Why photographers prefer not to have shot lists

I came across a great blog article about shot lists from Capitol Romance today about why wedding photographers prefer not to have “shot list”.  Shot lists are something that has seen a resurgence in popularity recently. Many photographers I know attribute the popularity of shots lists to places like Pintrest where collecting pretty pictures is something like the digital version of collecting trading cards and baseball cards was as kids.

Family photographers are also seeing a rise in shot lists for family sessions, newborn sessions and child portrait sessions.  Some photographers speak of parents arriving to a session with pages of printed out shots that they’d like to replicate for their own session.  Others talk of how parents are arriving with four, five or even ten changes of clothes for their little one’s portraits.

This is a double edged sword for professional photographers and parents alike, not because inspiration is bad!  On the contrary.  Places like Pintrest, magazines, art museums and other favorite spots should always serve as inspiration for photographers!  So why do portrait photographers prefer that you don’t bring a shot list to your portrait session?

Five reasons why photographers prefer not to have shot lists

1) This is our job

Most professional photographers live, breathe, eat and sleep their job, not only because we’re passionate about what we do, but because it is pretty tough to turn off our eyes!  What we live, see and experience all contributes to what we end up creating.  Furthermore it is our job to find inspiration.  Many professional photographers set time aside each week, or each month purely to find inspiration, whether it’s to scout a new location, or find a new texture, color or fabric that inspires.  Perhaps it’s a workshop or class, some sort of professional development, or maybe even a personal project that allows new ideas to flow – we’re already on it!

2) My style vs. your style

Individual photographers have individual styles (well duh!) which is likely why you might fall in love with one photographer’s work, but not feel a connection with another’s work.   Many photographers are very deliberate, careful, purposeful and selective about the style and inspiration they surround themselves with, particularly if they have a very unique, quirky or distinctive style.  I know one photographer who won’t even look at other photographer’s work because he doesn’t want to be influenced  by work that is not his own.  Others only draw upon photographers, painters and artists with similar styles.  Good professional photographers should have a fairly distinctive style, at the very least they should be able to tell you what is different about their work.  Asking your photographer to replicate other’s work won’t allow them to create the images that drew you to that particular photographer in the first place.

3) Button pushing is 1/4 of the job

A stack of images to replicate turns your photographer into a button pusher.  Professionals spend so much more time on your session besides that hour of button pushing.  The planning, set design, light design and coordinating that goes into your session before you arrive is what you are really hiring your photographer for.  (If they make it look easy, chances are they’re just really good!)

4) Tools of the trade

When a client collects a stack of image they’re also collecting a stack of  different styles, techniques, props, locations, time of day etc.  Did you know that the ambient light in Canada is different than in Florida or California?  The way the light behaves, looks and “feels” is different all over the world, which becomes a huge technical challenge when someone wants a sun-kissed golden California look in dreary, grey Washington DC winter.  I will need different tools to create a California sunny look than a cool northern winter look.  I might not even have the right tools on hand, or in some cases own the right tools!  I certainly don’t have much need for $50,000 worth of underwater photography gear in this area, so chances are I won’t be replicating any underwater shots!

5) Client expectations

This is key.  Above all else, we want you to be happy with your pictures.  Clients who are happy with their pictures help us stay in business.  Seems obvious, right?  When we see a stack of inspiration pictures from a client we worry that you’ll be unhappy because we know that it’s impossible to achieve everything you’ve brought with you.  As much as we’d like to spend four hours photographing your little ones, I can bet your two year old isn’t going to find that very fun!  Often the image that you’ve collected is what we call a “signature shot”.  The one shot in the client’s gallery that is the show-stopper, the shot that we know is likely to hang on the wall for decades.  We plan for that.  We shoot images that are meant for an album, and images that are meant for the wall.  We plan our time in your session in order to get that single show-stopping shot.

Your collection of inspiration images might in fact be the one show-stopping image from a portrait session.  Five of those on your wish list might be ten or twenty hours of work that went into planning, creating and processing those dream images.  And, as any mom knows, expecting twenty hours of work to be done in an hour is impossible!


Besides, if we spend time trying to achieve a list of shots, we’ll miss spontaneous moments like this!