What A Shot List Is & Why You Need One For Your Wedding

If you’ve read any of my articles, you know that I planned my brother’s wedding in full. From the place cards, to the lighting, to the f*cking cupcake tower, this bitch did it all. *Pats self on back* Now, you may notice that I’m using the past tense here because, after the longest and most stressful year of my life of planning a wedding that wasn’t even my own, it’s finally over. Was I nervous it would be a raging dumpster fire? Honestly, no because I hired professionals who are experts in their respective fields, so I wasn’t worried about them. I was, however, worried about my sh*t show of a family who can’t take a group photo to save their damn lives. When I imagined how the family portraits—an essential part of any wedding—would go down, I imagined the infamous Vanity Fair shoot with the cast of Desperate Housewives. If you don’t get that reference, you’re too young to get married. 

So I reached out to a woman who, six months ago, I thought of as a talented wedding photographer and now think of as my favorite person in the world, Washington Metropolitan-based Stefanie Kamerman. Now, if you remember from exactly one paragraph ago, the only thing I was worried about re: this wedding was my family during our pre-ceremony photoshoot. Before I even had a chance to get into the Kardashian-level pettiness that is my family during an event, Stefanie assured me not to worry because she uses a shot list. What is a shot list, you ask? Well, it’s an amazing little list that includes all of the moments I wanted captured throughout the course of the wedding. Some items on the list included my parents with the newlyweds-to-be, the bride’s parents with the newlyweds-to-be, the ladies, the gents, the grandmothers thinking no one can see them giving each other some serious side eye…you know, the usual stuff we want to look back on fondly. But I’d never heard of this before she brought up the term, so I thought I’d break down WTF a shot list is, why you need one, and the types of shots you should put on your list. 

What Is A Shot List?[/embed]

A shot list is a list of all the photos you want to make sure are captured. Generally, when you hire a photographer, you make your decision based on both their photography style and ability to get the moneymakers. However, if there are a few shots you want to make sure they will take, enter a shot list. Stefanie says there are two kinds of lists, the informal and the formal. The informal one is the obvious photos like “a photo of the groom’s reaction as he sees his bride walk down the aisle, a photo of the cake cutting, garter toss, first dances…etc. You know, the standard stuff you would see in a wedding gallery,” she says. The formal shot list is the one that may or may not cause some serious family rifts. Stefanie says, “It’s usually comprised of family photo groupings, unique wedding day details you want documented, poses, and venue highlights. Sometimes a shot request is as simple as a photo of a punch bowl that your great-grandma Edna, four-times removed, lent you for your wedding reception table decor and your mom asks you to make sure there is a photo of it.” Don’t forget about Edna, people! 

Who Should Be On A Shot List?

This is where I struggled and asked Stefanie for her advice… at midnight the Sunday before the wedding. I didn’t want the wedding to get so political to the point of having to include in the shot list my second aunt who’s been divorced from my second uncle for a decade because she’s technically family. Stefanie offers, “For the formal family aspect of the shot list, immediate family and sometimes grandparents, for sure. Extended family? Reserve those photos for the reception or not at all, because let me explain: family photo time is one of the most stressful parts of your photographer’s job.” So if you’re not going to save yourself from your family, save your photographer. “It isn’t that we can’t handle the stress or the multiple personalities all at once, it is just a lot of people-herding—especially with extended [family] in the mix,” she says. Also, don’t forget that there is a timeline and a schedule to stick to, so if you’re taking photos of groups of 15, that’s going to slow sh*t down and delay your time spent at the bar.

How Detailed Should A Shot List Be?[/embed]

Obviously, every shot list is different, but they should all be very detailed. Most good photographers will send out a questionnaire to get a sense of who you are and how crazy your family is, but will trust you to fill out a detailed shot list so that nothing gets overlooked. “The more I know about what you—my client—wants, the better I can serve you and manage your photo expectations,” Stephanie says. “Going back to Edna’s punch bowl, if you want a photo of you and mom with the punch bowl, I can tell you when I can get that shot. My point is that if I don’t know about a special detail or person, that shot may not happen.” Photographers are truly amazing people with myriad talents, but unfortunately, they are not mind-readers. If you want them to take a shot, no matter how weirdly specific it is, tell them. On the contrary, if you don’t want them to take a shot, tell them! For instance, my grandmothers would rather keel over in the middle of the ceremony than be in a photo together; that is information Stefanie needed to know. 

How Does The Photographer Use The Shot List?

Your shot list is kind of like a grocery list in that you walk up and down the aisle making sure to check off everything on the list before calling it a day. Stefanie explains, “For formal shot lists, I keep a digital copy in my Apple Watch and a paper copy on-hand. I check off the formal shots as I take them. When I sit down to eat, I go through my camera to make sure I got the formal requests. In the event that I missed something, and I can recreate it, I use the reception time to go back and retake that missed shot if it is possible.” Yes to all of this, especially the part about her eating. Another important thing to remember is that you hired the photographer based on their skills, so after you give them the shot list, trust that they will do a fabulous job and let them be. Don’t follow them around to remind them of the things on the list they are currently holding. They know to take a pic of the groom’s parents with the soon-to-be-newlyweds!

Images: Stefanie Kamerman

Betchy Draper
Betchy Draper
Betchy Draper's real name is Jess. Just Jess. Like Madonna, only younger and less good at singing and dancing.