According to a recent survey from WeddingWire, an estimated 90% of couples hire a professional photographer for their weddings. That makes photographers the most in-demand wedding vendor of them all—beating out venues (86%), hair and makeup (80%), and wedding dresses (78%).
The wedding photography trend dates back to Victorian England (circa 1885), but these days, it’s a whole new ball game. While most couples won’t know exactly what they want, they will still have high expectations. A brief and perfunctory shot list won’t cut it anymore; this generation of wedding photographers have to capture it all—without missing a beat.
We compiled this must-have checklist to help you avoid disappointment and get the shots your clients always wanted—even if they didn’t know to ask. We’ve also included a list of classic shots (e.g., vows, kiss, first dance) and incorporated a few moments most people might miss. Use it as a guide, and feel free to add your own shots as well.
Meet the couple
The average couple books their photographer about nine or ten months before the wedding, so you’ll have ample time to get acquainted. A scheduled interview (in person or over the phone) will suffice, but an engagement photoshoot is a natural way to learn more about them. Spurred by social media and wedding websites, these sessions are increasingly popular—and some wedding photographers include them as part of a package deal.
An engagement shoot presents a great opportunity to get to know the couple, their love story, and—perhaps most importantly—their expectations going forward. Spend some time discussing what exactly they have in mind, and make sure they’ve prepared a shot list of their own so you can add it to yours. 30% of millennials create a Pinterest board for wedding planning, so check and see if they have one they’d like to share.
Do your research
For many couples, tradition will play an integral role in the ceremony and reception. Last year, one in five couples incorporated cultural elements into their weddings, paying homage to their heritage and background.
Read up on the history behind any traditional details or customs you’ll be photographing. In traditional Persian weddings, for example, you might find a Sofreh Aghd, or wedding spread; Indian ceremonies can take place over the course of several days, and Jewish ceremonies can take place under a chuppah, or bridal canopy.
Shot List: Before the ceremony
From zipping up the gown to peering in the mirror, the “getting ready” shots are essential for any bride or groom. Plan in advance when you’ll arrive at the hotel, home, or venue, and be there to capture the morning’s excitement, laughter, and anticipation.
The invitation and rings
Grab some photos of the invitation, the rings, and any other meaningful accessories, including the “something” old, new, borrowed, or blue. Bring a macro lens to capture the inscriptions inside the rings, too.
Hair and makeup
These “primping” shots aren’t just pretty—they’re also a chance to capture some of the quieter, more intimate moments before the day kicks off. Remember to include the mothers and bridesmaids.
Capture the moment the mother or maid of honor pins the veil on the bride, and zoom in close to capture the intricate details of the veil itself.
The dress and tux
Get that “dress hanging by the window” shot before the bride puts it on, and then remember to catch the mother-of-the-bride as she helps her daughter zip it up. The groom’s outfit is also important, so don’t forget to include the tux and tie. The shoes complete the outfit, so grab some detail shots of those too.
Portraits with parents
Throughout the day, take any opportunity you can to photograph the bride and groom with their parents. The morning is the perfect time to get mother/daughter, father/son, mother/son, and father/daughter portraits since everyone’s together in one place. Focus on reaction shots (e.g., the mom seeing the veil for the first time, the dad watching his son put on his tie, etc.).
Portraits with friends
Grab plenty of photos of the bride and groom with their bridesmaids and groomsmen. Ask for some posed formal portraits, and don’t forget to capture those candid shots while they’re chatting and having fun.
No matter how busy the day is, make time for portraits of the bride and groom alone. If your bride and groom have written each other letters, make sure to capture the moment they read them before the ceremony.
Wedding photography is all about the details—and that often includes jewelry that’s been passed down through the generations. Incorporate these pieces into a series of still lives, or capture the bride’s friends helping her to put them on.
Bouquets and boutonnières
Couples also spend a lot of time and money on their flowers, so incorporate them wherever you can—in posed portraits, still lives, and candid shots.
Transitions from house to ceremony to reception all allow for candid, on-the-go photos. Don’t put your camera away during the walk or drive—some of the best wedding photos are taken when you’re on the way from one place to another.
Shot List: During the ceremony
Coordinate with the couple and the officiant to ensure you know exactly what to expect during the ceremony. Avoid surprises by creating an exact timeline of what will happen, from prayers and readings to the reciting of vows. Some couples choose to do a private “first look” photoshoot and see each other before the ceremony, so give them that option.
Arrive at the venue before the crowd to get those stunning interior shots. From there, watch as the audience fills up, and guests start to mingle.
Photograph the bride and groom as they exit their wedding cars and enter the venue, accompanied by parents, siblings, and friends.
Photograph every person as they walk down the aisle, and remember to include some of those audience reactions too. Keep your eyes on the bride and groom from start to finish. This is an important moment, so consider bringing an assistant or colleague to take additional shots from different perspectives—you don’t want to miss anything.
Even if you’ve already done a first look photoshoot, this is an essential shot for any wedding album. Make sure to get a close-up on the groom’s (or bride’s) face when they see their partner for the first time.
The “giving away” of the bride (or groom)
The final moment in the processional is just as important as the beginning. Look for those tender, spontaneous moments between parent and child.
The exchanging of vows and rings offers up ample time and opportunity to get those raw, emotional shots for the couple’s album. Remember to include as many angles as you can, and don’t forget the ring bearer.
Traditions and rituals are part of what make a wedding unique. Learn about the important cultural moments that’ll take place during the ceremony, whether it’s breaking the glass, jumping the broom, or lighting the unity candle.
Confer with the officiant about the exact line or phrase to expect before the first kiss. In addition to the kiss itself, don’t forget to capture the moments immediately before and after it—when the couple is looking into each other’s eyes.
The recessional is the perfect time to capture celebratory, spontaneous moments between bride and groom—and their guests. If the couple has planned something special, like throwing confetti or birdseed, use it to your advantage.
Shot List: After the Ceremony
This is your opportunity to get all your formal portraits and any funny wedding photos your couple has requested. If you’re shooting outdoors, make sure to scout your location on a different day. You won’t be able to reschedule the wedding, but you will be able to direct the wedding party to the spots where the light is most beautiful.
Use these portraits to capture the couple’s personality. There’s no such thing as too many wedding photos of the bride and groom.
Include every pairing you can imagine—bride/groom alone with mom, bride/groom alone with dad, bride/groom with grandparents, bride and groom with one set of parents, bride and groom with entire immediate family, etc.
The wedding party
Mix it up with these combinations as well: groom with groomsmen, bride with bridesmaids, bride with maid of honor, groom with best man, bride and groom plus bridesmaids, bride and groom plus groomsmen, bride and groom plus ring-bearer and flower girl, etc. Don’t forget to get some snaps of the entire wedding party together too.
The wedding car
There are a few classic car shots included in some of the best wedding photos: snaps of the exterior and interior, photos of the bride and groom in the backseat, close-ups of decorations.
Shot List: At the reception
Focus on all the little things that make the venue come to life: the place settings, the decorations, the head table, and, of course, the centerpieces. Capture all the food and drink being served, especially any specialty drinks or hors d’oeuvres the couple has chosen.
When documenting the arrival of the bride and groom, zoom in on their expressions and the expressions of their guests—especially parents and grandparents.
Toasts and speeches are a great time to get candid, natural shots of those closest to the bride and groom. Remember to pay attention to their reactions too.
This is another topic to bring up with the couple or wedding planner. Photos of their first dance as a married couple are essential, as are any mother-son or father-daughter dances. This is also a chance to photograph the generations—mom and dad dancing, grandma and grandpa dancing, etc.
Whether they chose a live band or a DJ, the couple will want to remember the music.
Work the crowd, and remember to circle back to everyone in the wedding party as much as you can throughout the night.
The bouquet toss
Remember to include those small but important memories—like the bouquet toss or garter toss—in the final album.
Discuss when this will happen in advance so you’re prepared to get the shot—no wedding photo album is complete without it. Take it as an opportunity to document some unscripted moments and funny wedding photos—and don’t forget to get plenty of still life photos of both cakes (bride and groom’s) before the cutting starts.
In 2019, the boundaries between fine art, documentary, and wedding photography are murky at best, and that means this field is fertile ground for innovation. Wedding photography is evolving, and it’s taking its rightful place as an art form in and of itself.
This checklist is a point of departure, but it’s also important to remember that every couple and family will have different expectations. Cater your approach to their individual personalities, and once you get all those boxes ticked, feel free to get creative. Instead of leaving right after the cake is cut, stick around—some of the best wedding photos happen when you least expect them.
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