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How to Build a Shot List - Bride, Groom & Formals

Lesson 5 from: Wedding Photography: Capturing the Story

Rocco Ancora, Ryan Schembri

How to Build a Shot List - Bride, Groom & Formals

Lesson 5 from: Wedding Photography: Capturing the Story

Rocco Ancora, Ryan Schembri

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Lesson Info

5. How to Build a Shot List - Bride, Groom & Formals


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Define the Goals of Wedding Photographers


The Importance of Wedding Photographers


Shooting Philosophy


How to Build a Shot List - Bride, Groom & Formals


Tye the Wedding Story Together


Capture Stories in Wedding Pictures


Get the Right Exposure


Lesson Info

How to Build a Shot List - Bride, Groom & Formals

We said on the site, though, it's about, for us, it's about balance. It's about balancing those moments of photography, and then balancing that out to things that you have to capture, that have to be done, those formal portraits, or group shots, or whatever it may be, and there has to be that balance throughout the whole thing. Just before you go into it, before I began, well, when I first began shooting, I come from an age where, you know, dinosaurs roamed the Earth and we shot film. We shot, you know, medium format film. And my very, I'll never forget my very first wedding because I had a shot list, I had a framework to work to. I was given 10 rolls of film, which is, on a Hasselblad, was 120 shots, 12 rolls per frame. I had to cover grooms, brides, ceremony, location, and reception, folks. And if I was lucky, my boss back then would give me two rolls of 35 mil black and white. Wow, that is it. So, we needed to really build a framework in the way we shot, and so we had a framework ...

to work with, and then creative tangents happened off of that framework. Well, guess what? Nothing's changed. I still use that framework today and so does Ryan, coming from the same background. Okay, so, it's very, very important to have that framework I come from, my background is that my dad is a wedding photographer, was a wedding photographer, and he drilled into me, as a 14, 15, 16-year-old, a shot list that has never left me. And because it was so, so important to come back with these particular images. And I still, to this day, believe a shot list is really important for everyone. So, we're gonna talk a little bit about all of this and how to build one. But, I mean, building a shot list, and we start with this is that we really, we all have a problem at a wedding, and I think most of you would agree, we all have a problem. The problem is time. Would you agree, yeah? And there's a couple of different aspects of time on a wedding that we have the problem with. We have time constraints, first and foremost, on the day of the wedding, yeah? And there might be a few things. You might have a wedding planner and the wedding planner is pushing you, and pushing you, and pushing you, and telling you, Ryan, you've got three and a half minutes to do an entire location shoot, go for it. And I have to come back and say, well, I only need three, it's all good, so you can keep your 30 seconds. But then we have a time issue after the wedding as well, don't we? Because we would all agree, we agreed before, that we don't love spending time behind the computer. So, if we can get things right on the day of the wedding, shoot things to what we need, and shoot them perfected in camera, then we save that time after the wedding and on the workflow. So, there's two different aspects of time. Today we're gonna concentrate on the shooting aspect, and let's talk firstly about building a shot list. So, we're actually gonna talk you through and show you a shot list from what we would do with a typical bride getting ready, and those moments before of going to the church. You know, it all starts with a bit of prep. There's always makeup, and getting ready, getting into gowns and all that sort of thing, so we need to make sure that's covered well. And then we wanna get into details like earrings, and bracelets, and rings, and perfume bottles, whatever she may have. And one of the things I do with my brides is I say to them, with all of your details, do me a favor. The night before, put them onto one table for me. Don't set them up, 'cause that's my job, I can do that. Just put them all in one space, and what that'll do is it'll make you think about it the night before and the day of, yeah? So it's all done, get ready, I'm there, I get all the details. Now, we have a particular way of shooting details, which we'll show you in a second. But then, after I've done all the details, I want some bridal portraits, so I just want a beautiful portrait of her vertical, horizontal, I wanna have a couple of options to then lay out into the album. Because, as I'm shooting through this shot list, what I'm actually doing is building album pages in my mind, right? And I'm seeing it come together as left hand side, right hand side, left hand side, right hand side. So, I need to be able to work out, in my mind, what sits well as an album page. And of course, again, tomorrow, we got a lot to do tomorrow. We have, it's a long day. So I've got the bridal portrait. I then get into the bridal party, so whoever's there in the bridal party. And I want a couple of different things with the bridal party. I want either prior getting ready, as in, they usually have these cute little robes now and things like that that they dress up into prior, and then I want the after shot of all that, with them all dressed and looking beautiful. So, I not only just want that, though. I want the entire bridal party together, and then I want them individual with the bride, okay? So, she's got a shot with her best friend, her cousin, her sister, whoever it is. These are all shots, at the end of the day, which sell. And for us, that's why we're doing this. We need to sell pictures. Selling pictures, make more money, make more money, happy wife, happy wife, happy life, yeah? You refer to that a lot. I do, I do, yeah. I wanna speak to your wife. She's right over there. The other thing I want is obviously getting to the family, mums, dads, brothers, sisters, so get all that done as well. So, through my mind, I'm just working through the shot list. I don't have it written down, per se, anymore, but you could. You could have something written down really small that you could work through, making sure mum, and dad, and family are done, individual and together. Then, I wanna finish on a wow. I need to finish that section of that day with a wow shot, and why I do that is it ends that section in the album really beautifully, and brings us to a close, so then we can move onto the next section. So let's take you through one. This is actually a wedding that I shot last Saturday, prior to coming over to the States. And we see, you know, a bit of a prep shot here. I put this shot in just to show you the type of space that we were working in as well. There was one window, one admittedly big window, in a hotel room, not a lot of space. And so, all of these next images come just from that one area. Okay, so it's just proving to you that you don't need, A, a lot of a space, or a beautiful venue, or you know, five different lights. It can all come from one source and you can work it from there, so. And also, one thing to note here is that these images have not been touched any way, shape, or form. Okay, these are just pretty much the JPEG preview that is embedded in the raw file, just to show you just how well we can get exposure in camera first and foremost. We'll talk about exposure a little bit later on. And I'm not as good as Lightroom, so. So then, we want that sort of getting ready, that preparation, so, you know, maybe the veil going in. That's a good start to things. So, have the mail of honor getting the veil onto the bride, and just work with a couple of different angles there. Love that shot, sort of rim lighting that's happening through that window coming through, and it was shot into a darker space. So, we accentuate the light, yeah? And notice when a couple of different moments there that can layout into an album really well. So, we can see that this is sort of building into, if you can imagine, the left hand side of an album. Does that make sense to everyone? Good. And we'll move on and we'll get a shot of the dress, and I love dresses either hanging or on mannequins. I'll often ask for a mannequin to be present in the room. If it can't happen, I say fine, have it hanging. One thing I do, though, is I tend to shoot the dress with the bride present in the image as well, okay? So then it just doesn't become just about the dress. There's an emotional content and connection between the two, between the bride and the dress, yeah? So, that's one thing that I do different to some people. Some people just love to shoot the dress. That's cool, and sometimes I do, but often, I'm going back to the image of the bride in there to bring some emotional content back to it. Then just a beautiful portrait of her prior to getting into the dress. So, she's go the veil on, but she's still in the robe, and just that very simple window light coming through. So, I bring the girls into it now, because they're all in the robes as well, so I continue on with my shot list. I need the girls in there somewhere, and we just want a bit of fun, a bit of energy in these shots. Nothing too serious, looking down the barrel of the camera. And there's ways and means of all this happening. I think, in this shot, literally I had them grabbing each other's bums. Can I say bums, yeah? Is that Australian, yeah? (laughing) Derrieres. Derrieres, there we are, they were grabbing each other's derrieres, yes. But it's a bit of fun, there's a bit of energy there, and people really connect with images like that. The bride gets dressed, the bridesmaids get dressed. I don't actually shoot whilst it's happening, because there's weird things that happen while a bride puts a dress on. Have you ever noticed that? She has the most weird expressions sometimes. It's like, ooh, ooh, ah, eeh! Especially if they're very tight. Being forced into it. Yeah, being, you know, shoved into it. So, I wait for all that to happen, then I recreate the moment, and I use all of the girls in the moment to recreate the moment of her being touched up. So it's the final touches. So now, now is my time to concentrate on details, and you're all thinking, that's really weird, right? Because you missed all your details. Where were the detail shots? Well, again, I love, and this is just what works for us, but I love to shoot details with people, 'cause I find that, if I shoot the detail on its own, it just is the detail. It's just the product. It becomes more like a product shoot than a detail shoot of the bride's actual things, stuff. So, shoe shot, that's my shoe shot, and I literally want her getting ready into the shoe. Then I go into the ring, the earrings, the bracelet, the headpiece, and the perfect bottle. And they're all the details that she had. If she had more, obviously, I'd photograph more, but that's what she had for me to photograph, and that's the details that we chose to do. But can you again see that maybe being the left hand side of an album, and then finishing it really beautifully with a portrait of the bride on the right hand side? And so, I've done it vertically, and then done it horizontally, so I have my options when it comes to the album, yeah? The next thing I want is a full-length shot to show the back of the gown as well, so I turn her into the light, I get the back of the gown, and I have a beautiful full-length shot. Then, remembering, this is all being done in one area, and the light coming through is quite harsh. That direction of light is quite on a steep angle. So I wanna soften that light a little bit, because now I'm gonna start bringing in groups to that area. So, we soften the light by using a reflector. Now, we have quite a bit reflector. That's actually the Amiga reflector. It's quite large. It's a 10-in-one. I personally like either using white or black, and we're gonna talk about lighting with black in our next segment. But to reflect light, I'm using the white. And now, I can bring in my groups to this situation because I've evened out the light source. I've turned them slight more towards the light itself, and I've given us a beautiful, even source of light, still with a little bit of direction. It's just filling up those darker areas of shadows. So again, there's my standard shot. I want something a little bit more than that, just to give it a bit more feeling. And then, I break the group down into individual moments. So, I've got mum in there, because mum was helping getting ready, so we may as well do mum now, and then I've got all these little individual moments with the bridesmaids. Now, yes, I would've taken the image of them looking straight at the camera and smiling, but I also do a lot of all this, where they're interacting, and there's some energy in the picture. And 99% of the time, these are the ones that will end up in the album, because they're the ones that they connect with. So poor dad, at this stage, we talked about dad before being left out a little bit and left out of the loop. He's been stuck outside the hotel room. So, finally bring dad in, and he was a great, expressive guy. You can almost feel this moment, what he's saying, yeah? He's an Italian dude as well. He's going, "Eh, oh my god, look at all this!" You know, it's beautiful. Love the accent. Yeah, thank you, man, I've been working that one. We go through these moments, and there were some beautiful little touching moments in there. But then, once we've done that, we want a nice portrait with dad as well. Then, we wanna bring mum and dad together, don't we? There's one really important thing I do with mums and dads and groups in particular is that, and this is more into group posing, but I wanna bring heads closer and get that connection closer. I just, I don't like seeing group shots where people's heads are 45 feet apart from one another, and they look like they're literally lined up like soldiers, yeah? So, we want them close. And literally all I said to the girls in this shot, I said to mom and bride, I said, girls, give dad a bit of love. Hang on. Now, what does that mean when I said give dad a bit of love? Well, it could mean anything, because you're gonna react differently to that than someone else. Didn't say talk to each other, or laugh, or giggle, or anything like that, just give dad a bit of love, yeah? And the way people give love, well, that could be different for everyone. They could kiss, hug, snuggle in, I don't really care. By this stage, for some reason, we packed the reflector down, so I needed another source of reflector, so we picked up the pillow. The last shot I need now is a wow shot, something wow, something cool. So, I noticed there's a balcony, and the balcony has windows, doors. And if you know a little bit about my work, and probably what we'll go through today, I love reflections, love it. If I find a reflection, I shoot it. So, I underexposed the sky because we're outside. Underexposed the sky, it's one of those really, it's basically like this, yeah? Melbourne is a lot like Seattle. So, underexpose it, make it a little bit darker and moodier, brought the flash in to illuminate the bride, and we get this. So, I'm shooting parallel to the windows in order to get that reflection, underexposing that sky, and bringing the flash in from just inside the door. So, my assistant's just inside the door with the flash, illuminating the bride, and bringing, popping her out of the picture, basically. So, that's, to show you a shot list and how we go through it, that's basically it. That's how we would shoot every bride's home. Now, there are gonna be differences in that to every bride that you shoot, but that formula and keeping to that shot list is so important. It keeps you on track is basically the message there. Yeah, so these are the shots you need to come back with, but don't forget that, in between shots, these are your little creative tangents. You know, if there's a beautiful moment happening, you're gonna capture it, yeah? But keeping in mind and always referring back to your framework to make sure that you need to come back with the things that you need. So, if you're now photographing the groom, well, the same thing happens. Maybe not getting the groom in a sexy robe. Maybe not. But the same thing would happen, we would begin again with the detail, you know, and preparations of the groom, groom alone half-length and full-length, vary the pose and location. So, if you've got the ability to move around, do so. But be smart about it. As Ryan was showing you in the previous images, if you've got beautiful light in an area and you've got a nice, beautiful, plain background, that is a great spot to do, you know, things like formals and so on, and groups. Groom and best man together, groom and best man and the boys, and then you begin with groom with mum, groom, mum, and dad, and you would just build it from there. So, rather than just bringing people in and out all the time, you know, it's like composite posing, if you like. So you would begin, say, with the groom and best man, groom, best man, and boys, groom and mum, groom, mum, and dad, groom and dad. Okay, so we always build on it, build on it, build on it, so it just feels natural, okay? I can see you guys so quickly writing down all these shot lists. Don't freak out, and to those at home, don't freak out either. These are gonna be part of the show notes that we put together for afterwards, so we'll definitely have each and every one of our shot lists there for you, so you can refer back to it at any time, so. Yeah, absolutely. And then we continue that shot list, you know, for the church or the ceremony, you know, the groom and boys waiting, then we have, of course, the bride arriving, and documenting that, the entrance of the bride, the exchange of vows, rings, the kiss, the signing of the register. These are the must-haves, but in between, there's just so much more, like that shot I showed you earlier of the evil mothers plotting some untimely death of someone else. These are all things that happen, and you need to be ready for these moments in between everything else that is happening, I guess. So, at the end of the day, we're telling the story of, you know, the merry jog, John and Mary. But within that story, there's all these little micro-stories that we need to capture. Now, here's the thing: the more stories we capture, the more spreads in an album we sell, because each spread then becomes a little story of the boys waiting, a little story of the bride arriving, a little story about the moment with dad just before she walks into the church, a little story about, you know, the two mothers maybe getting emotional when they see the bride for the very first time. These are all little stories that we just keep on building on, okay? Then, with formals, now, formals are just so important to get right because you need to be able to capture everyone that's important to the family. But your homework really starts before the wedding day, if you wanna do things right with formals, because you have to work out who's important and why, you know, by asking the bride and groom, a lot of the times, to create a list. But also, what's more important is to perhaps get a family member that knows the family to be in charge of that list, 'cause the minute they hand you a list, you have no idea what Uncle Bob looks like, or Auntie Jane, do you? You have no idea, but someone in the family does, so you have a designated family member that calls people into the shots. That makes your life a lot easier, but it also keeps you, once again, on track. I do it two ways, is I'll have, basically, one from either side of the family, so I'll have a designated person on bride's side, designated person on groom's side, and make sure that they have the list. And really, it's not up to me to have that list, because, again, I don't know who Uncle Bob and Aunt Mary are, but they do, so they should have that list and go through it and make sure it's done, and I get them literally to tick it off as they're going. The reason we do that, though, to make the bride and groom think about it prior to the wedding day, and not have them thinking about it on the wedding day itself, 'cause we've all seen those moments where the bride's freaking out. Oh my god, where is Uncle Bob? Who's left? Do I need a shot with him? I don't know! I don't know, I'll have to ask mum. Where's mum, I don't know. Yeah, that's all just wasted time. To the homework, get it done, but then make sure someone's there to keep it on track as well. One thing, though, that we build that formal, you know, section with is the nucleus, which is the first shot, which is your standard bride and groom alone shot, formal. Okay, from that, we keep the bride and groom there, we begin either with the groom's parents or the bride's parents. Then, once again, it's modular. We're gonna build on that. So once we have the mums and dads there with the bride and groom, siblings of that family. Then siblings go away, then we bring the two sets of parents together. Then the previous sets of parents leaves, they stay, and you repeat that again. So, you've got your central nucleus, which most, nine times out of 10, ends up in a wedding album, because this is the nucleus of the family. This is what they want, this is what they wanna see. Then, you keep on going with the repetition of the sequence, but then you can do it also with your bridal party as a formal shot. The bride and groom with the bridal party, the bride and groom and groomsmen, the bride and groom and bridesmaids, bride and groom, flowergirls, pageboys, and so on. Then special requests. So, you've got your formals nailed very quickly. Your formal bridal party shot, your formal groomsmen shot, your formal bridesmaids shot, your formal nucleus of the family shots. Then you've got uncles, aunties, grandparents, whoever else. Now, a lot of the times, it might not happen in that order. Okay, you might do the special requests before the bridal party because you might wanna do, you know, some creative things with them beyond just formal shots. Once again, it really depends on what the bride and groom want, because a lot of the times we have brides and grooms that tell us, we just wanna do the formals of the bridal party, and then it's just about us, so we then just leave them to enjoy their cocktail hour and whatever else, and we're off doing shots with the bride and groom, which sometimes we wish we could be there enjoying cocktail hour, but we can't, because we have to work. It was really scary. Rocco actually found his original shot list from how long ago? 1995. So, as we were putting this all together, this is really cool that we found that. And I still remember, it's just funny, once you have it in your mind, and I remember dad, he drilled it. It was like drill sergeant into my mind. I just knew exactly, and I still use it today. That modular posing and how we do that, we're gonna actually play with that in the next segment, so that's gonna be part of our posing technique, and how we build posing through this modular technique, basically.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Posing Guide Book Chapter

Ratings and Reviews

Jerry Willis

Ryan & Rocco, in my very humble opinion, are THE best wedding photography instructors in the entire industry! I've been watching their work for years now, which just so happens to win a most grand-scaled competitions, and they somehow continue to keep getting better! I first drilled Ryan at WPPI inquiring about what made his workshop different from all the others. His response, me paraphrasing, "If you're looking for tools to learn, come to my workshop. If you're looking for inspiration and smoke blowing, don't come." That's exactly what I needed to hear. Straight tools, no fluff. THE BEST photography workshop I've EVER taken, by far. You want the best photography education, learn from the best. This CreativeLive workshop is the PERFECT complimentary refresher and companion to what I learned! Thank you so much for having them! It's not the same as the workshop, which it shouldn't be, but they ARE reinforcing many things that have slipped my memory! I'm for sure buying this! :-)

Neeraj Arora

WOW!!! I have started a few CL courses but not finished as I got distracted by "life" and it took me a while to get back and finish them. But these guys!! They were simply superb. I finished this course really fast. Amazing artists, they explain things so well, Ryan is such a charmer and engaging teacher, Rocco is a fountain of knowledge. I am an enthusiastic photographer with aspirations to start my own business soon. I learn't so much from this class that will help improve my photography even if I don't become a professional wedding photographer. Great job guys, keep it up. I will need to come back to the lessons and I very much appreciate the key note pdf. All CL courses should include the slides like they did here. Thanks CL.


I am a newborn photographer by trade, but I really want to venture out and photograph more weddings so I decided to purchase a wedding class on creative live. Of course when I typed in wedding, quite a few classes came up. But when I saw the image and title "capture the story" I was definitely intrigued. I've always been touched by the photographs that have emotion and that's what I'm passionate to photograph! Always a little nervous when you purchase a class because you don't want to feel like it was a waste of money, but this knocked it out of the park for me! Thank you to Ryan and Rocco for explaining so much, showing the pull backs, and moving your subject and explaining why! This has opened my eyes so much to how beautiful photographing a wedding can be and not so terrifying as I've been making it out to be. I'm really so thankful to hopefully being a great wedding photographer and making more income for my family, while having fun creating something beautiful

Student Work