The Ultimate Wedding Photo Shot List
You've put an incredible amount of time and energy into planning your wedding—naturally, you want the resulting photographs to reflect that. Ensuring that your big day is masterfully documented begins with choosing the photographer that's right for you in terms of media type, general aesthetic, and experience. That last point is key: A veteran wedding photographer ultimately knows how to manipulate light, work a crowd, and keep you comfortable in front of the camera. Ideally, you shouldn't worry about the photos they're taking or how they're taking them—the bond between the couple and their photographer should always come down to trust.
We do, however, understand that you want to head into your big day prepared, with a clear picture (pun intended!) of which shots you can expect to see in your future wedding album. That's where our comprehensive wedding photo shot list, full of must-have shots recommended by some of the industry's most lauded photographers, comes in. Though this list can be useful in deciding which moments you do (and don't!) want captured, we suggest using it as a general outline—every couple's wedding day unfolds differently, which means that a wedding photo shot list can't and shouldn't be one-size-fits-all.
Ahead, you'll discover a set of images that photographers strongly suggest you take. As for the specific photos that you shouldn't stress about capturing? Don't fret over detail shots, like bar signage, cocktail tables, or favors, says Jen Huang: "They're not necessarily important for the story of the day and the story of the couple. I am always up for taking beautiful detail shots, but I think couples should worry less about these." As for shots to completely avoid? Virtually all of our photographers agree that reception table-to-table shots should be skipped. "It's time consuming for the couple, disruptive to your guests and dinner service, and takes away from documenting genuine moments," adds Heather Waraksa.
At the end of the day, though, you shouldn't feel an ounce of stress over your wedding photo shot list, says Sylvie Gil. "If you hired an experienced photographer, you should not worry about any of the photos—it's the photographers job to worry about it."
Styled Invitation Suite
Ask your photographer to capture your paper suite alongside a mix of meaningful big-day objects, like your wedding rings, day-of stationery (like ceremony programs and vow transcripts!), and any family heirlooms, advises Shannon Moffit. Fill out negative space with ribbons in shades that reference your color palette and flowers featured in your bridal bouquet. The result? A photograph that serves an entryway to your big day—and one that'll make the ultimate album opener.
Pose your engagement ring and wedding bands prettily on your wedding day—they're symbolic of your union, after all. Photographer Cassi Claire says she returns to this particular shot over and again, especially when flipping through her own wedding photos: "I don't often wear my engagement ring while traveling, so this photo has been referenced many times."
Getting Ready: The Bride
Your time in the bridal suite will be packed with poignant moments, which makes capturing them a must. If you're set on snapping the makeup application process, however, you might want to wait until your look is nearly finished, says Elizabeth Davis. "I have found that the majority of my brides do not use or like these images because their bridal look is not complete," she says. "I communicate with their makeup artist to let me know right before the put on the final touches—at that point, I start photographing the makeup process."
While getting dressed, take advantage of the suite's prettiest features, which often make for picturesque photos. Moffit loves capturing "getting ready shots of the bride in gorgeous window light," for example.
Getting Ready: The Bridesmaids
"Be sure to take a photo of you and you 'maids in your robes (or other special getting ready attire!) to toast the beginning of the day," says Abby Jiu.
A Solo Portrait of the Bride
Slipping into your wedding dress completes your transformation from woman to bride—a metamorphosis that makes for beautiful photos. Be sure to take a solo portrait as soon as soon as you're dressed to capture the magic.
Shot of the Back of the Wedding Dress
Dress Detail Close-Up
Special laces, breathtaking embellishments, unique appliqués—ask your photographer to capture your wedding dress' most special details for you to admire long after the gown is preserved and stowed away.
Though bouquet shots are an absolute must, snapping an image of the arrangement as soon as you're dressed often makes for the prettiest photos, says Jiu. The reason? That's when your bouquet is freshest. "At that point, it's freshly out of the water and hasn't had a chance for the flowers to get bruised," she notes.
"Objects and details that are culturally and emotionally meaningful to the union" should be photographed, advises Jen Huang. You will, however, want to notify your photographer of these accents, especially if they're small or easily overlooked, notes Jiu: "As photographers we aim to get all the photos that are important to you. But sometimes, we may not notice the really small things without you pointing it out to us. So if you're carrying your grandmother's rosary or your groom has a picture of his grandparents on his cufflinks, we want to see it all!"
The Bride and Her Bridesmaids
"While group photos are important, I suggest keeping the list to a minimum of those nearest and dearest," advises Heather Waraksa. Your bridesmaids obviously make that short list—ahead of the ceremony, snap photos together to revel in the anticipation of your nuptials surrounded by your sisters and best friends.
The Groom and His Groomsmen
The same logic applies to the groom and his guys (plus, you have a limited amount of time before they loosen tight ties and strip off tuxedo jackets).
First Look: The Couple
So many photographers cite the first look as one of their favorite wedding moments to capture, and there's a good reason why. "We love first looks because they are all about our couples!" explains the pros at Koman Photography. "Our couples get to hug one another, laugh, kiss, cry, jump up and down, and soak in the realization that they are getting married today!"
First Look: With Dad
Having a first look with your parents is just as poignant and worth photographing, notes Sylvie Gil. This option is also a good alternative for couples who want their first look to take place on the aisle.
First Look: On the Aisle
Speaking of having your first look on the aisle—Huang actually prefers this moment (and its resulting photos) to a pre-arranged first look ahead of the ceremony: "I find that couples are passing up the irreplaceable moment of coming down the aisle for something that was originally created as a back-up for tight wedding schedules. I think they can be really beautiful, but I would always recommend walking down the aisle as your true first look—there's nothing like it!"
Ceremony Reaction Shots: The Couple
Emotional moments during the ceremony—everything from belly laughs to happy tears, both of which come out during the vows—are especially worth capturing, notes Gil. Huang says shooting poignant ceremony happenings is often both the most challenging and rewarding aspect of wedding photography: "The ceremony can be difficult because it is wildly out of the photographer's control in terms of timing, location, and lighting, but I find these moments tend to be the most real and the most sacred," she says. "It's a balance of creating beautiful images without disturbing the sanctity of the ceremony that I love."
Ceremony Reaction Shots: The Parents
You'll also want to ask your photographer to pan the camera on your parents as you exchange vows, adds Gil—their faces say it all.
You'll remember your first married kiss always, but having a photograph to serve as a reminder only reinforces the memory. You'll reference it time and again, guaranteed.
Wide Ceremony Shot
Give your service scope by getting a wide, panorama-style shot of your ceremony while it's unfolding, says Rebecca Yale. "This is an image you'll never get to see for yourself on the wedding day since you're part of the ceremony and can't see the full scene," she explains. "It's such a fun and unique perspective, especially with all your guests in it."
Kiss at the End of the Aisle
After your first married kiss, pause for another as you walk back up aisle. It's "one of the happiest moments of the day," says Yale—one worth immortalizing on film. Pro tip: "Walk slowly as you recess down the aisle so that your photographer can get some good photos," adds Jiu.
Portraits: The Couple
"I value the time I have with my couples during portraits," says Waraksa, who cites these types of shots as some of her favorites to take. "I love seeing their connection up close and personal, exploring different locations with them, as well as seeing their personalities come out in front of the lens."
Portraits: The Candid
Unlike the majority of photos on this list, the candid is one that you can't plan. You can, however, set aside some time to let loose in front of your photographer, says Yale. "This is hard to put on a shot list as by definition its spontaneous and unplanned but leave enough time in your wedding schedule to allow yourself to relax and have candid moments," she says. "If you've overscheduled your shot list and go from photo to photo to photo, you won't have time for the authentic moments to occur."
Portraits: The Shot That Demonstrates Your Love
This particular shot can go two ways: It might fall into the candid photo category, or it could be the result of a posed portrait (a kiss on the forehead or a tender glance, for example). Either way, taking a photo that "represents the connection and love between the couple" is a decision you won't regret, says Huang.
Portraits: Immediate Family
"This may sound very boring, but couples should never pass up photographs with their families," says Huang. "I sometimes see family photos rushed because the couple wants to join in their cocktail hour, but these photographs are the ones that end up being passed down from generation to generation."
Claire agrees, adding that "the combined immediate family photo of both my parents and siblings plus my husband's parents and siblings" is one of her most treasured wedding photos.
"I've had many situations where couples have contacted me after their weddings to let me know their grandparent had passed and that my photos were the last professional shots they have of them," says Davis, who says not to pass up portraits with or candids of grandparents on your wedding day.
Another option? Take generational shots, says Waraksa: "Include your mother or grandmother as you're getting ready. Having them assist with the finishing touches can make for a sweet and emotional moment."
Portraits: The Venue
You chose your venue for a reason—why not pose with it? "Does your venue have an epic view or a particular great entrance? Make sure to get that photo that you'll want to frame," advises Jiu.
Nature often makes the prettiest backdrop, which is why showcasing your big-day's seasonality is never a bad idea. Look for elements—like spring flowers, colorful fall foliage, or snowy mountains—that clearly illustrate the time of year, says Moffit, and work them into your big-day portraits.
If you're planning on bringing your pet along on your wedding day, "a photograph with your fur baby " is a must, says Koman Photography, especially if they're part of the wedding party (dog of honor, anyone?).
You'll want photographs of your reception before you guests enter the room and disturb the perfect scene you, your event, designer, and your florist have worked so hard to set, notes Gil.
The reception tables are set with your carefully-curated linens, chargers, plates, goblets, and flatware—and your on-palette centerpieces turned out better than you could have imagined. Commemorate your tablescapes with plenty of detail shots before your guests dig into the first course.
"This is always a favorite moment—just try to not stress out too much over the dance steps, it will show in your faces. Focus on enjoying yourselves!" says Yale.
You'll break out photos of your emotional dance with Dad every Father's Day, says Claire.
Photo of Motion
"I'm very inspired by motion so I love photo opportunities like the first dance where the couple is caught up in a moment," says Liz Banfield. Huang agrees, but suggests adding singing and praying (if that's a component of your big day!) to the movement-centric part of your list.
The Cake Cutting
Asking your photographer to snag shots of your epic wedding cake is well and good—but having permanent documentation of you and your new spouse pushing the dessert into each other's faces? Priceless.
Though bittersweet—this photograph signals the end of the festivities—putting your exit, especially if it was illuminated by sparklers, onto your wedding photo shot list acts as the concluding bookend to your big day.