A Downloadable Wedding Photographer’s Checklist

A Downloadable Wedding Photographer’s Checklist

It was my first wedding to shoot and I had never shot one before. I get stressed out really easily, so doing this was a bad idea for me all the way around. I missed shots, I missed a set of groups, and my lighting for the reception was terrible. On top of not having a clue on how to get a proper exposure for a wedding and what images were important to the couple, I delivered full-resolution files on a plethora of disks that caused more confusion than good. Today, I'm using online galleries provided by Pixieset and flash drives for file delivery. 

I knew I loved shooting weddings but the pressure was a little overwhelming, as anything that you’re new to can be. I also spent hours and hours watching tutorials and learning my equipment. You need to be really familiar with all of the worst case scenarios that you can possibly run into and find solutions for them before you shoot a wedding. Some of those situations are going to be discovered after you gain a little experience, however. When I felt completely defeated after my first wedding, I went searching for a good list that would help me get through the wedding day and came up dry every time. So, in an attempt to help anyone that’s new to this out, here is my list of shots that I don’t leave the wedding without.

The Pre-Ceremony Shots

The pre-ceremony photos, for me at least, are the easiest part of the day. This is usually the timeframe I use to grab most of my detail shots and bridal party photos. During this time, I usually send my second shooter to wherever the guys are while I shoot with the girls. Keep in mind that some of these shots may only be able to be taken during the reception if the venue isn’t open until then.

  • Bride's shoes.
  • Bride's earrings, necklace, etc.
  • Any sentimental items (handkerchiefs, family rings, and such).
  • Rings.
  • Bridesmaid dresses.
  • Groom's shoes.
  • Groom and groomsmen ties.
  • Wedding programs.
  • Wedding cake.
  • Groom's cake.
  • Bridesmaids plus bride group shots.
  • Groomsmen plus groom group shots.
  • Bride and mother of the bride.
  • Groom and father (if applicable).
  • Candid shots of everyone and everything.

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The Ceremony Shots

This is when communication with your client before the actual wedding dates will prove to be of the most importance. Don't go into a wedding day blindly. Some people can go into a portrait session blindly and do fine. A wedding is completely different as you need to know what's happening and when it's happening. The last thing you want to do is miss a shot due to not being told about it. On the other hand, you also need to be prepared for anything. Being able to be a flexible photographer and being completely lost are two different things. This list is just a template, so change your list based on the given situation. 

  • Groom, best man, and minister walking into venue.
  • Bridal party walking down aisle (in most cases they will stop for a second to allow a shot).
  • Bride and father before they walk out (this is one for your second shooter).
  • Bride and father walking down aisle.
  • The groom’s reaction. This is super important plus it can really help your portfolio if you are starting out. 
  • Father of the bride “giving her away” (get the grooms face in this too).
  • Any ceremonial specifics as mentioned by your client (we have a ton of different traditions in the south so you never know what to expect unless you ask).
  • In Catholic weddings, they sometimes have the bride and groom kneel during the ceremony at some point.
  • Any speakers during the ceremony. The priest, someone telling a story about the couple, scripture reading, etc. These are usually important people in your clients lives, so you don’t want to miss this. 
  • The exchange of rings.
  • The kiss. Please don’t miss this. Please.
  • Exiting the venue.

Post-Ceremony Shots

For these, my general rule is to start with the largest family/group and then work down to immediate family. You’ll do this for each side of the family. However, I often start with the ministers since oftentimes they have somewhere else to be or aren't in any additional photos. I usually try to light the room with a two-light setup to avoid shadows and create even lighting on the fly.

  • Bride and groom plus ministers.
  • Bride and groom plus groom’s entire family.
  • Bride and groom plus groom’s grandparents, parents, and siblings.
  • Bride and groom plus groom’s parents and siblings.
  • Bride and groom plus bride’s entire family.
  • Bride and groom plus bride’s grandparents, parents, and siblings.
  • Bride and groom plus bride’s parents and siblings.
  • Full bridal party.
  • Bride and groom alone.

Reception Shots

You made it. Breathe a little. You’re almost there. This is when the DJ of the event is going to become your best friend. Work with these guys, they are lifesavers. 

  • Bridal party entering the venue.
  • Bride and groom’s first dance. 
  • Bride and dad’s first dance.
  • Family member or loved one.
  • Groom and mom’s first dance.
  • Bridal parties dance. 
  • The toast with bridal party.
  • Cake cutting.
  • Garter toss.
  • Groom with whomever caught the garter.
  • Bouquet toss.
  • Bride with whomever caught the bouquet.
  • Candid photos of people dancing, talking, eating, etc.
  • The exit.

As I said before, this is simply a template for shooting a wedding day. Obviously, different cultures and situations are going to call for different shots. The best thing you can do in any situation is talk to your clients before and get an exact list of what they want. Anything after that is lagniappe. An even better form of communication would be an official schedule of what's happening. This protects you in the end if there is any misunderstandings. I have created a downloadable file for the checklist. Feel free to change this up to fit your needs. I've included PDF, Excel, and Numbers formats.

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10 Comments

michael buehrle's picture

cool. thanks for the checklist.

Anonymous's picture

A good list Zakk. I am now retired from wedding photography. I started off in the film era and then transitioned to digital.I worked out a shot list early and kept it on 4 cards in my top pocket until it became memorised and I knew what I was doing. Here is a link to my blog where I wrote about my shotlist. In preparation I also found a shoot timetable ,worked out with my couple ,was essential to things running smoothly, Someone once said if you fail to plan you plan to fail. https://geoffthompsonsblog.blogspot.com.au/2011/07/wedding-photography-s... keep up the good work.

Deine Photography's picture

I can't wait to check it out (Y)

user-187388's picture

I have now rejoined f stoppers after a little time away.Since I made these comments I have had 707 views of my post on this on my blog.Shows that particularly for new wedding photographers its a helpful guide as is the main one in this article.Now 1020 views since then as at 1/11/18.

im a wedding photographer and i get high blood pressure just from reading this. this embodies the type of wedding photography i loathe.

Jozef Povazan's picture

If I ever should think about some wedding photo checklist I would just packed my work and leave ASAP from wedding photography. Everyones wedding is unique and different and following a checklist in mind that I have "ALL" images done, would be a nail to a coffin for my very creative hungry modern brides and grooms :)... just my 50 cents, have been happily photographing 'some time' without any lists and my clients love it more and more from wedding to wedding... Happy shooting guys :) - http://www.povazanphotography.com/Vancouver-wedding-photographers-Povaza...

Wolfgang Harst's picture

Best list of after ceremony-shots ever: https://youtu.be/ENARMPuU758

Hi, link is dead. Could You please reupload it?

Yes, the link is dead to the google drive you shared.