A wedding photography checklist can be a lifesaver.
Imagine this. The music is playing and the bride begins her walk down the aisle. Her stomach is undoubtedly filled with butterflies from nerves and excitement.
But somewhere farther down that aisle, is the first-time wedding photographer. Their stomach is equally aflutter from the pressure of getting that great shot — or risk ruining a wedding day.
Wedding photography is the marathon of the photography world. This can often mean a 12-hour day full of endless must-have shots and split-second memories. Because of this, it’s easy to lose track and forget about an essential shot.
A wedding photography checklist, however, can prevent those missed moments. Here I created one I wish I had before I started.
Nevertheless, this wedding checklist is just a starting point. New photographers shouldn’t feel like they can’t go above and beyond the images on the list. Otherwise, the tool can suddenly becomes creatively stifling.
A wedding photography checklist also shouldn’t take your eyes from the camera at any essential moment during the day. This is why, once you’ve shot a few weddings, you may do a majority of the list from memory.
This wedding checklist is designed to help new photographers feel less frazzled while shooting their first wedding day.
Keep in mind, however, that a checklist is only going to help you remember which shots to get in on the wedding day and how to prep for the big day. Before your first wedding, you must make sure that you have a solid understanding of exposure, using flash, focusing and posing.
For more tips on wedding photography, check out our Complete Guide to Wedding Photography and Tips.
Once you have a solid understanding of your camera and gear, here’s what new photographers need to do before and during the wedding.
Before the Wedding
Meet with the Bride and Groom
If an in-person meeting isn’t possible, have a detailed phone call instead. Discuss the bride and groom’s plans for the day and the style of their wedding. Also make sure you know what wedding traditions the couple is following. These vary by location, culture, and religion.
Discuss anything that might be outside the typical wedding that the couple may want to be photographed. Maybe the couple made their own ceremony decor, or maybe there’s a family friend who’s not a blood relative but is essential to get them in those family photos.
Ask if the couple would like to do a first look shoot, or if they want the traditional first look walking down the aisle. During this discussion, it’s best to tell the couple how much time to plan for photos, before the schedule is finalised.
I recommend at least an hour for formals in between the ceremony and reception. And you’ll need a few hours before the ceremony, excluding any travel and time for the receiving line.
Get a Timeline
You don’t need an exact timeline when you book the wedding months out. About a week or so before the wedding, however, make sure you have a detailed timeline to work from.
The timeline should include everything from when the wedding party starts getting ready to the last event of the reception.
Communicate with the bride and groom to let them know when you will arrive. And make sure the schedule includes enough time for formal photos.
Shoot the Engagements
Engagement photos aren’t necessary for every wedding — but I highly recommend them, especially for new photographers. Engagement photos allow you to practice couple posing. And you’ll also learn what poses work best for that particular couple.
The engagement session also helps the couple learn to relax in front of your camera and gives them an idea of what to expect on the wedding day.
I include engagement photos in my full wedding package because they are so helpful in prepping for the wedding.
Get a Contract
Even if you are shooting a wedding for a close friend, get everything down on paper, including dates, times and addresses of the ceremony, reception and any other locations.
Be clear on exactly what the bride and groom will receive when you are finished, whether that’s prints or digital files.
Evaluate Your Gear
If this is your first wedding, make sure you have the appropriate gear. You don’t need a ten lens kit starting out. You do need a camera body, a bright zoom lens or a few prime lenses and a flash.
Make sure you also have a back-up, so that if your camera breaks or malfunctions, you can still shoot the wedding. Renting is an affordable option for newbies to get a back-up camera for the wedding day, or a better lens than the one you already own.
Also make sure you own at least one extra battery. If you are shooting a mirrorless camera with a lower shot battery life, get at least two extras and make sure accessories like the flash have extra batteries too.
Understand the Venues
Know ahead of time what kind of conditions you’ll be shooting in. Is it an outdoor wedding at noon? A dimly lit church?
The Day Before the Wedding
- Confirm the time you’ll arrive with the bride.
- Charge all your batteries, including the backups and battery inside the backup camera body.
- Clean your lenses so lens spots aren’t creating extra editing time later.
- Confirm that you have all your gear packed inside your bag, including plenty of memory cards that are already formatted and ready for shooting.
- If this is your first wedding, I suggest shooting the wedding rehearsal. The only rehearsal I shot was before my first wedding. That helped me know where I should stand for what part of the ceremony and what settings to use to get the best exposure inside the church. Once you’ve gotten the hang of shooting weddings, shooting the rehearsal isn’t necessary. But it makes a big difference before your first wedding.
The Shot List
The wedding day is here — a wedding photography checklist can help make sure you don’t forget any must-have shots. Remember to add any shots the bride and groom request specifically, or anything that’s outside the usual wedding traditions.
Note that different cultural celebrations may not follow this list exactly.
The time between the ceremony and reception is usually a rush. Photograph as much as possible before the wedding. The order of these shots will vary. This is because of the schedule and how the day unfolds.
I usually shoot the detail shots when I have a few moments in between the getting ready shots.
- The dress. Before the bride gets dressed, photograph the dress by itself. Look for a scenic spot in the venue, but remember the groom shouldn’t see the dress.
- The bride and bridesmaids getting ready. Some traditional shots include the finishing touches on hair and make up, the bride being zipped into her dress, the bride putting on her shoes, and the bride putting on the garter.
- Placing the veil or jewellery. Ask someone important to the bride, such as a mom or bridesmaid, to place the veil or help with jewellery.
- Any bridal first looks. Once the bride is fully dressed, photograph the first time her parents see her dressed, or her bridesmaids.
- The groom and groomsmen getting ready. A few traditional shots are putting the tie on, adjusting cuff links and putting shoes on.
- Pinning on the boutonniere.
- The bridal portraits. Photograph the bride by herself. Remember to use a variety of poses, some full length, some close-up, some with the bouquet and some without. Include at least one shot that shows the back of the dress.
- The bride with her bridesmaids. Photograph the bride’s side together, in several different pose. Again, include variation for both full length and closer crops. If there’s a flower girl and/or junior bridesmaids, be sure to include them in some of the group shots. Along with photographing all the girls together, photograph the bride with each bridesmaid individually.
- The groom. Photograph the groom by himself. Again, get a few different poses and vary the crops from full length to closer portraits.
- The groom and groomsmen. Photograph the guys together as a large group, getting different poses and different compositions. Also photograph the groom with each groomsman individually.
- The bride and groom with their parents. Photograph the bride with her parents, and the groom with his. If there isn’t enough time, these can also be done after the ceremony with the family shots.
- The detail shots. The bride and groom put months of work into their wedding day. Be sure to photograph the smaller details of the day. These shots can be the items on their own, or being held or worn by the bride or groom. These include:
- The rings
- The bride’s shoes
- The veil
- Bridal jewelry
- Anything borrowed, blue or old
- The bouquet
- The Boutonniere
- The wedding invitations or programs
- The getaway car, if decorated
- Any other small details the bride and groom worked on
- If the couple has opted for a first look, you’ll be photographing couples portraits before the ceremony too. Photograph the first time the groom sees the bride, then photograph a variety of formal poses of the two together.
I don’t work from a ceremony checklist — I use the schedule to know where I should be standing and when. Then I photograph everything, getting multiple angles and compositions if there’s time. Looking at a checklist takes my eyes away from the candid moments I should be shooting.
That said, I still work with a mental must-haves list I have memorised from so many weddings:
- Parents and grandparents entering — don’t forget to shoot the mothers lighting the individual unity candles, if that’s part of the ceremony.
- The groom and groomsmen entering
- The wedding party processional, including each member of the bridal party
- The bride walking down the aisle
- The groom’s reaction, as the bride enters — this means working very quickly! I usually position myself about three-quarters down the aisle and use a zoom lens to photograph the bride first entering, turn to photograph the groom, then turn back to the bride.
- Giving the bride away
- Each ceremony item on the schedule. Since this differs with each couple, make sure to have that schedule to know what’s happening when.
- Any musicians or speakers
- A wide-angle shot of the entire ceremony venue, including the entire audience
- Watch the audience for potential reaction shots, particularly the family at the front laughing or wiping tears.
- The ring exchange — try to use the time as the bride and groom recite the “I give you this ring…” to get multiple perspectives. Include a close-up of the hands and one that includes both the bride and groom.
- The kiss. For this essential shot, plan ahead to determine your composition. And shoot that image first. Then if the kiss is a long one, use the zoom to vary the composition.
- The recessional as the bridal party exits.
- The receiving line. Catch a few hugs with family members at the beginning of the receiving line. Then go set up any necessary lights for the formals as the receiving line finishes.
- The bubbles, birdseed, confetti — if the bride and groom choose to have a dramatic exit.
After the Ceremony
- Family poses, on each side. Ideally, get a list from the bride and groom. This is because every family is different and there may be step-relatives. Ask the bride and groom ahead of time to designate a family member to assist you in finding each group. They’ll make sure no one is left out, since you don’t know the family. Start with the whole family — grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles cousins. Then remove people from the pose to do just parents and siblings, then just parents.
- The bride and groom with the officiant.
- The bride and groom together in the ceremony venue.
- The wedding party in the ceremony venue.
- The bride and groom with the flower girl and ring bearer.
- The bride and groom outdoors or in the secondary photo location. These are the shots most likely to end up blown up on the bride and groom’s walls. Therefore, get a variety of different poses and leave the most time for them. Get full length and close-ups of each pose for variety. Include both still poses and action poses, such as the couple walking together or kissing.
- The wedding party outdoors in the second location.
- Watch for candid moments of the bride, groom and wedding party interacting while working to set up the formal poses, such as walking to the next spot.
- A close-up of the rings on the bride and groom’s hands
- Signing the wedding license
At the reception, be sure to introduce yourself to the DJ. Then ask for a few minutes’ warning before transitioning from dinner to any of the major events. This is to make sure you’re not (finally) taking a bathroom break when the post-dinner activities start.
If the ceremony and reception are at the same location and you have a few minutes ahead of time, slip in to photograph the centerpieces and cake before the guests arrive.
- The cake, before it’s cut, including full shots and up-close details
- The centerpieces
- The wedding party walking in
- Any toasts
- Cake cutting
- The first dance
- The bridal party dance
- The father-daughter dance
- The mother-son dance
- Retrieving and tossing the garter, and a shot of the groom with the guest that caught the garter
- The bouquet toss and a shot of the bride with the guest that caught the bouquet
- Any other special events or games the couple planned
- The dance floor
- Watch for candid moments from both guests and the wedding party throughout the night.
- The exit, if anything like bubbles or confetti is planned
After the wedding
Wedding done? Whew! That doesn’t mean the work is done though.
- Back-up the files in at least two locations.
- Start editing.
- Keep the bride-and-groom updated on your editing process.
- Deliver the final images.
- Ask the bride and groom for an online review and encourage them to recommend you to their friends.
- Add the best shots to your portfolio.
Shooting your first wedding is nerve-wracking. Proper preparation, however, can both calm those nerves and help you get enough shots to fill an entire wedding album.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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