Shot lists and the Art of Squirrel Wrangling

19 Jun
Roberto Farren Photography

The complete bridal party at Cassandra and Sean’s recent wedding in Boston.

Oh, the shot list.  As a wedding photographer’s assistant, the shot list can be either my best friend or my worthy adversary.  This list of all the portraits and photos that the newly married couple want with specific groups and sub-groups of family and friends is often… how can I put this… logistically challenging.

Imagine trying to organize 45 excitable squirrels for their Squirrel family portrait.  Then add an open bar…or acorns, maybe acorns work better with this metaphor… and now you’re getting closer.

Before each wedding, I usually spend 30-45 minutes with the photographer carefully reorganizing the list of family portraits in order to move as seamlessly from one shot to the next.  A well-organized and well-executed shot list is my white whale, something I am always striving to reach, but rarely manage without tired feet and surprisingly ink-smudged hands.  We always get there in the end, but not without sacrificing a few sailors.

As it usually overlaps with cocktail hour, this is where I get my cardio workout in, as I’m shuttling continuously between the bar and the couple.  There is a lot of this: “Brother Squirrel, you are on deck, Brother Squirrel’s girlfriend, you are on double deck.  Then you are both stepping back out for a moment, but please don’t go too far, and we are going to add Parents of the Groom Squirrel… Does anyone know if Uncle Squirrel has headed back to the bar?”

And a lot of this: “Pardon me, Hi Uncle Squirrel… I’m assisting the photographer today.  The Bride and Groom have requested that you join them for a few family portraits… May I show you the way?  Yes, I’ll wait while you get a refill…”

It is always important to get the wedding shot list to your photographer in advance, and if possible, talk through the list together.  While your original list might be hundreds of photographs long, be realistic about time and about what shots are truly important to capture for you and your new spouse.

For example: A photograph with your aging grandmother, who helped to raise you and encouraged you throughout your education and career = KEEPER.  Photographs with each of your 27 third cousins (twice removed) who you met once in 1987 at a barbecue = Maybe worth considering as a group shot?

Some additional tips on creating the shot list for your wedding:
– Remember, YOU want to join the cocktail hour as well.  Plan accordingly, and think about shooting some of your family/friend photographs before the ceremony, after the meal, etc. Make sure you communicate this to your wedding photographer in advance.
– If you have the option, plan ahead and arrange for a waiter to bring a couple of beverages and a small selection of whatever yummy treats are being passed around for the newly-wedded couple.  Hungry people are not typically happy people.  Keep yourself happy, and it will shine through in your wedding photos.
– Give people a heads up if they’ll be involved in the group wedding photographs.  It allows them to reapply lipstick if needed, and also makes them easier to find for the photographer’s assistant.
– Ask a friend or relative to help point out relevant folks to the photographer’s assistant.  The assistant should always do the chasing, organizing, and arranging for portraits, but it expedites the process if they know who to chase, organize, arrange.
– Allot AT LEAST 5 minutes per shot.  That sounds like an abundance of minutes for a quick snap… but when you factor in rounding up everyone (including the cousin who has disappeared to the restroom, the father of the bride who has gone to the bar to entertain a work friend, and the aunt who has wandered away to take in the lovely view) you’d be surprised how quickly those 5 minutes will slip by.  Plus, let’s be honest… weddings are usually running a little bit late… Allotting a bit of extra time here will allow you to complete the required photographs, and might even let you catch up to your original schedule!
– Any uncomfortable family situations?  Hey, it happens.  If possible, give the photographer a subtle heads up in advance.  This day is about you, and you should surround yourself with people that you love.  Every so often, however, there might be a little bit of awkwardness to navigate.  Reduce your own stress by allowing the wedding photographer to subtly keep exes and tiffs away from each other and you whenever possible!

– The shot list should also include any must-have photos for your wedding day that are outside the obvious pictures that your photographer will be looking for.  Some of my favorite examples for the team at Roberto Farren Photography have covered some amazing moments, including a saber arch presented by the US Marine Corps brothers of the bride, a surprise serenade from the bride to her new husband, a wedding portrait at the historic bridge where the groom proposed, detail shots of the chuppah that was made from one of the groom’s grandmother’s only retained possessions when she fled Poland during World War II, and portraits of the newlyweds with their rascally (but much beloved) dogs.  (Sorry, it turns out I’ve got lots of favorites…)

Roberto Farren Photography

The bride’s US Marine Corps brothers & friends salute the newlyweds with a Saber Arch.

FINALLY: Don’t forget about the 2 most important people of the day!  Don’t overdo the group shots and lose out on shots of the newlyweds.  Be sure to arrange times for some portraits of the bride and groom, whether it is as a Sneak Peek, directly after the ceremony, or while your guests are enjoying the wedding meal.  In addition to these being some of the most important photographs of the day, it also gives you a few minutes of down time to connect in what is always a crazy, busy and wonderfully hectic day.

In the end, approach your shot list with the same mindset that you should approach anything in your wedding.  Ask for what you want, be honest and upfront about what is a “must-have”, but be realistic about what is doable given the time, the setting, and the squirrels involved.

Thanks for reading,



2 Responses to “Shot lists and the Art of Squirrel Wrangling”


  1. Very Hungry Caterpillars and Old Lace: The personal touches that really make a wedding | Assisting Bob - June 21, 2013

    […] last thing: Like I said in my post about creating your shot list, give your wedding photographer a heads up about these special details.  Unless they’re part […]

  2. DIY Weddings or “How I Singed Off My Fingerprints in the Name of Love” | Assisting Bob - June 25, 2013

    […] to give your wedding photographer the details of the special items that you created (see my post on creating your shot list) so they can be sure to photograph them for […]

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