Wedding photography: Tips on wedding shot lists, equipment recommendations & more for wedding photographers

Wedding photographers must have a comprehensive plan for capturing every moment from the initial glances to the final dance. This article provides valuable insights on how to prepare for the formal photoshoot and capture candid shots during the event.

However, taking beautiful photos is only one aspect of a wedding photographer’s job. The wedding day itself involves extensive planning and coordination beyond the ceremony, cake, and dancing.

Preparing for wedding photography can be a daunting task. Wedding photographers have to juggle numerous aspects, such as lengthy shot lists, managing multiple locations, handling large wedding parties, and working with a finite amount of time to get the perfect shots. Even for the most skilled wedding photographers, it’s a tall order. To ensure a successful outcome, putting together a well-thought-out strategy is essential. Being prepared in advance can come in handy when things don’t go according to plan.

Plan and List of Shots

When you have only one day to capture all the important moments, missing anything is not an option. To avoid disappointing clients, it’s essential to meet with the couple beforehand to create a schedule and a list of shots.

As a wedding photographer, it is very important to provide couples with a timeline / schedule. This not only helps to schedule the overall wedding day, but also allows you to address any unrealistic timing issues that may arise.

To ensure that you capture the most important moments for the bride and groom, it’s crucial to help them understand that they won’t be able to go straight from the wedding ceremony to the reception if they have to greet a large number of guests in the receiving line.

Here are some key considerations to discuss with the couple when creating a wedding shot list:

  1. Would either or both individuals like photos of their preparation? If so, when will this process begin?
  2. Should photos of the wedding party and family be taken before or after the ceremony? Which family members should be present for these pictures, and when should they arrive? Will the wedding party’s dates be included in these images?
  3. If the first look between the couple is scheduled to take place before the ceremony, ensure that it occurs before any other photos. Allow enough time for this meaningful moment.
  4. Obtain a general overview of the ceremony so you can capture special moments during this busy 30- to 60-minute period of the day.
  5. What is the reception schedule like? Will events such as the first dance, father-of-the-bride dance, and cake cutting occur? Determine the timing of these events so that you are not changing camera batteries when the bouquet is being thrown.
  6. When will you have time to eat? It’s critical to identify gaps in the schedule that will enable you to have time for food, water, and bathroom breaks.

Lighting Equipment

Understanding the schedule of a wedding is crucial when taking photographs in order to determine the type of lighting you will encounter. Although golden-hour lighting is optimal for capturing portraits, weddings often occur during midday when the lighting is harsher. To ensure even lighting and minimize deep shadows under people’s eyes, professional wedding photographer Anna Goellner suggests seeking shade from trees or buildings rather than exposing subjects to direct sunlight.

“When the sun is directly overhead, it creates unflattering shadows under people’s eyes,” explains Mark Requena. “During this time, I always search for shade, whether it’s provided by trees or buildings, to achieve more balanced lighting. If shade is unavailable, positioning the sun behind your clients can result in a softer appearance.”

Arriving at the venue before the guests arrive allows you to assess the lighting conditions in advance, saving you stress later on. In the event that the wedding festivities extend into the evening, employing a camera flash may become necessary.

By decreasing the shutter speed of your camera and increasing the ISO (which controls the camera’s light sensitivity), you can use a flash to illuminate the foreground subject while still capturing the ambient light of the surroundings. This technique is perfect for capturing guests dancing at the reception while preserving the venue’s intricate details. Even without a flash, Goellner mentions that experimenting with higher ISO and lower shutter speed settings can yield remarkable results for low-light reception photography.

Camera Equipment

Irrespective of the location, once the wedding day starts, there is no opportunity to quickly fetch another lens. It is essential to come well-prepared. Besides a flash, it is crucial to have a selection of lenses that can capture various types of shots. To build your wedding photography equipment checklist, consider the specific shots you intend to capture. For instance, Plicanic recommends using a versatile 50mm lens to document candid moments, a 16-35mm lens for wide shots required for large wedding groups, and a 70-200mm lens to capture intimate moments from a distance.

Additionally, it is important to be prepared for the prevailing weather conditions. Being comfortable and wearing professional gear ensures that you remain focused on the shoot.

Having an extra set of eyes can be immensely valuable as well, having two cameras, along with two cameras for you and your second shooter. as well as backup memory card options within your camera settings, and a variety of lenses. It is important to have a long lens to capture distant moments and a wide lens for quick switching, especially during the time-constrained ceremony where you only have a limited window to capture everything you need.

On the wedding day, be prepared for the unexpected. While the bride and groom might have a plan for rain, as the photographer, you should also be ready to capture unforeseen moments that may not be on the shot list. Being observant and adaptable allows you to capture truly unique and memorable moments that the couple would otherwise miss.

Plicanic emphasizes the goal of creating special and meaningful photographs that evoke gasps of delight. Many times, clients are surprised and amazed by moments captured by the photographer that they were not aware of. This ability to go beyond expectations and capture candid moments can make couples feel like they hired a photographer who went the extra mile.

How to photograph these moments?

Skill is undoubtedly honed through experience, but ultimately, it boils down to seeking out narratives within the wedding day that capture the stories the couple, overwhelmed with countless tasks, might miss in the moment.

“I keep an eye out for people engaged in heartfelt conversations and sharing laughter,” explains Mark. “It not only captures the couple’s experience but also reflects the perspective of the guests.”

Embracing the controlled chaos is essential too. Sometimes, the high-energy atmosphere of a wedding fuels extraordinary photos.

“Throughout the day, everything moves at a rapid pace. You may not always have the luxury to compose the perfect shot,” notes wedding photographer Mark Requena. “However, these spontaneous photos can still leave a powerful impact, precisely because they break away from traditional rules.”

When it comes to professional wedding photography, certain factors should be taken into account. Usually, a couple hires a photographer based on their portfolio, but managing expectations remains crucial.

“Mostly, they rely on you to do what you do best,” says Mark. “It’s about educating them on your process, style, and how they can assist you in delivering your best work.”

There may be instances where a couple requests something beyond your previous experience. Evaluating the feasibility of such requests requires a careful consideration of time and financial implications. This is an essential process for any photographer aspiring to work professionally in the wedding industry.

  1. Operational costs: It’s crucial to consider the expenses associated with running a photography business, including equipment costs, tax deductions, insurance, software, web hosting, data storage, and potential accountant fees. If you need to hire a second photographer for larger weddings, account for that as well. Additionally, remember to factor in travel expenses to and from the venue.
  2. Delivery costs: If you offer physical products like photo albums or printed images, include the associated costs in your pricing.
  3. Time costs: Calculate the time spent at the wedding, along with the hours dedicated to consultations, pre-event preparations, photo processing, editing, and delivering the final product or package to your client.
  4. Opportunity costs: Since wedding photography is a seasonal industry with peak demand from late spring to early fall, consider the limitations of being in one place at a time. As most weddings occur on Saturdays, booking a weekend wedding means turning down other potential work on that day. Keep this in mind when determining your pricing structure to meet your financial goals.
  5. The value of your expertise: Experienced wedding photographers bring immense value to couples by navigating unforeseen challenges such as inclement weather, schedule changes, difficult lighting conditions, and managing difficult guests. When clients question the pricing, seasoned professionals can explain that it reflects their ability to confidently handle these challenges during a hectic event. As you gain more experience and confidence, adjust your rates accordingly to reflect your expertise.

There is no universal industry standard for pricing, as it varies based on factors like wedding size, type, and regional cost differences. Each photographer approaches these business decisions differently. However, understanding your financial needs and the requirements for successful photography coverage should guide your pricing strategy.

Once you have established your business and pricing structure, you can confidently communicate with clients. When you exude confidence in these details, you will inspire trust that you are the right photographer to document their special day.