Real Experiences Over Staged Photos: Why You Shouldn’t Create a Shot List


Welcome to the third edition of my series Real Experiences Over Staged Photos! As a recap, here’s what we’ve covered so far:

  1. What to do after your ceremony. After walking back up the aisle, if you immediately jump right into family photos, you’re missing out on a big opportunity and one of my favorite moments of the day. πŸ‘€
  2. Planning to create candid moments. This may sound counterintuitive, but in order to leave space for candid, photo-worthy moments to happen, it takes time and planning.

⏸️ If you haven’t yet read the 2nd blog, pause and do that. This 3rd blog will make much more sense with that context.

In the 2nd blog about planning to create candid moments, I mentioned that there’s a fine line between planning ahead and literally planning your candid photos shot-by-shot. If you find yourself saving photos on Pinterest and wishing to recreate those exact photos, step back and ask yourself… “why?”

Candid, documentary style photography is all about authenticity. We want your photos to tell the story of your unique day and the unique people involved. So why would you try to act out a stranger’s wedding day in your photos?

Let’s dive deeper into that. πŸ‘‡

This is a photo you may pin on Pinterest, but imagine telling your photographer “I want a photo of my husband meaningfully looking at me, while I’m so happy and lost in the moment that I don’t notice. It needs to be taken during my ceremony, from the front.” πŸ˜‚ Your photographer may naturally take a photo similar to this, but you shouldn’t try to force it.

What happens in your photographer’s mind when you send them a shot list

Honestly, when you give your photographer a loooonnnnnng shot list, I guarantee they’ll feel a little offended. There’s definitely some ego involved there, but it feels like you don’t trust their expertise. πŸ˜”

Deep down, they know you don’t mean any harm though. You simply want to get all of the photos you’ve dreamed of having. But it’s confusing for everyone if you send your photographer a list of posed photos they don’t usually take and example photos that look nothing like their style.

Years ago, as a younger photographer, this would happen to me more often. Today, I spend more time talking with each couple about their style and editing preferences early on in the experience. This conversation begins before they book me. We want to be sure we’re the best possible match for each other.

Through these conversations, we determine what’s truly most important to them. I encourage everyone to make decisions based on a gut feeling, letting go of “traditions” that don’t feel right. If you Google “Shot List to Give Your Photographer”, read through the hundreds of shots, and most of them feel awkward or fake, listen to your gut.

If you’ve hired the right photographer, you have nothing to worry about.

Instead of asking my couples for a shot list, here’s how I’m sure to photograph everything that’s most important to them: I ask questions. I get to know them. I send multiple questionnaires throughout their engagement.

Here’s what’s covered on the final questionnaire:

  • It will help you create a family photo list. (This is one shot list that everyone should have!)
  • I’ll ask for the names of your wedding party members and important family members
  • I’ll ask what moments are most important to you, aside from the obvious moments like your first kiss, first dance, etc.
  • You can tell me more about the style and vibe of your wedding
  • I’ll ask what decorations are really important to you
  • I’ll ask for feedback on your engagement session. I like to know what photos were your favorites and what poses/prompts felt most natural to you

This bride told me that her nephews would be holding her train as she walked down the aisle. I took note of this special moment and prioritized photographing it from two angles.

Finding inspiration on Pinterest, Instagram, and TikTok

Sites like Pinterest are good for finding general inspiration, but try not to get too specific or get your heart set on unrealistic ideas. Don’t pin photos taken at Lake Como in Italy if you’re getting married at a barn in Texas.

Here are some things that Pinterest is great for:

  • Discovering a cool color scheme
  • Creating a mood board of the general vibe and atmosphere you want your wedding to have
  • Pinning a lot of fun ideas, and then narrowing down the ones that feel authentic to you and are doable at your location and within your budget

Here’s what NOT to do on Pinterest:

  • Overwhelm yourself with too many ideas
  • Pin photos of couples, and say to yourself “We need to look just like them!”
  • Copy someone’s exact hair & makeup style. (Your H&M artist will tell you that everyone is different, so what looked great on her may not look the same on you.)

Trying to recreate someone else’s wedding is kinda lame, in my opinion. At the same time, no one expects you to be a brilliant wedding planner and designer. You don’t need the pressure of coming up with 100% original and trendy ideas. Hopefully, you’ve hired vendors you can trust to do this for you!

Try to become less connected to the idea of having specifc shots and more connected to the idea of havign unqiue photos of

Why You Shouldn't Create a Shot List

This bride wanted her sisters to be a part of her first look with her dad. We didn’t necessarily plan for them to be standing on either side, perfectly framing this moment, but it worked out! Once I saw the space and decided where we would do this first look, I told them where to stand. It was better to decide in the moment, instead of trying to recreate a planned photo.

Finding inspiration in YOUR photographer’s work

When you’re looking at your photographer’s website and past work, it’s normal to LOVE their photos and want something similar. That’s why you hired them! Hopefully, you look at the weddings they’ve photographed and find some of those couples relatable.

As you get closer to your wedding day, narrow down your influences. At a certain point, you don’t need more ideas, you just need to focus on your own day.

Instead of looking a tons of photos online, look at only your photographer’s work. Follow them on social media, and get pumped to work with them! If you see them post something that you really love, let them know! They’ll keep taking notes about what you like.

Why You Shouldn't Create a Shot List

The exceptions to the rule

While long shot lists are not needed, there are a few times when it’s cool to tell your photographer exactly what photos you want:

  • Family photos. We’ll create a list of each group needed.
  • Recreating a photo or two from a parent or grandparent’s wedding. That’s cute, and I’m all for it.
  • Something really unique or fun that you want to do with your partner on your wedding day. Think popping champagne after your first look, skateboarding in your wedding dress, or ordering a private pizza to share during your reception. Those are just cool ideas, not specific shots.
Why You Shouldn't Create a Shot List

There’s a difference between planning ahead, making a timeline, and allowing space for magic to happen, and planning candid photos shot-by-shot. I hope this blog clarifies things a bit. 😊

Every photographer is different, but I personally prefer not to make my couples write a shot list. Instead, I do my own research and have my own sneaky ways of fully documenting your day and making your photos feel totally like YOU. πŸ˜„

Real Experiences Over Staged Photos: Why You Shouldn’t Create a Shot List

Real Experiences Over Staged Photos: Why You Shouldn't Create a Shot List

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