Wedding Shot List: Essential Moments a Photographer Should Capture

In my complete guide to wedding photography, I covered 10 critical moments a wedding photographer can’t miss. In this guide, I want to go online and take a closer look at what photos to take at a wedding.

I’ll categorize it into a few categories to help simplify the way you think about your wedding photo list. It’s better to have a general, simple, and specific plan that you can achieve than a list of 1,000 items that will likely end up focusing on what you missed rather than what you got.


What photos should you take at a wedding?

For simplicity, I’m going to categorize things into four main categories. These categories are important for the majority of weddings, and understanding why will help you determine what to photograph:

  1. pictures of people: Moments with parents, group photos of important people, portraits of couples.
  2. The wedding ceremony: Walking down the aisle, vows, first kiss, dating as husband and wife.
  3. Home traditions: Dances, rituals, speeches.
  4. What is important for the couple?

Who are the important people at a wedding?

The most important people at the wedding are the bride and groom followed by anyone important to the bride and groom. It can be easy to try to please everyone on the wedding day. You try to take good pictures for the couple and the crazy aunt and the wedding planner and the venue, but in the end you have to think about the couple.

Couple portraits are an extremely important part of the wedding day as they are the photos that end up being printed and hung in various people’s homes. You need solid portraits and maybe even creative portraits depending on your couple. It’s also great if the couple portraits capture the joy and excitement of the wedding day.

Beyond that, parents are often the most important people, especially when it comes to their children. If you can capture tender moments between the bride and her mom, for example, those are going to be special. Wedding photos are also important, especially if they have been friends for a long time, but immediate family members are often the people who will be an integral part of the couple’s life.

I love that modern wedding photography has moved way beyond the boring traditional posed photos and believe candids from photojournalism have more meaning and storytelling. However, group portraits are still the photos that many people print and frame for their office. Therefore, it can be important to get high quality group portraits of all the groups of people that are important to your relationship.

Spending too much time on posed group photos can suck up hours and negatively impact the wedding experience, so try not to overdo it with group photos. Work with your couple to come up with a realistic list of photo combinations that could actually be printed by various family members.

What are the important moments of the ceremony?

Typically, one of the most important photos from the wedding ceremony is the expression on the couple’s face as they walk down the aisle before and after their wedding. This is where you tell the story of their excitement, their anticipation, and then their joy. Some couples cry while others can’t help but smile their biggest smiles and these photos naturally tell a story of what’s going on.

Beyond these key photos, there are other moments that capture the traditions of the ceremony. It may vary, but most weddings include vows and a first kiss. If you can capture sweet and intimate moments during the vows as well as a first kiss, these will be key photos for the couple.

Other ceremony photos that may be nice to have include photos of the people sitting in the front row, usually immediate family members, looking proud and emotional. A wide angle shot of the whole ceremony can be nice to set the scene and see who was there. Photos that include the wedding party can also be nice to have.

Ask your couple about their ceremony because some couples have cool traditions that will make for great photos while others will have a super quick and efficient ceremony. Being in the right place for the main photos is more important than trying to do too much.

What are the important moments during the reception?

The important moments of the reception can vary depending on the couple and the traditions they choose to use. The most common traditions are speeches, dances, cake cutting, and bouquet and garter tossing. It can be helpful to ask your couple which of these or any other events they plan to have on their wedding day.

These events can be the most difficult to photograph as they often require additional lighting. Therefore, knowing when they are happening ahead of time will help you prepare. And if a couple says they’re not doing anything, be prepared just in case and contact the DJ, because sometimes there’s a change of plans.

The three main dances are the couple’s first dance, a father-daughter dance, and a mother-son dance. However, we often saw additional dances with the in-laws, a generation dance where all the married couples dance, the Hora or a money dance. These moments can be fun to capture to show how much fun the night was.

Another event that sometimes occurs at a reception is a planned outing. Couples come out with sparklers, bubbles, glow sticks, and more and it can make a great final image to wrap up the wedding album you’re designing for your couple. These can be harder to photograph, so it’s good to know them in advance and plan how you’ll photograph them.

What is important for the couple?

This last category is customizable according to the couple. Be sure to capture what’s most important to your clients in general and to the specific couple you’re working with that day.

If they hired you based on your portfolio, be sure to provide the types of photos that are in your portfolio. Also, before the wedding day, make sure you know your couple well to find out what is most important to them in their marriage. Don’t be afraid to ask them what interests them most or what photos are most important to them.

The Ultimate Wedding Photo List

While carrying a generic 1,000 item shooting list is not what I recommend, here is an ultimate list of topics and moments generally considered essential or important by wedding photographers and couples – looking at it can at least provide some basic direction and guidance when focusing on the main four categories described above.

Preparation and pre-ceremony

  • The bride and the procession have their hair and make-up done
  • The bride gets dressed with help
  • Groom and groomsmen getting ready
  • The mother of the groom tying the buttonhole
  • Bride and groom with parents
  • Wedding reactions and interactions
  • Bridal portraits (including the back of the wedding dress)
  • First look between couple
  • Bride and bridesmaid portraits
  • Portraits of the bride and groom

Detail shots

  • Invitation and program
  • wedding rings
  • Wedding dress (hanging and close-ups)
  • bridesmaid dresses
  • Flowers (ex. bouquets, boutonnieres, corsages, bridesmaid basket, etc.)
  • Photos of the place (interior and exterior, wide and details)


  • Guests arriving and seated
  • Wide view of guests from the altar
  • Groom and groomsman arrive and wait
  • Parents and family arriving and seated
  • wedding entrance
  • Ring bearers and bridesmaids
  • The bride walks down the aisle and the groom’s reaction
  • The bride is given
  • Officiant performing the ceremony
  • Exchange of vows
  • Exchange of rings
  • first kiss
  • Reactions from the wedding party, family and guests
  • Introducing the newly married couple
  • Recession
  • Tossing petals/confetti/rice
  • Signature of the marriage license with the celebrant

Post-ceremony and group portraits

  • Candid photos of guests mingling
  • Couple with wedding party
  • couple with family
  • couple with friends
  • Any combination of the above requested by the couple when planning
  • Portraits of the newlywed couple


  • Photos of the place (interior and exterior, wide and details)
  • Venue and tables in front of guests
  • wedding entrance
  • Entrance of newlyweds
  • Toasts and speeches
  • Detailed plans of table style, food and drink
  • Newlyweds at the bridal table
  • Table of guest photos
  • Newlyweds visiting tables d’hôtes
  • Candid photos of guests
  • First dance between the bride and groom
  • Father/daughter and mother/son dances
  • Dancing on the dance floor
  • The DJ, musician or band playing
  • Wedding cake
  • cake cutting
  • Bouquet toss
  • Take off the garter belt and throw it
  • Wedding party and guests lined up at the exit
  • Newlyweds leaving reception, getting into getaway car, waving and walking away

It is important to remember that weddings can be highly personalized by each couple and the items in this list of plans may not be relevant to a particular wedding. Articles also vary in importance, and whether certain topics or moments are covered depends on the number of photographers working at the wedding and the load each is able to carry.

The most important wedding photos

The most important wedding photos are those that help the couple remember the important moments and people from their wedding day. Instead of trying to nail everything down on a huge list of plans, focus on what’s important when it comes to weddings and when it comes to your couple in particular. It could mean details if your couple made elaborate centerpieces and it will certainly mean a solid celebratory exit ceremony photo.

Brides can worry about everything from photo prep to drunken dance floor shenanigans, but after more than a decade of photographing weddings, there are four main categories that I’ve found essential for capturing wedding photos. most important weddings. Focus on the important people, the important moments of the ceremony and the reception, then on what is most important for your couple.

These are the photos that end up being printed on mom’s desk or sent as a Christmas card. These are the photos that end up in the wedding album and are shared with friends and family for years to come. And finally, it’s the photos that will help the couple look back and remember what was important on their wedding day.

About the Author: Brenda Bergreen is a Colorado wedding photographer, videographer, yoga instructor and writer who works alongside her husband at Bergreen Photography. With their mission and mantra “Love. Adventurous. They are dedicated to telling stories of adventures in beautiful places.

Picture credits: Photographs by Brenda Bergreen.

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