Beyond the Shot List July 13, 2016 – Posted in: Photography – Tags:

One of the best things I ever did for my wedding photography was adopt the shot list.

Meeting with the bride and groom before the event, and learning what images were important to them, helped me avoid disappointment weeks later when I delivered the proofs.

But over time, one of the worst things that I did to my wedding photography was focus too much on the shot list.

Wait a minute. That seems a bit contradictory, doesn’t it? Indeed it is, but hear me out.

What happened was, my attention turned to checking off list items instead of developing a story that captured the emotion of the day. The shot list, as useful as it was at the beginning of my wedding career, trapped me on the wrong side of my brain in later years.

What I’ve learned from this experience, is that the shot list should only be the beginning of the process. Its role is fact finding, learning the who, what, when, and where of the event.

Once I have a feel for those elements, then it’s time to hand the list to my assistant and think of it no more. She’ll remind me if we forget to check a box.

At this point, my job is to become a storyteller. I need to find a way to piece these elements together into a tale that this couple can tell over and over in the coming years.

You know the questions that people ask: “How did you meet? Where did you marry?”

The couple can then respond, “That’s actually a good story,” as they reach for the book that I created for them.

Weddings are interesting events for photographers. Because you have to meet client expectations on one hand, then surprise them on the other, keeping in mind that you don’t have complete artistic license while doing so. You can’t show up donning a beret and shooting everything from ground level in grainy B&W.

By the same token, it’s important not to become a slave to the shot list, and mechanically work your way through the day one checkbox at a time.

(Spaghetti sauce from a jar is good. But it’s better when you add a dash of seasoning from your own spice rack.)


What made me start thinking about all of this is a new book that was just announced by Roberto Valenzuela, titled Wedding Storyteller. Roberto brings together the magic of his photography with his ability to find the story in a wedding event.

“In Wedding Storyteller, Roberto discusses his journey and shares his system for creating images that both stand alone and also work with other images to become a sum greater than their parts. In the end, Wedding Storyteller gives you all the tools you need to be able to photograph amazing images and craft masterful stories filled with beauty and meaning for your clients.”

If wedding photography is your thing, or is about to become a part of your business, Wedding Storyteller will walk you down the right path. While the book won’t be available for a few months, I couldn’t help but get excited now.

If you are too, you can sign up for updates here so you’ll be the first to know when the book is available.