Wedding Photography Checklist, The Essentials & Must-Have Shots [Examples & tips]
How to avoid disappointment and take the shots your clients really want!
I know you are wondering – “Do I really need a wedding photo checklist?” The answer is a unanimous yes,
We put together this helpful wedding photography checklist as a lifesafer for that big day. Hope it helps.
What is wedding photography?
Wedding photography is the photography of activities related to weddings. It incorporates a mix of genres of photography including portraits, family and group photography, documentary, boudoir, event, and close up shots.
The wedding photography trend dates back to Victorian England (circa 1885), but these days, it’s a whole new ball game. While most couples don’t know exactly what they want, they will still have high expectations. A brief and perfunctory shot list won’t cut it anymore; this generation of wedding photographers have to capture it all–without missing a beat.
According to a survey on WeddingWire, an estimated 90% of couples hire a professional photographer for their weddings. That makes photographers the most in-demand wedding vendor of them all–beating out venues (86%), hair and makeup (80%), and wedding dresses (78%).
Wedding photography business
This is probably one of the most stressful areas of photography. If you accidentally delete a photo or lose the memory card, you are in trouble. But if you take great photos, you are a hero to the clients and are able to get referrals. Experienced wedding photographers can charge a lot for their services and make a lot of money.
As a professional wedding photographer, a substantial amount of time is spent meeting, listening, and understanding your clients’ needs and wants before the wedding day.
Wedding photography is definitely one of the most stressful yet fulfilling areas to be in as a photographer. Being a wedding photographer is a dream for many to aspire to, but like all types of businesses, not everyone can make it past year one, and some don’t get off the ground running. That being said, it’s not impossible.
As a wedding photographer, your clients tend to have high expectations because it’s more than one day for them, it’s about a lifetime of memories. It is about capturing moments, emotions, and letting your client relive the day with beautiful photos. It’s about the smiling moments that your client never knew happened because they were so busy on their day, about seeing the emotions on the faces of their family and friends, and the visual story that they will treasure forever.
If you can remember this, you can make it as a wedding photographer.
Most complications usually arise from the business side instead of the photography side. Deciding on a price, what to include in your wedding photography package, and asking the right questions prior to the shoot all play an important part in setting up and running your business.
Whether it’s managing your time correctly or speaking to your clients, things don’t always go as planned. When it comes to common mistakes, there tend to be two kinds–avoidable mistakes and unavoidable mistakes. The avoidable mistakes are the ones that could have been avoided if you had asked a few questions or done some planning. The unavoidable mistakes are the ones that happen because of something that there was no way to plan for.
How much do I charge for wedding photography?
Wedding photography prices depend on many factors like location, coverage length (time), number of shooters, products included in the package, brand name of the photography, experience, and marketing skills.
In general, according to Wedding Wire, prices in the US tend to range from $1150 and $3000, with the average wedding photography cost being around $2000. This will likely compromise of 12 percent of the overall wedding budget. This is a significant percentage of the average wedding budget, which makes sense because of the investment in the future.
It’s important for the engaged couple to commemorate this occasion with romantic photos. But not all of them know exactly where to start. One thing for sure is that it’s important for the couple have an engagement shoot that turns out one-of-a-kind and feels right to them. There are a lot of cheesy and predictable photos out there, and it’s important to have a creative and fun array of wedding photo ideas for your couple to make it unique. Before you jump into the engagement shoot, here’s what you should talk to your clients to make it fun and one-of-a-kind.
The couple’s favorite spot: Visit the couple’s favorite coffee shop where everyone knows both of them. Or a brewery where they meet for happy hour every week? Use these spots that are just theirs as inspiration for a great engagement shoot and to help them save memories of these places.
The couple’s next vacation: If the couple is planning on traveling together, this is an exciting time to take photos of them. The hard part would be ensuring you can be where they are or working with another photographer in the region to have an engagement shoot from multiple regions.
The couple’s first date: Revisit the spot of their first date together for a few touching shots.
Do your research
For many couples, traditions play an integral role in the ceremony and reception. Last year, one in five couples incorporated cultural elements into their weddings, paying homage to their heritage and background.
Read up on the history behind any traditional details or customs you’ll be photographing. In traditional Persian weddings, for example, you might find a Sofreh Aghd, or wedding spread; Indian ceremonies can take place over the course of several days, and Jewish ceremonies can take place under a chuppah, or bridal canopy.
If you are nervous about shooting your first wedding photos, or need a refresher on the type of photos to take, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide for you to ease your mind and help you look forward to capturing the couple’s day.
Before you get started, you need to know that being an awesome wedding photographer is not all about photography. Having good photography skills is only about 30% of what it takes to be a fantastic photographer. The other 70% includes the soft skills that are intangible to being client-focused. They include:
- Being able to smile, knowing people’s names, being genuinely interested in other people, and making an effort to learn how to build rapport with anyone. Clients will choose someone they like over a candidate they don’t enjoy being around, even if they are more talented.
- Being a problem solver when things go wrong (e.g., equipment breaks, family drama arises, etc.)
- Being bold and having the ability to establish common ground with people, so they will want to listen to you.
Cultures around the world have their own unique way of saying, “I do.” Some are sweet like in the Czech Republic, where an infant is placed on the couple’s bed to bless and enhance their fertility, while others are a little different, like in Congo, where couples are forbidden to smile on their wedding day.
Many people are aware of the tossing of the bouquet and the first dance, but are you familiar with the money dance? Money is tossed at or pinned on the couple, as a way for friends and family to support them. There are many ways to say ‘I do.”
To prepare for a cultural wedding, it’s all about the communication leading up to the event that matters the most. As a photographer, it’s essential to stay in the loop.
When it comes to great wedding photos, we’ve seen the good and the bad. Here are seven things that you should tell your clients to make sure their wedding photos are amazing.
- Take engagement photos
- Look to the past
- Schedule a trial or two
- Don’t try anything crazy
- Consider your best sides
- Pay attention to the little things
- Drink water, lots of water
Use a wedding photo checklist to avoid disappointment and take the shots your clients really want
We compiled this must-have checklist with tips to help you avoid disappointment and get the shots your clients always wanted and dreamed of–even if they didn’t know to ask. We’ve also included a list of classic shots (e.g., vows, kiss, first dance) and incorporated a few moments most people might miss. Use it as a guide, and feel free to add your own shots as well.
Meet the couple
The average couple books their photographer about nine or ten months before the wedding, so you’ll have ample time to get acquainted. A scheduled interview (in person or over the phone) will suffice, but an engagement photoshoot is a natural way to learn more about them. Spurred by social media and wedding websites, these sessions are increasingly popular–and some wedding photographers include them as part of a package deal.
An engagement shoot presents a great opportunity to get to know the couple, their love story, and–perhaps most importantly–their expectations going forward. Spend some time discussing what exactly they have in mind, and make sure they’ve prepared a shot list of their own so you can add it to yours. 30% of millennials create a Pinterest board for wedding planning, so check and see if they have one they’d like to share.
Shot list: Before the ceremony
From zipping up the gown to peering in the mirror, the “getting ready” shots are essential for any bride or groom. Plan in advance when you’ll arrive at the hotel, home, or venue, and be there to capture the morning’s excitement, laughter, and anticipation.
The invitation and rings
Grab some photos of the invitation, the rings, and any other meaningful accessories, including the “something” old, new, borrowed, or blue. Bring a macro lens to capture the inscriptions inside the rings, too.
Hair and makeup
These “primping” shots aren’t just pretty–they’re also a chance to capture some of the quieter, more intimate moments before the day kicks off. Remember to include the mother(s) and bridesmaids.
Capture the moment the mother or maid of honor pins the veil on the bride, and zoom in close to capture the intricate details of the veil itself.
The dress and tux
Get that “dress hanging by the window” shot before the bride puts it on, and then remember to catch the mother-of-the-bride as she helps her daughter zip it up. The groom’s outfit is also important, so don’t forget to include the tux and tie. The shoes complete the outfit, so grab some detail shots of those too.
Portraits with parents
Throughout the day, take any opportunity you can to photograph the bride and groom with their parents. The morning is the perfect time to get mother/daughter, father/son, mother/son, and father/daughter portraits since everyone’s together in one place. Focus on reaction shots (e.g., the mom seeing the veil for the first time, the dad watching his son put on his tie, etc.).
Father’s first look
The moment when the groom sees the bride is a classic shot that is a must-have, but the father-daughter first look will steal people’s hearts. Making a plan to capture this first look will help set up a priceless photo.
The father of the bride is typically one of the first to see the bride before she walks down the aisle, an incredible shot would be to capture the look on the father’s face when she is all done up.
You could coordinate a private reveal so you can capture this moment without a lot of people, allowing the father to open up and express his emotions.
Portraits with friends
Grab plenty of photos of the bride and groom with their bridesmaids and groomsmen. Ask for some posed formal portraits, and don’t forget to capture those candid shots while they’re chatting and having fun.
Grab plenty of photos of the bride and groom with their bridesmaids and groomsmen. Ask for some posed formal portraits, and don’t forget to capture those candid shots while they’re chatting and having fun.
No matter how busy the day is, make time for portraits of the bride and groom alone. If your bride and groom have written each other letters, make sure to capture the moment they read them before the ceremony.
Wedding photography is all about the details–and that often includes jewelry that’s been passed down through the generations. Incorporate these pieces into a series of still life images, or capture the bride’s friends helping her to put them on.
Bouquets and boutonnieres
Couples also spend a lot of time and money on their flowers, so incorporate them wherever you can–in posed portraits, still lives, and candid shots.
Transitions from house to ceremony to reception all allow for candid, on-the-go photos. Don’t put your camera away during the walk or drive–some of the best wedding photos are taken when you’re on the way from one place to another.
Shot list: During the ceremony
Coordinate with the couple and the officiant to ensure you know exactly what to expect during the ceremony. Avoid surprises by creating an exact timeline of what will happen, from prayers and readings to the reciting of vows. Some couples choose to do a private “first look” photoshoot and see each other before the ceremony, so give them that option.
Arrive at the venue before the crowd to get those stunning interior shots. From there, watch as the audience fills up, and guests start to mingle.
Photograph the bride and groom as they exit their wedding cars and enter the venue, accompanied by parents, siblings, and friends.
Photograph every person as they walk down the aisle, and remember to include some of those audience reactions too. Keep your eyes on the bride and groom from start to finish. This is an important moment, so consider bringing an assistant or colleague to take additional shots from different perspectives–you don’t want to miss anything.
Even if you’ve already done a first look photoshoot, this is an essential shot for any wedding album. Make sure to get a close-up on the groom’s (or bride’s) face when they see their partner for the first time.
The “giving away” of the bride (or groom)
The final moment in the processional is just as important as the beginning. Look for those tender, spontaneous moments between parent and child.
The exchanging of vows and rings offers up ample time and opportunity to get those raw, emotional shots for the couple’s album. Remember to include as many angles as you can, and don’t forget the ring bearer.
Traditions and rituals are part of what make a wedding unique. Learn about the important cultural moments that’ll take place during the ceremony, whether it’s breaking the glass, jumping the broom, or lighting the unity candle.
Confer with the officiant about the exact line or phrase to expect before the first kiss. In addition to the kiss itself, don’t forget to capture the moments immediately before and after it–when the couple is looking into each other’s eyes.
The recessional is the perfect time to capture celebratory, spontaneous moments between bride and groom–and their guests. If the couple has planned something special, like throwing confetti or birdseed, use it to your advantage.
Shot list: After the Ceremony
This is your opportunity to get all your formal portraits and any funny wedding photos your couple has requested. If you’re shooting outdoors, make sure to scout your location on a different day. You won’t be able to reschedule the wedding, but you will be able to direct the wedding party to the spots where the light is most beautiful.
Use these portraits to capture the couple’s personality. There’s no such thing as too many wedding photos of the bride and groom.
Include every pairing you can imagine–bride/groom alone with mom, bride/groom alone with dad, bride/groom with grandparents, bride/groom with one set of parents, bride/groom with entire immediate family, etc.
Mix it up with these combinations as well: groom with groomsmen, the bride with bridesmaids, the bride with the maid of honor, groom with best man, bride and groom plus bridesmaids, bride and groom plus groomsmen, bride and groom plus ring-bearer and flower girl, etc. Don’t forget to get some snaps of the entire wedding party together too.
The wedding car
There are a few classic car shots included in some of the best wedding photos: snaps of the exterior and interior, photos of the bride and groom in the backseat, close-ups of decorations.
Shot list: At the reception
Focus on all the little things that make the venue come to life: the place settings, the decorations, the head table, and, of course, the centerpieces. Capture all the food and drink being served, especially any specialty drinks or hors d’oeuvres the couple has chosen.
When documenting the arrival of the bride and groom, zoom in on their expressions and the expressions of their guests–especially parents and grandparents.
Toasts and speeches are a great time to get candid, natural shots of those closest to the bride and groom. Remember to pay attention to their reactions too.
This is another topic to bring up with the couple or wedding planner. Photos of their first dance as a married couple are essential, as are any mother-son or father-daughter dances. This is also a chance to photograph the generations–mom and dad dancing, grandma and grandpa dancing, etc.
Whether they chose a live band or a DJ, the couple will want to remember the music.
Work the crowd, and remember to circle back to everyone in the wedding party as much as you can throughout the night.
The bouquet toss
Remember to include those small but important memories–like the bouquet toss or garter toss–in the final album.
Discuss when this will happen in advance, so you’re prepared to get the shot–no wedding photo album is complete without it. Take it as an opportunity to document some unscripted moments and funny wedding photos–and don’t forget to get plenty of still life photos of both cakes (bride and groom’s) before the cutting starts.
A day in the life of 500px Community wedding photographers
Ryan Brenizer, an acclaimed wedding photographer from New York City, is hailed as one of the top photographers in the United States. From the drama of a wedding venue down to the details of a bride’s gown, Ryan Brenizer’s images portray the timeless and the candid moments of modern-day weddings.
Manuel Orero is an internationally-acclaimed wedding photographer based in Spain. Known for capturing real moments and relaxed portraits, Manuel Orero’s images are a blend of storytelling and artistry–qualities of a good contemporary wedding photographer.
More 500px Community wedding inspiration
Van Middle, an incredible wedding photographer, has an open letter and tips that every wedding photographer wishes brides knew. One crucial tip he gives is letting the bride know the day is all about them. His unique perspective is important going into a wedding, and he gives advice on how to make the couple feel important so that the process of photographing the wedding will be a more pleasant and incredible experience for them.
Ryan Buchanan, a Texas-based photographer, proposed to his girlfriend during a visit to Iceland, right after shooting a portrait of her against the iconic Skogafoss falls. The sky, light, and strong emotions all came together as he proposed to her. Leave it to a landscape photographer to think of the most breathtaking spot to propose–and snag an unforgettable photo.
There’s an old superstition that rain on a wedding day is good luck for the couple, but if you ask any bride what their biggest wedding-day fear is, most would say rain–after a no-show groom, of course. Rain can definitely hamper the atmosphere for outdoor weddings, but for the experienced wedding photographer rain can make for amazing wedding photos.
If you are working with an open-minded couple, rain doesn’t just create a romantic atmosphere–you can get really creative with them and create some amazing wedding photos.
Help the couple remember the place where it all happened. Whether they are getting married in stunning Toronto or beautiful California, capturing an epic landscape photo of the bride and groom is essential. It makes for the perfect blown-up art print and looks amazing in a wedding album. Just imagine flipping through a beautiful wedding album and turning a page to an epic widespread from your wedding creative. It’s a true jewel to cherish for generations to come.
500px featured a gallery called 30 Days of Weddings, highlighting individual photographers in the 500px Community who take amazing wedding photography shots year after year. Make sure to follow these accounts for inspiration.
Carey Nash’s wedding and engagement portraits ooze drama and grandeur–and we are suckers for drama and grandeur. From far away helicopter shots of the bride and groom running across an epic landscape, to a ‘trash the dress’ silhouette among swirling dust in Cabo, Carey gets the highest compliment we can pay a wedding photographer.
Make sure you take photographs of the real moments happening during a wedding. Remember, you only get one chance when it comes to wedding photos, and after it is all over, the photos are the one thing that will stay with your client forever.
It’s important to capture the myriad of feelings at play in the wedding. When focusing in on these feelings it is helpful to capture moments when your subjects are not looking directly at the camera. Especially if you are planning on submitting any of your wedding photography for Licensing. Buyers prefer to see the bride, groom, or other attendees interacting with their loved ones in those “in-between moments” (e.g, a quick kiss, a private joke, a whispered thought, etc.).
Check out these 25 beautiful wedding photos have been submitted for Licensing. From wedding rings, to happy couples, to the ever-adorable flower girl, there is something in this collection to inspire your next shoot.
In 2019, the boundaries between fine art, documentary, and wedding photography are murky at best, and that means this field is fertile ground for innovation. Wedding photography is evolving, and it’s taking its rightful place as an art form in and of itself.
This article is a point of departure, but it’s also important to remember that every couple and family will have different expectations. Cater your approach to their individual personalities, and once you get all those boxes ticked, feel free to get creative. And always remember–some of the best wedding photos happen when you least expect them.
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