experience, the best liaisons tend to be aunts. They love to be involved and they usually know everyone. It’s never a bad idea to have someone from both sides of the family.
Believe me, you don’t want to be running all over your venue looking for cousins and uncles on your day. Nor should you assign a bridesmaid or groomsman for the task. Your jobs are to stay put and look pretty.
Plan for about 2-3 minutes for each grouping. I’m almost always able to work much faster, but it’s best to “pad” the time to account for camera-shy kids or a grandmother who’s disappeared into the ladies’ room.
When you have a better idea of how much time you’ll need for your portraits, you can decide when you want to schedule them… and how many you really need. We do recommend limiting it to just immediate family. If having a formal extended family photo is important to you (cousins, aunts, uncles), we will need to budget for more time than I normally alott for – about 5 minutes per larger group.
Let us know about your family dynamics! If Uncle Joe doesn’t like Aunt Margie, we won’t put them next to each other in a photo and then have them candidly look towards each other. Or if someone has a significant other you don’t want in all the photos, it’s our job to only add them in for the extras. Let us do the dirty work, that way you’re not forced into making uncomfortable decisions on your wedding day or standing between two people who might not want to be in the same photo together.
If you write down the groupings and different arrangements ahead of time, you won’t be put on the spot that day on choosing who’s in certain photos, who’s out, who goes first, and the like. Rather, it will be systematic and efficient with the emotions to the side and the photographer calling the shots.
This is your day, and I’ll be the first to tell you that you don’t have to answer to anyone but yourselves when it comes down to planning your wedding. However, you might make one concession: Ask your parents if there are one or two specific group shots they’d like to request.
Some of my clients, who want to be sure their parents are happy, have a difficult time trimming down their family portrait lists. They’re usually surprised when their parents admit certain groups aren’t that important to them. It happens more often than not! But don’t be afraid to be firm. You can always throw me under the bus and say I have a pre-set limit on group portraits.
I recommend that we schedule your family group portraits immdiately following the ceremony. Everyone’s still looking fresh, you and your spouse have had a few moments together, and they’re all in one place, plus we won’t have to pull everyone away from the reception.
Be sure everyone on the shot list is aware of the “when” and “where”, and give your chosen “coordinator” a copy of the list so he or she can get everyone ready.
Just so we’re on the same page – we’ll of course do a few formal portraits during this time, but since you prefer natural, candid photography, I like to save your portraits of the two of you for last so that your family isn’t watching, you two can relax and all the pressure from the photos are over. After the family formals in the ceremony location, we’ll take just bridal party out for photos wherever that may be – outside the church, a location along the way, or back at the venue. After we finish bridal party photos, we’ll send them to cocktail hour and just concentrate on the two of you!
If we take photos earlier in the day, it’s likely that I’ll also nudge you at sunset—if the timing is appropriate—to take advantage of available light from the golden hour glow. We might take a little walk around the grounds, or play up to the venue’s character. This usually is no longer than a 10 minute break, so you don’t have to worry about missing anything! My clients love having a little escape from the rest of the party; it gives them the excuse to break away from the crowd and spend some time together.
We also like to take note of any additonal groups outside of family that you’d like to make sure we grab during the cocktail hour or reception- for example, your high school soccer team or maybe your coworkers that are in attendance . You may also want to ask your parents if there is anyone they’d like to make sure they get a photo with. Your mom might have invited her best friend from college, and they promised to attend the weddings of each’s eldest child. Or the groom’s dad might have a favorite cousin he hasn’t seen forever, and for whom he named his son. For those caught up in the day, it may be hard to remember in the moment those photos they wanted to get – so put it on us to do the remembering and gathering. We’ll always be close to you during the reception – so you can grab us at any time for group photos as you mingle and walk around to tables! Because there are so many moments for us to capture during the reception, we don’t recommend making these special additional groupings more than five or so.
Not every couple follows tradition, but if you’ll be cutting your cake, dancing the dances, and encouraging toasts, I’ll be there. What I’d really like to know is whether there are any planned surprises: Choreographed dances, serenades, fireworks… that sort of thing.
If you’ve planned a grand exit, I do like to scout out your escape route ahead of time, especially if it’s under the cover of darkness so I can be prepared.
If your mother is wearing a special brooch, or the groom is wearing his grandfather’s cufflinks, be sure to let me know so I can include them in your photo story. You know I love all the little details!
These are just a few tips to keep in mind when sending over your family grouping list to your photographer. Don’t stress about curating a list of photos from your pinterst board or sending a spreadsheet of every moment you’d like on film. We’ll help organize the family photos, go over any unique momentos and special moments, and draft your photography timeline up. From there, you won’t have to worry about anything else photography related for your wedding day. My job is to capture the moments as they happen; yours is to enjoy yourselves and celebrate with your friends and family. Life doesn’t follow a checklist, and neither should your wedding!