Advice for Wedding Photographers – The Pre-Shoot Questionnaire

In my book entitled Balancing the Art and Business of Wedding Photography, I discuss what information you should be getting from your client prior to the wedding day.

About the book: Balancing the Art and Business of Wedding Photography is your guide to efficient and effective of your wedding photography business. Whether you’re just getting started or want to improve your current approach, this reference guide will be an invaluable asset for making your business great.

Many people get excited at the prospect of wedding photography as a career. Why shouldn’t they? It’s exciting and fun. You get to meet and celebrate with hundreds of interesting people throughout the year, and you can get paid to do it. You get the pleasure of making art out of someone’s love story. You can have a profound impact on a couple’s happiness, just by capturing photographs of their wedding day. It is even possible to make a decent living at it if you have the right skills, opportunities, motivation, and persistence. Many eager would-be wedding photographers get excited and jump into the deep end, head-first, without a solid understanding of what is entailed in being a successful wedding photographer. For every experienced and successful wedding photographer out there, you will likely find two or three dozen who did not last more than a year or two. Why? Few people can successfully balance art with business. Over the years I have spent as a full time professional wedding photographer, a significant number of people have asked me to host seminars or give private lessons on the business side of this exciting, challenging, and highly rewarding industry. There are innumerable books available on the techniques of wedding photography as an art form, but few which tell you what to do outside of the camera itself. Many artists are not adept at business. Balancing the Art and Business of Wedding Photography is my attempt to help those artists strike a balance between the performance of wedding photography as an art, and the production of wedding photography as a successful and efficient business.

Shot Lists/Questionnaires

As you get closer to the wedding, you will need to solicit information from the couple. You don’t want to do this too early, as important details about their wedding may not be known yet. I have found that one month prior to the wedding is a good time to send your worksheet(s) to the couple. They know most of the details by then, and they’re far enough from the wedding that they can still be calm and objective with their answers. Over time, my questionnaires evolved after situations arose due to poor communication. It is not the client’s responsibility to get you the information you need. It is yours. You must ask the questions which need to be asked. Your couple may not know a whole lot about weddings or what questions they should be asking, so you must guide them. Here is a list of just some of the questions I have on my current questionnaire. I call this questionnaire the “Wedding Worksheet” and I send it to every couple one month before their wedding date.

Who, What, Where?

Get information on where and when you are to report to start your day. If your package only includes ceremony and reception coverage, your starting place is likely ceremony location. However, many couples will want coverage of the getting ready process, or will want to do pictures at a special location prior to the ceremony. You must get the client to be as specific as possible about your starting location. Ask your couple for exact location names and addresses for both you and your team members. You should also request a timeline so you know all that is scheduled to happen. This will give you clear understanding of the time you will have to work with, and help the couple navigate the day.

The Shot List

I utilize three different questions to find out what shots the client wants. This is certainly not a requirement, but I find it easier to fulfill the wishes of my clients if I know what they are. You will get a wide variety of responses to these questions, and sometimes they won’t give you everything you need to know. But, it’s a starting point. I am very careful to phrase my questions so the client knows, in so many words, that I want them to give me the really important shots. I don’t want a laundry list they pulled off the internet of “368.5 Photos You Absolutely Must Have For Your Wedding.” I once had a bride copy and paste a list like that directly from one such site. The result was a list which included family relationships she didn’t have, even family members who had passed away years ago. I’m good, but I’m not that good.

The first shot list I ask for is the formal family photographs. I ask for the iterations of family members and important friends who will be photographed during the formal photo session. This typically occurs before or immediately after the ceremony. The second question I ask is about any important people who are not part of that session, but who to get photographs of later with the couple. The third shot list question is about the couple themselves, and the portraits I will be taking of just them. This gives the couple an opportunity to share their wishes with me, or tell me things they don’t want to do.

Sensitive Topics

I ask the couple to let me know if there are any divorces, deaths, or unusual family dynamics I should know about so as not to cause anyone discomfort or embarrassment. That last part, “unusual family dynamics,” was added after two completely separate clients expressed a wish for the photos to lean more towards one parent than another because they were estranged from one of them. This wouldn’t have been a problem, but they asked me this after the wedding was already done and all the photographs had been taken. I had to go back through and delete images of the parent who was apparently not a part of the bride’s life. That’s information I could have used before the wedding, not after.

The Cast List

One of the easiest things you can do to show your couple that their wedding day is special to you, is to learn the names of the people important to them. We as humans tend to appreciate when someone makes the effort to learn our name. Many of my reviews from couples talk about how impressed they were that I made the effort to memorize the names of their family and wedding party. Ask the couple to give you names of the primary participants in the day including family, wedding party, and important family friends who will be actively participating in the ceremony or reception. Make sure to ask what those relationships are, too.

It takes practice to get good at learning the names, especially on weekends when you have three weddings where the mothers of the bride are Mary Jane on Friday, Mary Ellen on Saturday, and Mary Sue on Sunday. Yes, that really happened. More often than not, it isn’t too difficult. Learning the names will be well worth it for the immediate connection it will make between you, your client, and your client’s family. It also helps with posing logistics.

Image Use Permission for Marketing

While your contract may spell out the terms the couple agrees to regarding use of their images for your marketing efforts, it’s a nice thing to give the couple an opportunity to let you know if they have any ways they wish you not to use their images.

Name and Address Changes

Once the wedding is over you’ll need to know how to refer to the couple, and where to send their package items. This question lets them tell you if there will be any name changes, and what their address will be when the wedding is done. Ultimately, you will need to get as much information from the client as is necessary for you to provide them with excellent service from start to finish. Your questionnaire should be concise and easy to understand. It should also answer every possible question you might have about the logistics of the day. Be sure to review the client’s answers to ensure their requests are appropriate for their package. Sometimes my client forgets how many hours their package includes, and schedules me for a start time that would have me finishing way too early. Review the answers, and provide guidance to the client if needed.