Hiring a wedding photographer to take beautiful photos of their special day is something many couples consider an invaluable service. And while the best photographers are skilled at capturing those precious candids, they also rely on something called a shot list to ensure they capture all of the details of your wedding day.
A shot list includes who should be in the photos, where they’ll be taken, and other important scenery, decoration, or reception shots you want to get as well. Having this rundown ensures nothing you want photographed is accidentally overlooked.
Though a number of items are constants on just about any wedding shot list—pictures of the rings, the couple, and the first dance, for example—there are plenty of things that are couple-specific, too. Because of this, it’s important to go over the checklist with your photographer before the big day. To help you cover all the bases, we’ve gathered up a few wedding photo shoot ideas we think you should include pre-ceremony, during the wedding, and at the reception.
It can be difficult to round up everyone after the ceremony for photos. If it makes sense for you and your family, plan on a few pre-wedding snapshots to save time and minimize stress as you prepare for the reception.
Getting ready for the ceremony is one of the best times to have your professional wedding photographer on hand to take pictures. As you get your hair and makeup done, put on your wedding dress, and hang out with members of your family and wedding party before seeing each other, these moments capture the joy and anticipation felt right before the ceremony.
Allow your photographer to take a candid shot and zoom in on special details of your wedding attire, bouquet, and gifts that you give to your family or members of your bridal party. It may also include Champagne toasts or a peek out to watch wedding guests as they arrive.
The decision to have a first look photo before the ceremony differs for every couple. Some prefer to have a quiet moment with just the two of them in advance. This can be captured in several ways: walking down stairs, standing back to back, or having a room divider to temporarily obstruct the view of each other. All of these allow the photographer to capture the very moment you lay eyes on each other and the emotional reactions that come with it.
While there will be plenty of full wedding party pictures to be taken during and after the ceremony, there are a few that can be taken beforehand. These can be laid-back and silly to shake off nerves and get each person ready to walk down the aisle.
A bride surrounded by her bridesmaids away from the eyes of guests can be taken at the wedding location or nearby at designated spots. The same can be said for the groom and his groomsmen. Showing off cufflinks and other group photos are great ideas for pre-wedding photoshoot options.
Once the flowers and the cake arrive, the wedding photographer can set up still shots of both sans people and before flowers lose petals and the cake is cut. Having these pristine shots are valuable for the couple who will have so much to focus on that they may not remember or fully take in the beauty of their reception. Capturing all the special details that have gone into wedding planning needs to be photographed, so the couple can see how it all came together in the perfect way.
There are several important shots to take during the wedding, including the vows. However, capturing the full essence of the day matters just as much, which may include thought-out shots of the guests and the wedding party, while leaving room for candids, such as adorable ring bearer and flower girl antics.
A photo of the bride before she walks down the aisle is a classic photo shoot moment. Photographers should wait until all guests have turned to look at her and then capture the shot.
For brides who wear a veil, capture the image of when she’s “given away” by her father or parents. This sweet, sentimental moment makes for a highly-cherished photo.
Zoom in on the couple holding hands during their vows or at any part during the wedding ceremony. Capture these significant moments when there is a candle lighting or another type of ritual performed.
During the vows or right after the announcement of marriage is when to get a full panoramic shot of the guests and bridal party. Everyone will be smiling and joyful (while still in place) to create the ultimate last look before the couple makes their way through the crowd.
Once the marriage is declared, everyone is ready to head to the reception. The post-ceremony photo opportunities are where many of the fun and less formal shots can happen with the wedding party. Whether it’s at the wedding site or a place special to the couple, as guests get ready for the reception, the wedding party typically takes group photos.
Depending on the couple’s chosen location, there are various ways to set up beautiful shots. Mix them up between formal and funny. Photographers should have the wedding party strike a vogue pose and then loosen up by jumping in the air or interlinking arms. Use the natural background of what’s available, whether that’s a special mode of transportation, like a limousine or a trolley car, or natural scenery, like a lake setting or the beach at sunset.
A photo with the ring bearer or flower girl talking to the bride under her veil is a precious shot. It incorporates an element of playfulness and something engaging for little ones who are part of the big day. Having the bride sit side-by-side with the flower girl and the groom sit side-by-side with the ring bearer looking at each other captures a cool moment, too.
Creating a list beforehand can make the family wedding photo shots go faster. Time is of the essence, especially when there’s urgency to get to the reception or you need to appease little ones to stand still and smile. A few ideas for family portraits are to have siblings laughing with each other or sitting casually while in conversation. These can also include pets and using props, such as family members holding sparklers or throwing confetti, at the couple.
Once reception time rolls around, the whole mood is more relaxed. This is a prime time to get candid shots and to encourage guests to take photos of their own to share on social media or by using disposable cameras distributed on tables. But there are several not-to-be-missed shots during the reception.
Guests throwing streamers or blowing bubbles is a memorable photo shoot idea as the wedding party and couple is introduced into the reception.
Whether an innocent shot of the couple hand-on-hand cutting the cake or a blooper-style photo feeding one another, those are the kind of photo ops that can’t be missed.
First dance shots are important to capture between the couple and their parents and/or with each other. Having guests surround them in a circle or heart creates a cool look for a photo, too.
Once the festivities come to an end and it’s time to retreat as a married couple, a final shot of the couple driving away in a car with a “Just Married” sign, underneath a spray of fireworks, or other specially planned moment will seal the day’s final shots.
Work with your photographer ahead of time to share any concerns and brainstorm ideas of where to get the best shots and angles. This will depend on lighting, weather, and schedule of the day’s events. Prioritize the must-have moments on your list and let your photographer fill in the rest with what’s best for the situation and the ideas you’ve discussed. Additionally, don’t forget to tip your wedding photographer.
Everything else comes down to your personalities and inside jokes and stories. Incorporating personal touches throughout the entire day will create the best backdrop for any photo shoot setup. Talk about what you’d like to look back on in your wedding album for memories of your special day.
For more resources on wedding photography, see Zola’s expert advice below:
Need help finding a trusted wedding photographer? Browse Zola's vendor directory to find wedding photographers from Nasville, TN to Miami, FL and everything in between.