bride talking to ring bearer at wedding

I’ve been asked many times from my clients if they need a shot list. There are about a bazillion Pinterest posts that provide engaged couples with a list of 101 shots your photographer “must” capture. While I think this can be helpful, I think it’s pretty unnecessary to provide your wedding photographer with an extensive shot list. First of all, your wedding is NOT going to look like any of those weddings you’ve been ogling over on Pinterest. Why? Because your wedding is going to be UNIQUE! Just like you 🙂 Also, every experienced photographer knows the shots that are necessary to make a great photographic story. So a shot list that reads something like “bouquet, bouquet with shoes, dress on hanger, father walking bride down the aisle, etc, etc” is just cumbersome and stressful. Your photographer should be able to arrive at your day and be in the moment with you, capturing details and moments as they come along, not checking off boxes on a tedious shot list.

There is, however, one shot list that you really need. That is, the family portrait shot list. This is the one shot list that I absolutely expect my clients to provide, and for a few reasons.

1) Although I consider myself to be a documentary wedding photographer, I think it’s so important to have formal family portraits captures on your wedding day. It’s one of the few times throughout your life that you’ll have everyone together and looking their best.

2) I don’t know who your family members are. While Uncle Jim may be super special to you, I might not include him on a standard list of family portraits so if you want a picture with Uncle Jim, I should know about it! Also, if you have any separations or divorces in your family, it’s helpful for your photographer to know about it so they aren’t putting people together in a photo that really don’t want to be photographed together. That’s just awkward for everyone!

3) It helps the day run smoothly. I highly recommend setting aside 15-20 minutes right after your ceremony for the family portraits. I know this doesn’t sound like a lot of time but believe me, if I have a list, that’s all I need! Plus, my goal is to get the family portraits finished as soon as I can so that you can go enjoy the rest of your wedding day socializing with all of the special people you invited. Also, doing the photos AFTER the ceremony works better than before the ceremony. Doing them before puts unnecessary time limits on the portrait session and inevitably somebody is going to be running late, especially if they have little ones!

So how should you set up your shot list? First, you need to include names. Since I don’t know who your family members are, it’s helpful if I have a list to work off of that includes names. Second, be sure to keep combinations simple. Having an individual portrait with every family member will take up a lot of time so consolidating some of these is your best bet. Finally, include your significant other in the photos. It seems silly to me when people split the couple up during family portraits. After all, weddings are a joining of two families so why not have your new family member in the portraits? It’s one thing to want a photo of you with just your mom or just you and your parents but keeping your new partner out of all the family portraits might make them feel like they aren’t a part of the family.

Here’s a sample “shot list”. These of course are with a hypothetical family 🙂

* bride and groom with bride’s parents – Steve & Sarah with Joan & Mark
* bride and groom with bride’s parents and siblings, in-laws, grandparents – Steve & Sarah with Joan & Mark, Brett & Jane with Addie, Mable & Ed
* bride and groom with both families – Steve & Sarah with Joan & Mark, Brett & Jane with Addie, Mable & Ed, Dan & Nancy, Matt, Joe & Brianne, Grandma Evelyn
* bride and groom with both sets of parents – Steve & Sarah with Joan & Mark, Dan & Nancy
* bride and groom with groom’s parents – Steve & Sarah with Dan & Nancy
* bride and groom with groom’s parents and siblings, in-laws, grandparents – Steve & Sarah with Dan & Nancy, Matt, Joe & Brianne, Grandma Evelyn

What happens if there are divorces or other complicated family scenarios? The best is to check with each family member and see how they would like the photos set up. Does mom have a new boyfriend and should he be in the photos? If your parents are divorced do you want a photo with them together or separate? Your photographer will be happy to work with you on this and knowing everything in advance will be super helpful so that everything runs stress-free during this time of day. Even if it adds on more shots than the list of above, it is totally worth it to make sure everybody is happy!

If you have a large family and your aunts and cousins want photos with you, my best advice is to do one large group shot of each family rather than breaking things down individually. This will save you lots of time and by this point you’ll be itching to get to your cocktail hour!

My last piece of advice? Be sure to let everyone who is in the formal family portrait session know that they are in the formal family portraits. Sometimes if you are doing a group shot and an aunt or uncle has already run off to the cocktail hour it can be impossible to find them and frustrating for everyone. Another example would be if your sister has a boyfriend and you want him to be in the shots. Sometimes this isn’t a given so be sure to let him know to avoid any awkward moments during this time.

I sincerely hope this is helpful for couples working out their final wedding day details. I’d love to hear any other advice you have on creating the perfect family shot list!