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What’s a Family Shot List, How to Create One, and Why Is It Important?

September 25, 2023

Today, we’re diving into a topic that’s crucial, not only for creating stunning family portraits on your big day, but also for your wedding day timeline. So, let’s talk about family shot lists. If you’d prefer to listen rather than read, click play on our podcast below. Don’t forget to follow Illuminating Perspectives for future episodes!

So, you’ve hired a talented photographer to capture every beautiful moment of your wedding day, from getting ready to your grand exit from the reception. Each part of your day is important but maybe, arguably, the most important part is the photographs with your family members. These are special for you as a couple to have in the future to look back on AND they’re special for the family members who participate in them. These may hang on your family member’s walls. These may be the last photos you have with some family members which makes them immensely paramount, right? So let us not overlook this important part of your day.

On your wedding day, your emotions will be running high. You will have lots of things on your mind and it will be tough to remember every photo that you wanted to grab. A mental list is just not enough. And that’s why I highly recommend to my clients to make a Family Shot List.

So, let’s define what a family shot list is. It’s basically a detailed list of all the family combinations you want to capture during your wedding. This includes shots with your parents, siblings, grandparents, and anyone else who holds a special place in your heart. These images will become cherished memories for years to come.

How do you create one, you ask?

I personally have a template that I send to my clients a couple months out that they can fill out in their own time but it basically looks like this:

Partner #1 withPartner #2 withBoth with

Your family shot list doesn’t have to look exactly like this. This is just what I found works best for me. Also, depending on if my clients have a first look or not, I can decide which parts of the list to go where in my wedding day itineraries. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Let’s go over a few steps on how to begin the process of creating a Family Shot List.

Step 1: Start Early

Begin creating your family shot list well in advance of your wedding day. This will give you plenty of time to think about who you want in each shot and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Step 2: Consult with Your Photographer

Your photographer is your guide in this process. If your photographer has a pre-wedding meeting with you, bring up the family portraits to them and ask what you can do to help aid in the efficiency of the timeline.

Step 3: Make your lists

Create a list that includes each combination you want. Start with the most essential shots like the immediate family, then move on to extended family and close friends. Organize the list in a way that flows smoothly, minimizing the time spent on group shots.

Now, I always recommend that my clients don’t go too crazy with their lists. You want to try your best to keep it under 20 groupings. It’s hard to imagine what you will feel like during this short period of your wedding day, but I will say it can be one of the more stressful points. There’s just a lot of moving around and smiling over and over. People are feeling joyful and social which is so wonderful but it can take a bit of time to herd all of your family members together. If your family portraits take place before your ceremony as most of my weddings do, then you’re also starting to get anxious about walking down the aisle so you don’t want to overload yourself with extra pressure.

Step 4: Assign a Helper

Enlist a trusted friend or family member who knows both sides of the family to help gather people for each shot. This person can be a tremendous help in ensuring that the process runs smoothly and efficiently. We can also ask your wedding coordinator to help but they likely won’t know everyone as well as someone in your family. 

Step 5: Share the List

Once your family shot list is complete, share it with your photographer and your designated helper. Make sure they both have an understanding of your expectations for the family portraits. Also reach out to every family member on the list and let them know what time family portraits start on your wedding day itinerary. For my couples who have a first look, I typically shoot these an hour and a half BEFORE the ceremony. For my couples who do not have a first look, we do some portraits before the ceremony and then full family portraits including both, the bride and groom, immediately after the ceremony.

So, why is having a family shot list so important?


A well-organized list ensures that the family photo session runs smoothly and quickly. This means more time for candid shots and less time spent corralling guests.

No One Gets Left Out

With a list in hand, you can be confident that you won’t forget to include any important family members in your photos. It’s a great way to make everyone feel special and included in your celebration.

No Confusion

This is a big one. As a photographer, I could easily make a model template for every couple to use on their wedding day that says something like “both immediate families, bride with mom, groom with siblings, etc.” however, I’ve learned over the past 10 years that EVERY family is unique. There are some folks without a parent, there are step-parents, there are girlfriends and boyfriends, and aunts who feel like mothers. I want to honor who is important to YOU. Not who society says should be important. Also, here’s a good example of why you need a shot list: True story, once I photographed a groom with his grandmother’s boyfriend because I had no clue who he was. I just assumed he was grandpa because he stepped into the photos next to grandma. No one even stopped me! But I hope that helps represent my point here.

Stress Reduction

Having a plan for your family photos alleviates the stress of trying to remember who needs to be in each shot. You can relax and enjoy the moment, knowing that your photographer and helper have it under control.

Quality Results

By working together with your photographer and providing a family shot list, you increase the chances of getting the beautiful, heartwarming photos you’ve always dreamed of.

In conclusion, creating a family shot list is a simple yet essential step in ensuring that your wedding photography experience is everything you hope for. It keeps the process organized, ensures no one is left out, reduces stress, and ultimately leads to stunning results.

Remember, your wedding day is a whirlwind of emotions and moments, and having a family shot list in place helps you capture all the love and joy that surrounds you.

If you’re looking for a Chattanooga wedding photographer who will collaborate with you to create the best wedding experience possible, click the button below to send me an email. I’ll make sure to be in touch within 24 hours.

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