One of the biggest questions couples have when planning their wedding is “how many hours of photography coverage do we need?”. We get asked this at least 5 times a week. There are so many factors that go into making this decision and many aren’t common knowledge. Every wedding is different, so there’s not one easy answer.
But here is basic guide that should give you a starting point.
The most important factor is whether you’re having brunch ceremony or an afternoon/evening celebration. Brunch/ morning weddings are typically much shorter, with a ceremony and reception lasting about 3 hours, with afternoon or evening weddings lasting 6+. But remember coverage starts long before you walk down the aisle. We average about 5 to 6 hours of total coverage for brunch weddings, while afternoon and evening weddings need at least 8 hours.
Another factor is your ceremony length, as well as how much time there will be between the ceremony and the start of the reception. For example, a Catholic ceremony can be several hours long and will often be much earlier in the day, due to church and Mass schedules. Additionally, there’s sometimes a several hour gap between the end of the ceremony and the start of cocktail hour at the reception. If this is your plan, you will most likely need more than 8 hours of coverage.
Another factor that affects your coverage is whether you intend to do a First Look. 90% of our couples opt to do a First Look due to the many benefits, but it can mean either additional hours of coverage or rearranging the timeline a bit. If you want to do a First Look that means that you can get all your wedding party pictures, romantic couple’s pictures, and family pictures done BEFORE the ceremony, which is a huge bonus. You don’t have to make your guests wait an hour or more to start the festivities while you take pictures, which lets them have a better experience. But it does mean that your photographer will need to arrive a little bit earlier in the day to capture those moments. Remember, the bride must be hidden away at least 30-60 minutes before the ceremony, so guests don’t see her when they arrive. And they always arrive early. I don’t know why they do, it’s a thing. But when planning your timeline, you want to have all those group photos done long before the start of the ceremony.
Side note: if you are getting married in the late fall or winter, when the sunsets much earlier in the day, it’s definitely worth considering doing a First Look so that you can capture all of those pictures before the sun sets. Daytime pictures look very different than nighttime pictures and you’ll need to decide what style you want your wedding photos to be. But, if your ceremony is later in the day, and especially if you like that light and airy style, like ours, you’ll need to get those important family, wedding party, and couple’s pictures done before the ceremony. Remember those group pictures can take about an hour, and that means you’ll need AT LEAST a full hour of daylight after your ceremony if you aren’t doing a First Look. For more info on winter weddings check out this post.
Here are examples of natural light photos taken during the day.
And here are shots taken at night:
Another thing that will affect how many hours you’ll need is if you want your photographer to capture a lot of detail images, like rings, shoes, florals, etc. These are some of my favorite shots of the entire day because they set the tone, the style and level of formality of the entire event, and they look so pretty paired next to portraits or candid photos in your wedding album and on your blog post. These pictures take more time to set up, style, and shoot than most people realize. Think about it, when we photograph your dress, we don’t just take a pic of it hanging in the closet. Instead, we find the perfect picturesque spot in the perfect light, and that’s usually a door. Doors are dirty and dusty, we can’t just hang your pristine white dress on it. So, we take the time to wipe it down, dry it, and hang it just right, all while making sure the groom is nowhere in sight.
Styling your invitation suite is an art, we lay every piece in the perfect spot, adjust, and readjust each element until everything lines up perfectly, then add in jewelry, florals, and other sentimental tokens. It typically takes an hour to photograph the rings, dress, invitations, flowers, jewelry, and other important items from the day.
We also use this time to drop in on the bride and groom and get photos of you getting ready and hanging with your friends. This is usually early enough in the day that the bride is just starting hair and makeup. We like to wait until you’re getting those finishing touches to get most of your getting ready photos. But if this is something that’s not important to you then you may be able to book less coverage.
Whether or not you intend to do a grand exit at the end of the night will also affect how many hours coverage you need. But you have a few options here. If you want your photographer to capture your grand exit at the end of the night they will have to stay through several hours of open dancing, after all of the important reception events like first dances, cakes, toasts, and bouquet and garter toss. But I’ll level with you, from the photographer’s view, there are only so many pictures of people dancing that we can get before everything just becomes redundant or before people get a little too tipsy and start dancing in ways that maybe they don’t want photographed. So, if having 500 pictures of people doing the Wobble isn’t at the top of your priority list, and you’re trying to stick to a budget, one option is to do a faux exit a little earlier in the night. You can do this with all your guests or with just the wedding party and close family members. This allows you to get those fun sparkler or bubble shots without paying for several hours of photography coverage. We recommend one hour of open dancing, that’s plenty of time to cover the party and get tons of fun photos.
Another thing that could affect how much coverage you need is how many different venues you will be using. If you’re getting ready, getting married, and holding your reception all at one venue then, A) you are super smart and are probably going to win life, and therefore B) you may be able to get away with less hours. But if you’re getting ready at a hotel, married at a church, and having your reception at a third location, that’s a lot of time your vendors will need to travel. It will also take them time to set up and tear down, pack and unpack their gear. We sometimes need to add 2 hours to our couple’s coverage due to logistics like this.
The last factor that will affect how much photography coverage you need is…your photographer. Specifically, their experience level and whether they are a single shooter or if there are two or more photographers or if they have assistants. Two photographers can mean getting multiple angles of really important moments, like your walk down the aisle, couple’s portraits, your first kiss, and the moment you see each other for the first time. So many moments are happening at once. For this reason, I always recommend using a second shooter. But the added benefit is that two photographers can often get photos done faster because we can divide and conquer. If they also have an assistant, like we do, that also helps speed things up.
But your photographer’s experience level also comes into play. Many brides are working with a tighter budget, but they still value photography. So, they might hire someone who is a bit newer to the industry or ask a family member or friend to take on that task. While I don’t ever recommend this option, I understand why people do it. So, set them up for success. If you’re working with a photographer who’s relatively new to weddings (even if they’ve been shooting seniors or portraits for years, weddings are a whole other ballgame) you may want to give them a little more time for things like details, portraits, and group pictures. Look out for our upcoming post, Why Should You Hire a Pro?
While every photography company is different, on average it takes about an hour to photograph your details, about 30 minutes to photograph the bride and bridesmaids getting their hair and makeup done and roughly 15 minutes to photograph them in matching pajamas or robes. It takes about 30 minutes to photograph the bride getting into her dress, more if there’s tons of buttons. Once you’re in your dress we like to budget another 15 minutes for bridal portraits. A bridesmaids reveal or a First Look with your dad will also take 15 minutes each. It takes about an hour to photograph the First Look and wedding party groups, and about 30-60 minutes to photograph family groups, depending on the size of your family and number of group shots you’ve requested. It’s always smart to budget a 15 minute cushion here and there, because there’s never been a wedding that didn’t have at least one small delay or hiccup.
We recommend having your photographer start about 3 hours before the ceremony if you are not doing a First Look, or 4 hours if you are, as a general rule.
I hope this has helped guide you, or at least given you a starting point. But the most important thing is to talk to your photographer, because every wedding is different. We hope yours is amazing!
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