We’ve compiled a downloadable wedding photography checklist for wedding photographers to consider and do before shooting a wedding to help make it easier, reduce the stress of forgetting something, and provide you with a list of shots that the couple may be looking for. It’s important to remember that each couple is different, and will have different expectations on what you capture.
The wedding day is one of the biggest days in a person’s life, and as their photographer, you have the responsibility of capturing each memory, which will be reviewed and talked about for years to come. That’s a whole lot of responsibility to take on, and it can be stressful but also one of the most fulfilling things about being a wedding photographer. The work you create on this day are the lasting memories when it’s over, and the tangible evidence that it happened.
Some couples may want you to get all the little details and decor because they painstakingly made each napkin by hand. Others may have created a wedding celebration that begets all traditional tropes or have incorporated specific religious or cultural elements. Make sure you are thoroughly prepared, understand the client’s expectations, and have all your ducks in a row before the big day. Use this wedding photography checklist as a starting point, but be sure to customize each wedding shoot to the couple you're working for. Wedding photography is not a one-size-fits-all industry.
There’s a lot of legwork you need to do before the big wedding day shoot. This includes an initial consultation, logistics review, and understanding the couple’s expectations and guaranteeing that you can meet them.
It’s important to meet with your couple beforehand to make sure that you have a clear understanding of their vision so that you can provide them with exactly what they are looking for, and get a feel for their personalities and style.
After meeting with the couple and getting the specifications on what they expect, it’s time to put together your final contract. You’ll want to do this well ahead of the wedding day, and be very clear about payment terms, deliverables, timelines, expected expenses, and cancellation conditions. Things to consider for your contract:
While many couples decide to forgo the engagement shoot, it’s a great opportunity for you to get a feel for them and their personalities ahead of the wedding day. It might be a good idea to make this as an extra add-on to any package you put together. It also gives you a chance to see how your personalities meld together and make a great dry-run for the big day.
Leading up to the big day, you’ll want to confirm the times and locations of the ceremony and reception, as well as where the bride and groom are getting ready. Also, it’s important to have the couple select a contact person who you can call if anything happens. You don’t want to call the bride or groom on their wedding day to let them know that you got a flat tire on the way and you’re going to be late. This could be a designated family friend, bridesmaid or groomsmen, parent, or a wedding planner or coordinator if the couple has hired one. You should confirm the following:
It’s important to review your gear a couple of weeks ahead of the wedding to make sure that you have everything you need. If the couple has requested shots that you’re going to need special gear for, you should go ahead and get it. A good basic kit includes things like a zoom lens for low light, prime lenses, and a flash. A second camera body is always a good idea for capturing quick moments when you don’t have time to swap out a lens or as a backup in case your main body fails. Also, make sure you have enough battery and mobile chargers for 12 hours of shooting.
While not a requirement for every wedding you’re going to shoot, hiring a second shooter is sometimes the best idea because you physically can’t be in two places at once. Depending on the size of the wedding, the couple’s expectations around what they want to be captured, and their budget, you may need to enlist the help of another photographer. Share the wedding photography checklist with them, so that you’re not duplicating efforts and plan who is covering what so that the day moves smoothly.
Each venue has different rules, settings, and you want to make sure that you’re abiding by them. You’ll also want to scope out the best places to take photographs, considering the time of day and what the expected timeline is. Scouting out your locations before the wedding day will make you more efficient and ease the stress of trying to figure out the best setting and best lighting on the spot.
Preparation is key, and you’ll want to make sure that you’ve covered the following on the day before the big wedding:
The following is a basic outline of the top and most popular shots for wedding photography. Again, you’ll want to take into consideration your couple, their unique style and expectations when putting this list together. You’ll also want to make sure that you’ve incorporated all the shots that they have specifically requested. Use this list as a jumping-off point and go from there. Be sure to share this completed wedding photography checklist with your assistant, if you have one, and determine who will be responsible for which shots.
Some brides prefer that you arrive at their getting-ready location up to an hour before departure. These are the typical shots that are expected
If the bride and groom are getting ready at different locations, this would be a great opportunity to send your assistant or second shooter to capture his preparations while you work on the bride.
If the couple has decided to capture first look photographs ahead of the ceremony, these would happen approximately 40 minutes to 2 hours ahead of the ceremony start time. Be sure that you understand your couple's expectations, and remember to remind them of the time required to capture these moments so that they're not running too late to miss it. Some first look photos feature the groom standing alone and the bride coming up behind him. Other's are more creative, using balloons. There are also shots where the bride and groom don't see each other but stand on opposite sides of a door. Work with your couple to understand what they want this experience to be like.
Be sure to arrive at the ceremony site ahead of any guests or bridal party members to capture the empty venue beforehand. This makes sure that you get all the details before the real event starts.
If the couple has a wedding coordinator, ask them to round up the people that the couple has requested for formal portraits, including all bridal party members, parents, grandparents, siblings, kids, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces, the officiant, and whomever else they asked for. Note that you may be able to complete some of these formal portraits before the ceremony after the first look photographs. Be sure to determine the proper time to get these done when talking with your couple ahead of the big day.
If you have a second shooter with you, they can take care of the detailed shots of the decor and reception venue, as well as the cocktail hour so that you can concentrate on the formal portraits. If not, you can always try to squeeze them in while folks are eating dinner and mingling between the bigger events like the cake cutting, dances, and speeches.
You would have already listed out the deliverables with the couple and the timeline when they should receive them in the formal contract for your services. However, many couples are dying to see the pictures from the best night of their lives. One way to do this is to quickly edit a handful of photos and post them for the couple to see as a "sneak peek" of what's to come. Not only will they be thrilled to get access to these pictures ahead of the full set, but it will also buy you some time to put the effort in with editing the full delivery while giving them something to sample on while you work.
After delivery to your clients of their official photographs, be sure to ask them to post a review on Google or Facebook page and to refer anyone they know that could use your services. Another good idea is to offer the couple a discount on additional photography shoots in the future, like an anniversary or pregnancy shoot. Not only will you get repeat business, but it's a great factor in keeping top of their minds for future photography needs.
Wedding photography is a stressful but very fulfilling enterprise for photographers. You alone have the responsibility to capture one of the best days in a person's life. Remember that it's a marathon, but the payoff is so worth the effort. Use this wedding photography checklist as a jumping-off point when planning your shots, but of course, this list isn't exhaustive. There are tons of creative shots that you can get that may fall outside this list. Work with your couple to understand their ideas and make sure that you work to bring their vision to life.
If you're good at your job and produce quality work that exceeds the couple's expectations, you can expect repeat clients and referrals to build your business in the future.
If the couple has decided that they want an afterparty, be sure to include this into the pricing of your services. This is usually an extra cost and not part of a typical package. However, the couple may have a bonfire and s' mores at the host hotel or venue where guests are staying, or they may have a special after-hours party into the early morning hours to continue to party with their guests.