Wedding photography portrait at a San Francisco City Hall Wedding.
A Shot List is the prescription for a stress-free wedding portrait session

Stressed out is how I would describe a lot of the brides and grooms that I meet at the start of their wedding day. Making a great set of photographs of a stressed out wedding couple is a real challenge. It is mostly impossible if they are stressed out over too many of the details of their wedding day. One solution to reducing the stress level is to get help from a wedding-day coordinator. This can be someone hired for the task or it can be someone recruited from the ranks of friends or family.

I have posted on this subject before  and would like to present an updated version for 2013
While the bride and groom may prefer to plan out all the events of the day, the coordinator is given the responsibility of all of the little details that can cause the bride and groom to get stressed out and prevent them from relaxing and enjoying their wedding day. Then they can be photographed looking their best, relaxed and not preoccupied with the goings on around them. They will smile more easily with the anxiety missing and in general the wedding photographs will be better for it.

As a photographer I have found the one detail to reliably improve the process of making the posed formal portraits of the wedding party and family members is to insist that the bride and groom prepare a shot list at least a week or more before the wedding.

This is simply a detailed list of everyone they want to include in the making of formal posed portraits. Listing the actual names of everyone makes it easier to work with. The shot list really eliminates all of the stress of having to decide on your wedding day who will be in which photos. It helps to think it through in advance and only spend time making the photos you want. It works best when you can get the list down to about 8-12 shots. If you try, think about who would want to have these photos and what they would do with them.

It should look something like this:

  1. Bride and Groom
  2. Bride & Groom with Bride’s parents – John and Betty
  3. Bride & Groom with Groom’s parents – Kate and George
  4. Bride with Bridesmaids – Cat, Rita, Sally and Blanch
  5. Groom with Roger, Franz, Peter and George
  6. Bride and Groom with Jason, Josh and Gail.
  7. The entire wedding party
  8. Etc… but try to keep it from going past #12.

The shot list goes to either the wedding day coordinator or a good friend or relative who already knows the majority of these folks. (It helps if they have a drill sergeant attitude. It’s funny, but in my experience it seems everyone knows just the perfect person to give it to). It functions like this:

When the photographer is making the first photo on the shot list, they are rounding up the people in shot 2. and holding them in the on deck circle. Then when the first shot is done, he says next and they proceed to the location to be photographed in their turn. Then the folks in shot #3 are gathered up to stand by. This continues until the end of the list.

This allows the bride and groom to not have to make any stressful decisions on the day of the wedding. It also helps them to know exactly who to tell to come early if the photos will be taken before the ceremony. That is also a stress reducing factor in itself. Take the portraits before the wedding for for a more relaxed wedding day for sure.

Daniel Sheehan is a wedding photographer at A Beautiful Day Photography.