How many hours of wedding photography do I need?

This is one of the most common questions every couple has when choosing a wedding package. There are so many options – 4 hours, 8 hours, 10 hours, 1/2 day coverage, full-day coverage, all-day coverage, etc. But what does it all mean? What’s the difference between full day and all-day coverage? This seemingly simple question can quickly become complicated.  

 

In this article, I’m going to give you some amazing tips for determining how much photography coverage you need at your wedding! There are many questions pertaining to wedding planning that are answered with a “that depends” response. Unfortunately, most wedding questions are impossible to answer with a cookie-cutter approach because every couple and every wedding has unique needs.

 

When you’re in the thick of wedding planning, you’re sure to come across so many questions you never knew to ask. From figuring out what flowers are in season to knowing how much to budget, you’re suddenly expected to become an expert on all things events. Today, then, we wanted to offer up a resource to refer to when you inevitably find yourself asking, “Wait…how many hours do we need to book our photographer for?” Read on for our complete breakdown on wedding photography coverage.

 

When it comes to photography coverage, we must first understand that it’s “continuous” coverage. Unless special arrangements have been made with your photographer, they aren’t going to photograph your wedding in stages. For example, if you choose an 8-hour package, they aren’t going to provide photography from 12 pm – 4 pm, break from 4 pm – 7 pm, and then resume coverage from 7 pm – 11 pm.  

 

If your photographer’s packages specifically indicate the hours of coverage, it’s easy to see exactly what you’re getting. An 8-hour package will provide 8 hours of coverage. However, what does it mean when your photographer uses terms like “1/2 day coverage” or “full day coverage?” The best piece of advice I can give you is don’t assume anything! These terms usually differ among photographers. Some consider full day coverage to be 8 hours, while others consider it to be 12. It’s very vague, but “all day” coverage makes you feel like you’re getting more, right?  

 

Getting Ready Photos (general time allotted – 1-2 hours)

Most of the couples we’ve worked with generally desire to get 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 makeup, the hair, in between cute moments (think photos with your besties in their lovely robes you got them), your mom helping you put on your dress, and putting on your veil, your shoes, and any last-minute jewellery. 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 four 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 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 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 one 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!  

 

Getting Ready

This is the part of the day when hair and makeup are being done. Generally speaking, you’re hanging out with your bridal party and a few family members. You might even enjoy a couple of cocktails. This is usually a fairly relaxed part of the day as you enjoy some quality time with people you deeply care about.  

 

Photographer’s Perspective: The getting ready part of the wedding day results in photographs that many couples appreciate. It’s common for gifts to be exchanged during this part of the day, and the photos often capture some truly heartfelt moments. This is also the part of the day where we capture those creative photographs of your details (wedding dress, rings, shoes, etc.). After you’ve finished getting ready, it also includes time for those beautiful bridal portraits. All of these images combine to add another layer to the storytelling value of your wedding celebration.

 

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. How much you have 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 of 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)

 

The Ceremony

The ceremony is pretty self-explanatory – this is what your wedding is all about—the moment you and your partner vow to share the rest of your lives as one.  

 

Photographer’s Perspective: Your ceremony is the main event and the moments that come with the ceremony are unique. One recommendation every couple should consider has an “unplugged wedding.” An unplugged wedding does not allow guests to take pictures or video during the ceremony. I can’t tell you how many wedding photographs have been destroyed by a flash from a camera phone or a guest jumping in front of a photographer to take a blurry cell phone picture. Even if everyone remains seated, your ceremony photos will be filled with arms and hands raised in the air trying to capture that award-winning photo, and it degrades the images from this special moment.  

 

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 makeup, hair, or outfit. 

 

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 beside 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.  

 

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 the 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 you desire 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.  

 

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!  

 

Just the Basic Coverage

Just the basics are usually about 6 hours and trust me, and you’d be surprised by how fast it goes by when you’re busy running around and greeting people and, y’ know, getting married. This option is best if you are planning a small, intimate wedding where everything is going to happen at the same location and your reception isn’t going to be extended. Sometimes it’s possible to get a little bit of everything into 6 hours for bigger weddings. Still, you also have to think about dinner taking up an hour, meaning that depending on when I get there, I could be leaving right after dinner and right before reception.

 

6 Hours of Wedding Day Coverage

Just because this is usually the least expensive package offered by photographers doesn’t necessarily mean it is only for couples with tight budgets! Six hours of coverage is plenty for small weddings and elopements. When weddings are intimate, there aren’t very many people to manage and photograph, so things tend to move quickly. That being said, 6 hours of coverage only works logistically if the ceremony and reception are in the same location.

 

Things to consider

  • 6 hours of coverage most likely means that there will not be much (or any) time for detail decor/design shots or photos of you getting ready
  • But, there will be coverage of all of the important moments (portraits, ceremony, family photos, first dance, cake cutting)
  • The end of the night comes early with just 6 hours of coverage so, most likely there will not be many photos of the reception once the dancing starts

 

Medium Length Coverage

Medium coverage is usually about 8 hours of coverage, and it’s the most popular option. It allows couples to squeeze in a little bit of everything throughout the day. With 8 hours you’ll be able to fit in some getting ready, ceremony, and some reception photos without the rush. The only time I suggest more hours to my couples is if they want every part of the day covered in full, everything is at a different location, or if they have a special send-off at the end of the night!

 

8 Hours of Wedding Day Coverage

An 8-hour package is usually enough time for an average-size wedding (about 100-150 people), and the extra 2 hours of coverage will usually allow the photographer to capture the tail end of you getting ready, some detailed shots of the reception space, and the start of the dance party.

 

Things to consider

  • If you have your heart set on doing a first look, then we recommend at least 8 hours of coverage
  • Even though 8 hours seems like a lot of time, this works best for weddings where the ceremony and reception are at the same location. Since the additional 2 hours gives the photographer just enough time to take a few getting ready, detail, and dancing shots, you don’t want to waste 30 or 40 minutes on your photographer needing to pack up her/his gear and drive to (and set back up at) a second location.

 

Full-day Coverage

Full-day coverage for me is up to 10+ hours of coverage. This option is best for couples that want a more relaxed time frame (this includes more candid images and less stress!) or if everything’s happening at different locations. It gives us time to travel to different locations or just relax without the stress of a bunched time frame.

 

10 Hours of Wedding Day Coverage

Don’t want to feel rushed to get all of the Pinterest-worthy shots everyone wants on their wedding day? Then at least 10 hours of coverage is the right way to go. Since the photographers are on-site for most of the day, there is enough time to get all of the detail and prep shots, plus plenty of extra time for a first look (if you want to do one). On top of that, nobody will have to rush through any of the wedding party and family portraits before getting to dinner and dancing.

 

Things to consider

  • If the wedding ceremony and reception are taking place in different locations, we recommend at least 10 hours of coverage. This gives the photographer enough time to travel to the second location and still get all of the shots
  • Planning a grand exit? Unless you’re willing to give up coverage in the earlier hours, 10 hours is usually not enough to have a photographer there until the very end of the reception.

 

12 Hours of Wedding Day Coverage

There are a few reasons why 12 hours of coverage would be right for you as a couple. Aside from it being more than enough time to capture all of the details of the day, this amount of coverage is almost necessary if there is a very large wedding party (bridal parties of 12 or more).

 

Things to consider

  • If you have a huge wedding party and family, we usually recommend 12 hours of coverage. Why? With everyone in “party mode,” it means that it can be hard to get and keep people’s attention (not to mention the fact that it can be difficult to find and get the right people in the right place all at the right time!)
  • If you’re super into the design and/or have the budget to make all of those Pinterest inspiration ideas come to life, it would be a bummer if all of those design details didn’t get photographed. So, if you have the wedding signs, custom cocktails, and lounges that everybody dreams of, we recommend 12 hours of coverage to make sure every design detail gets the attention it deserves!

 

What Other Factors Influence the Time You Will Need for Wedding Photography?

As we have just discovered, it will generally take between 8 and 12 hours to photograph a wedding. However, other factors can also influence the amount of time you will need.

 

  •  How big is your wedding party?
  •  How big are their families?
  •  How many locations will be required for the photos? (i.e., is the ceremony at the church or the reception site?)
  •  Do you need to allocate time to drive? (Ceremony site to reception site?)

 

The size of your wedding party and your families will significantly affect the number of hours for which you will hire a photographer. The time frames provided in this article represent the “average” size of the wedding party (3 wedding party members on each side) and the average size families (parents, 1-2 siblings and grandparents). 

 

Every wedding day is completely unique and different. There are so many pieces and parts and traditions that make a wedding day special to you (how boring it would be if every wedding were the same)! What I described above is just my experience as a wedding photographer over the last nine years. I understand that sometimes a certain budget is set for photography and hiring your dream photographer might mean that you take a cut in the number of hours you want/need.

 

Just know that your photographer isn’t a magician – she cannot create time on your wedding day. The last thing you want to do is squish all of your main events into a space that is too small (think Cinderella’s step-sisters trying to squeeze the glass-slipper onto their too-large feet!) Doing so just creates stress and frustration – two things that should never be part of a wedding day!

 

My promise to all of my brides & grooms is to do my very best to capture everything I possibly can on your wedding day. It’s just another reason that I create specific timelines for each of my wedding couples weeks in advance of their big day. I promise, if I honestly suggest that we add an extra hour or two of coverage, I am not trying to make more money. I just know that key moments will be missed if we are trying to squeeze your wedding day into a timeline that is too small. Open & honest communication is always the key to success if we are trying to figure out if an extra hour of added coverage might make the day perfect.

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