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For Natural Photographs; Ban the Shot List

With a quick search on Google it wouldn’t take you long to find hundreds of articles telling you that you should be giving your photographer a “shot list”.

These articles list dozens and dozens of shots that you ‘need’. I should be clear here; I’m not talking about the list of 6-8 family group shots that you’d like. These are long lists of shots covering all parts of the day that will be photographed.

With clever titles and headlines like “How to avoid disappointment and get the wedding photos you really want…” you could be forgiven for thinking that a shot list is essential.

The problem? A lot of these articles are at best misguided, and at worst plain wrong.

If you’re looking for very traditional photography with lots of staged moments and an intrusive order of events, then these lists are great.

If you’re looking for natural photography that really tells the story of your wedding day and captures unique moments….then these lists could really ruin your photographs.

Before I go on, I should probably explain a little about where I’m coming from.

I’m not a diva photographer. Far from it. I’m not going to tell you what you can and can’t have. But since your decision to get in touch and want to book me is based largely on the photographs that you see on this website, I feel like it’s important to explain why a shot list is so counter-productive to achieving the results you see here.

So let me explain a little about why shot lists are bad, and what’s a better alternative.

The Shot List Needs to Go

Being a documentary wedding photographer is all about story telling.

That means documenting your wedding in an honest and authentic way. In a way that shows how you really felt on your day and reminds you of what really happened.

The memories of your wedding day shouldn’t be a script that has been dreamt up by a wedding magazine.

To really photograph a story well you have to be present in the moment. I spend a lot of time on a wedding day observing. Who is interacting with who? Who looks emotional? When is the next really interesting moment going to happen?

Being completely focused on the moment means I can feel when something really special is about to happen and be ready to capture it.

The trouble with shot lists is that they steal the focus. The photography becomes less about the moments and the story, and becomes about ticking some boxes.

It’s impossible to spot that your Mum is about to cry at the sight of you in your wedding dress when I’m busy checking whether I ticked off shots from a list.

The love of the unexpected

Shot lists are great for stating the obvious.

“Take a photograph of the bride as she walks down the aisle”.

Big moments like those are key to the story of the day. And so they will always be photographed anyway.

The thing that a shot list can never be good at is planning for the unexpected moments. Or, as I like to call them, ‘the best bits’.

There are so many beautiful, crazy, funny, emotional moments on a wedding day that happen at completely unexpected times. They can’t be planned for. They’re the moments that happen in between the moments.

You can’t fake real moments

Libby’s Mum looking at her with pride and joy in her eyes as she hugged a friend after the ceremony.

A completely unscripted and unplanned moment. No shot list can plan for this.

The only way to capture this kind of moment is to watch; to observe; to anticipate. If I was looking down at a shot list to check whether there was anything we hadn’t “ticked off” yet then this would have been totally missed.

Becci’s Gran’s face lit up as she went to great her shortly after they had arrived at the wedding reception.

When we arrived at Becci and Ben’s reception venue in a beautiful woodland setting there was a lot going on. It’s at this time that a long shot list might have had me head inside to capture hundreds of detail shots (I still got detail shots…more on that later!). Instead, I knew that Becci trusted me to capture the day in the best way I could.

No one knew before the wedding day that this moment might happen, or when it might happen. Keeping an open mind, being observant, and judging the emotions of the day is the only way to document these moments.

So back to those detail shots….does that mean that Becci and Ben have no photographs of the details from their wedding? Of course not, they absolutely do! The key is that they weren’t the priority and there wasn’t a long prescribed list. This means I was free to use my best judgement, capture the important moments as they happened, and then head off to get some quick detail shots when time allowed.

Some of Becci and Ben’s detail shots…

The bridesmaid and groomsman both get emotional just after Tom and Sain are announced as husband and wife.

This moment happened just after the main “moment”. The First Kiss is often talked about, and might appear on a Shot List (coming back to stating the obvious….who isn’t going to think to photograph the first kiss??).

This is another of those moments in between moments. After the first kiss, and before the signing of the register. It shows how important it is to stay present in the moment even after capturing the ‘main moment’.

These are moments that you can’t plan for, but they really do matter. Those are the moments that really add to the story of your wedding day, and that you’ll look back on with such fondness.

Capturing those kind of moments with a storying telling approach are what have led to feedback like this…

 

“He captured so many expressions, moments and the sheer energy of the day in his beautiful shots, I now know why people say wedding photos are to cherish for a lifetime – we truly will” (Kathryn + Martin)

“He was also a real pleasure to have around and took some very special images that we had no clue were being taken at the time!” (Mary + Daniel)

“We absolutely love our photos and can’t believe the different angles from which he’s captured every moment of the day. We certainly weren’t aware of him snapping away. Our photos are undoubtedly the best wedding purchase we made – thank you so much!” (Sarah + Steve)

 

The feedback I get after a wedding is that there is so much love for the unplanned photographs. The ones that matter are the ones that capture the real unscripted moments and emotion. And from putting together umpteen wedding albums for couples, it’s those same moments that always take pride of place.

A Better Way!

So….if shot lists aren’t the best way to get the wedding photographs that you will love and cherish, then what is?

There are some helpful tips that can really help you make sure you are happy with your wedding photography:

1. Pick the right photographer! Take a good look through the work of the photographer you are thinking of booking. Do their photographs impact you? Are they producing great photographs wedding after wedding? (rather than just a few great highlights on their home page)
2. Don’t go over the top with posed group shots. This is perhaps one for another blog post, but it’s important to say that having too many posed group shots has a similar effect to having a ‘shot list’. I always advise couples to try to keep the list of posed family shots to around 6-8 combinations. This gives plenty to capture the important shots (that parents particularly love), but is a manageable number that won’t have you stood posing for an hour.
3. Talk to your photographer. Whilst I don’t want a ‘shot list’ from you, I absolutely do want to know all about your plans for the day and what is really important to you. Whether it’s meeting for a coffee, or having a chat over the phone or Skype, I always want to chat to you on the run up to your wedding day. I’d much rather spend time getting to know you both than reading through a long shot list, and I guarantee it will end up in better photographs. Trusting your photographer is one of the most important factors in getting the photographs that you want!

 

Read more about my approach to documenting weddings.

Comments

We are always saying this to couples getting married – great blog post! Thanks for sharing 🙂

Hi Pete, do you do weddings further up north like Horwich near Bolton?

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Any shot lists should be written on toilet paper and used in the khazi – great way to kill the vibe!

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Brilliant blog post Pete. I couldn’t agree more! Fantastic images too

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