How many hours of wedding photography do I need? Besides “are you available on my date?” and “how much does it cost?” this is by far the most common question we get as wedding photographers. Unlike the fortunate few who envision and book ‘all day coverage’ from the point you shower in the morning (yes some people want everything documented on the big day!) to literally being in the limo with you when you drive off, most of us find ourselves with a budget. This budget along with your vision can help you determine how much wedding photography coverage you’ll likely need on your big day! Having shot 50+ weddings last year, and countless the last few, we have developed a rather keen sense for helping the awesome couples we work with to figure out exactly how much coverage they need based on their wants, needs, and budget! The goal of this article is to help you as a bride or groom who’s currently in the planning process to carefully consider the most popular/common parts of a wedding and generally how long each chunk of the wedding day will take. Once you figure this out, it can really help you figure out how much coverage is truly necessary for your big day! The first section is going to cover what we call “Full Day Coverage”. This is just a way to say that the wedding photographer who you hire is going to spend the majority of the day with you, and likely all of your wedding day. In the second section, we will cover the idea of “Partial Day Coverage” or the wedding photographer spending part of the day with you and covering some of the wedding.
Getting Ready Photos (general time allotted – 1-2 hours)
Most of the couples we’ve worked with generally desire getting ready photos during their all day coverage. There are a few factors that can really affect whether or not you will need 1 hour vs 2 for this chapter of the day. If your goal is just to get photos of the bride getting ready this will usually take an hour assuming you’re catching the tail end or end of the make up, the hair, in between cute moments (think photos with your besties in their cute robes you got them), your mom helping you put on your dress, and putting on your veil, your shoes, and any last minute jewelry. Essentially this is quite minimal and what the majority of the clients we’ve worked with tend to want when it comes to these photos. However, let’s say you have 4 or more bridesmaids and you want photos of everyone getting ready from beginning to end with everything previously listed, expect to spend at least 2 hours during this part of the day. For those really trying to budget on time, consider having your wedding photographer get there as you’re finishing your hair to save 20-30 minutes. I purposefully left the guys out of this as we always work in a two person team and it generally takes the fellas 20 minutes or less to get fully ready so their time is usually encompassed within the timespan of the ladies! This is also a great time for me to go get décor shots of the ceremony site, reception area, floral arrangements, etc. However, if you are hiring a wedding photographer who works solo, it may take them longer to cover all of these particular items because they can only be in once place at a time. This could mean showing up earlier to get décor shots, getting ready photos of the bride and bridesmaids, and finally getting some photos of the groom and his groomsmen. Being a team of two allows us to do some of these things simultaneously which tends to save our couples time!
Pre- Ceremony Photos (general time allotted – 1-2 hours)
These photos include things like group photos with the bride and bridesmaids, groom & groomsmen, first looks, family photos, first prayer, bridal portraits, groom portraits and likely a combo of most of these depending on how you want the day to unfold. If you’re trying to squeeze in some of the bridal party group photos beforehand, this is a great opportunity to do so! The bigger the bridal party, generally the more time these can take due to having to move more people around, and if the bride or groom wants individual portraits with everyone in the bridal party in addition to the group shots. If your bridal party is on the smaller side (4 or fewer bridesmaids/groomsmen) these generally won’t take more than a half hour. If it is on the larger side, (5+) expect 30-45 minutes depending on the number of combos and style of these photos, and how much you’re having to move locations (if at all) and if it is very large (8+) it could take 45 minutes to an hour as you’ll likely want more combos and different placements. First looks don’t take too long if you don’t have to travel too far, usually around 10-15 minutes. However, you always have the option to squeeze in some couples portraits during this time. Our tip is if the lighting is good, and you are doing good on time, always get some couples portraits right after! Allow another 20-30 minutes for the couples portraits during this time depending on how much you can move around and if you want guests to see you or not. For many couples, this is also a great time to take individual portraits of the bride or groom. Again, depending on the spots you pick and how much time walking spent in between each spot, transitioning poses, and actually shooting, try to budget at least 15-30 minutes for these as well. If you are like a lot couples, you’ll likely try to do as many of these as you can before the ceremony so try to figure out which particular photos you would like to do prior and this can help you plan your timeline. We will touch on family photos in the (post ceremony photos section)
In Between Time (general time allotted – 15-30 minutes)
Even with the best laid timelines, even if you didn’t do a lot of pre-ceremony photos, there is always a sort of in between period between the pre-ceremony photos and the actual ceremony itself. No Bride or groom ever goes from group photos immediately to the altar (lol), rather there is usually a small little break in between and this is around 15 minutes on a good day and 30 minutes on a busier day. This time is great because it allows guests to arrive, it allows us as wedding photographers to get set up for the ceremony and game plan, and lastly it gives you time to do any last minute finishing touches to your make-up, hair, or outfit.
The Wedding Ceremony – (general time allotted – 20-30 minutes) ***(If it is a religious ceremony – for example a catholic ceremony – budget 45-90 minutes of your time depending on how many traditions and practices you will follow during the ceremony)
The majority of the couples we’ve worked with usually spend around 20-30 minutes during their ceremony. This is on the minimal side and it is usually when nobody else speaks besides the officiant, bride and groom. If you are having relatives perform any special readings or members of the church sing, etc, factor in this little bit of extra time. Also consider if you are doing something like a sand or knot ceremony which also takes additional time during this part of your wedding day.
(ARE WE THERE YET!? - - keep going you’re likely half way or almost )
Recessional & post ceremony in between time (general time allotted 10-30 minutes)
The recessional itself at an average size wedding (120 guests according to weddingwire.com) usually takes around 5-10 minutes for everyone to exit the space. If you as the bride and groom are planning on anything special like shaking everyone’s hands and hugging, or release them row by row after you’ve shaken their hands and hugged them (possibly conversated too) this can take around 15-20 minutes). I say in between time again, because usually there’s a slight in between time of 5-10 minutes that it takes for the bride and groom to gracefully get back in place without feeling like they ignored anyone, as well as the family members who you will want present for the family group photos.
Post Ceremony Family Photos (general time allotted 30-60 minutes)
Basing this again on the average size wedding of 120 guests, generally it will take around 30 minutes to get through all the family photo combinations you’ll likely want. Now, there are some slight exceptions to this rule. If you are dead set on only doing the bare minimum when it comes to these photo combinations, they can be done in 20 minutes or so with the right coordination and game plan in place. If your desire is to have just about every family member you can think of, some of the non-family guests, and many different combos with the same or different people, these can easily take up to an hour or more depending on your family size. In the majority of the weddings Jenny and I have been a part of, these usually take around 30 minutes.
Couples Portraits (general time allotted – 15-60 minutes)
If you did not do a first look and subsequently did not do your couples portraits yet, this is often a good time to squeeze them in. Another option depending on the lighting is going to the reception to hang with family and friends and doing these photos later in the evening around the golden hour when the sun starts to go down (especially late summer wedding when the sun doesn’t set until 8 or later!). Very often the couples we work with want these, but may have already had their engagement photos with us as well, so they don’t desire too many wedding day portraits, instead they opt to spend quality time with their closest loved ones at the reception! In these cases, we usually spend around 15-30 minutes doing couples portraits. If you on the other hand have been waiting for this moment for months, your hair is looking on point, the groom is looking spiffed and feeling great, you may consider doing more of these photos, especially if it is a large venue which requires quite a bit of walking in between locations, you may want to budget 30-60 minutes for these photos.
In between post ceremony photos and intro to the reception (general time allotted – 5-10 minutes) ***(Budget more time if the ceremony and reception venues are at two different sites - - it’s not uncommon for a ceremony site and a reception site to be around 30-60 minutes away from each other)
This is that small gap between the post ceremony photos and the reception itself that allows you to get a quick bathroom break and move from the ceremony to the reception area. If you find yourself in the latter boat previously mentioned where you ceremony site and reception site are at different locations, make sure to budget in this time as well.
TIME CHECK: If you are having the absolutely perfect day so far in terms of scheduling and are taking the minimal time on everything listed above you should be at about 3.5 hours at this point. If your are having an absolutely perfect day on everything so far and are taking the maximum amount of time on each chapter of the day (only factoring in 5 minutes from ceremony to reception site) you are already at 7.5 hours. NOW, I would say based on professional experience most couples are somewhere in the middle of these two extremes taking minimal time on some parts of the day, and taking longer on others, putting most couples at around 5-5.5 hours of coverage at this point in their wedding day. This is assuming nothing has been thrown off schedule significantly and allowing for some flex time. It is very common (especially for a wedding with no day of coordinator or wedding planner) to get off schedule by about 15 minutes, don’t stress, this happens all the time :)
Reception: (general allotted time 3-4 hours)
Now it’s party time! Traditionally, the wedding party will be introduced and more often then not, the bride and groom go directly into the first dance (total time 5-10 minutes). If you decide to do a father and daughter dance as well as a mother and son dance, factor in another 5-10 minutes for these at some point in the evening. Also, at this point you will have likely worked up an appetite! Try to budget around 20-40 minutes for yourselves to eat depending on if it’s being served to you or if you’ve chosen to go with a buffet style wedding. Another option is food bars, which have become really popular as of late where you allow your couples to build their own fajitas or create their own omelets. These are super fun! Let’s say you’ve danced for 10 minutes, and eaten for 20. You are now likely down to 2.5 hours left for your 8 hours of coverage. Somewhere in that last half hour you will likely have some fun with a cake cutting, bouquet toss, and possibly a garter toss or some fun wedding traditions like the shoe game or other unique variations we’ve seen along the way. Now it’s time to dance and mingle. Usually around 1.75 – 2 hours will be spent covering candid moments and dance floor moments during your reception. I say 1.75 because you may be having a special exit or you may have budgeted in some time with your photographer to go outside at night and do some fun off camera flash shots!
Now you maybe be leaning slightly towards 6 or 7 hours of coverage, and it’s simple, just figure out where most of your time will be allotted during the day and from the example above, you can shave off a few minutes here and there.
If you find yourself with a smaller wedding that won’t take the entire day, or a more modest budget and you are thinking of having an all day wedding like described above, but you are leaning towards 5 hours of wedding photography coverage or less, here are some tips below for the couples thinking about partial day coverage.
Partial Day Coverage (5 hours or less)
For this section we are going to go over some ways to help you save time and stick to your budget for your wedding day coverage!
Consider having your wedding photographer show up towards the end of the getting ready process.
Or if you would rather have the majority of getting ready covered, maybe consider having them skip out a little bit after the dancing starts (as previously stated sometimes 2 hours and in some cases more, can be spent solely dedicated to the dance floor as this might be all that’s going on at a certain piont during the evening.
Consider limiting your family photos to just immediately family vs cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.
Decide if you want a lot of couples portraits or if you would rather have more candid captures throughout the wedding day. If you think this is the case, you could limit your couples portraits to 15-20 minutes
You could limit your bridal party photos to a handful of traditional and fun ones vs trying to re-create your entire pinterest board
Hire a day of coordinator if it’s in your budget. If not, designate someone close to you, possibly your maid of honor to help make sure the schedule stays on track throughout the day
Opt to do your couples portraits right after your first look vs setting aside time later in the day as this can sometimes save a little time
Consider having your hair and make up company just do your hair and make up vs all of your bridesmaids, especially if you have several.
Consider asking your wedding ceremony officiant to keep things very streamlined and not too wordy.
When it comes to your wedding day, there are a host of wants and needs to make your vision come to life! Your wedding photographer capturing that vision and those priceless moments that will unfold throughout the day are no doubt something you’ve been excited about for some time during the planning process! At the same time, figuring out where you want your wedding photography coverage spent and how much time on each part of your special day can play a big role in your budget, and ultimately what you remember throughout the day. As you start to plan your timeline, it will benefit your greatly to run things over with your wedding planner and your wedding photographer to make sure you are getting exactly what you want! We hope this particular blog has been informative and can be used as a tool to help you plan your day!
As always, thanks for following along!
-Joe & Jenny