One of the biggest questions couples have when planning their wedding is “how many hours of photography coverage do we need?”. There are so many factors that go into making this decision and many aren’t common knowledge. It’s likely that you need more than you realize.
We never want you to spend money on extra coverage that you don’t need, weddings are expensive enough! But we also don’t want you to be so pressed for time that your photographers miss important moments.
Every wedding is different, so there’s no easy answer to this question, but here is basic guide that should give you a starting point.
Brunch, Afternoon, or Evening Celebration
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 total, while the average afternoon or evening weddings lasts 6 or more. 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.
Ceremony Type + Length
Another factor is your ceremony length, as well as how much time there will be BETWEEN the ceremony and the start of the reception/ cocktail hour. 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. The reception may not be until much later in the evening. This means that many of your group photos and family photos can be taken during that huge gap. 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 8-12 hours of coverage. But if your ceremony is 30 minutes or less, and is immediately followed by your reception, you can get away with less.
A First Look
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, even when they initially thought they didn’t want to do one, 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 rush through pictures (the most important pictures of the day, I might add), which provides your guests a better experience. Also on a traditional wedding day that does NOT involve a First Look, the couple gets to spend on average just 2-3 hours together on their WEDDING DAY. Let that sink in. Oh and there’s a loud reception going on around you with hundreds of people trying to talk to you. You rarely get a moment to just be together. At a wedding that does include a First Look you get to spend almost the entire day together, along with all of your closest friends!
Last, there’s a chance it could rain on your wedding day (knock on wood) but if it does, it likely won’t rain nonstop all day. There will be breaks in the clouds. Doing a First Look frees up the timeline to be more flexible so that we can take advantage of dry skies, while we’ve got them, and head back indoors when the bottom drops.
If ya can’t tell by now I’m a HUGE fan of First Looks.
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 you 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, because we almost always do them in natural light or where the ceremony space is located.
AMP Brides, make sure you read your exclusive Bridal Guide for so much more info regarding First Looks. There’s a reason why 90% of our couples choose to do them and, afterwards, they always say they’re so glad they did! In fact I’ve never had a couple tell me they wish they hadn’t done it.
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 pictures taken at night and you’ll need to decide what style you want your wedding photos to be. Our style is light and airy and it means shooting in natural light. But, if your ceremony is later in the day you must 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 ENDS 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:
First Looks with Dad and Bridesmaids
In addition to doing a First Look with your groom, you may want to do a First Look with your dad or a Bridesmaids Reveal. These are both truly special moments and it’s such a joy to be able to capture them. Dads are super sweet and sentimental, and their reactions are usually so unguarded. And your girls will never disappoint you, I love how they gush over your dress. These are moments you’re likely going to want to remember! But they do take time to set up, particularly because we have to be sure that no one sees you beforehand, and typically your girls are getting ready WITH you. So all the girls have to be done with hair and makeup and fully dressed, then we have them leave the bridal suite so your mom can help you into your dress, where afterwards we jam in a few quick bridal portraits. All of this sounds like it would be super quick, and in theory it is, but in actuality it takes more time than you might realize.
Another thing that will affect how many hours you’ll need is if you want your photographer to capture your details, like your rings, dress, invitations, 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.
On a more personal level, these are one of the big things wedding magazines and style blogs look for when deciding which couples’ weddings to share, and we love getting to share our couple’s love stories with the world. If you’d like to have your wedding featured in Weddings in Houston Magazine, Brides of Houston, TheKnot, Style Me Pretty, or other style publication, then we’ll need time to get those images.
The other thing to remember is that you’ve spent so much time picking these details out, and so we want to photograph every aspect of your day! They 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, in one of our pretty hangers, 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 all of 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 candid 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, so the timing is perfect for that.
But if pictures of your details and candid photos of you getting ready are not important to you then you may be able to book less coverage.
Most women spend a LOT of time picking out their dress. Countless hours browsing through bridal magazines, several trips to different bridal shops. And when you find the one….oh it’s like finding the perfect man. When you know, you know. Then comes the next part….dreaming of your hair and makeup, trying to envision what will compliment your dream dress the best. So I always recommend to all of my brides that if it’s in the budget to do a bridal portrait session before your wedding to DO IT. There are so many reasons, including getting to see exactly how your hair and makeup will not only LOOK, but how it will PHOTOGRAPH. You get to spend a hour moving in it so you’ll know before your wedding day if it’s itchy, rides up, is too small or big, or needs any kind of alterations. Plus you’re spending so much money on this thing, why should you only wear it once?!
That said, I know it’s just not in the budget for some, and others simply don’t have the time or inclination. But that just means that if you want any bridal portraits at all that we have to make it a priority on the wedding day. Sadly, in so many weddings, it’s the first thing that gets cut. I know that sounds crazy, but it happens. Hair and makeup often run late, bridesmaids take a bit longer to get ready as a group than women do individually, so that causes delays for the bride. Before you know it the guests are arriving and it’s showtime.
Now, with a carefully planned timeline (that we will help you with) we can make sure we capture these important portraits, but that also means you can’t skimp on coverage. Plan on it taking 30 minutes to get you into your dress and put a 10-20 minute cushion here and there all throughout your day so that nothing gets rushed.
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. 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 you have a few options here if you’re ballin’ on a budget.
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. We are big fans of these! 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, confetti, or bubble pics without paying for several hours of photography coverage that you don’t really need. We recommend one hour of open dancing, that’s plenty of time to cover the party and get tons of fun photos, and then do a faux exit.
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 us time to set up and tear down, pack and unpack our gear, and park. We sometimes need to add 2 hours to our couple’s coverage due to logistics like this.
Romantic Sunset Portraits
These are usually our couples’s favorites from their whole gallery, and they are often the ones that many brides have blown up and hung on their living room wall. There’s something so soft and dreamy about the light at sunset, and it’s finally that moment where no one is rushing you, the stress and nervousness are gone, the mood is more relaxed, and you’re both reveling in your new marriage. Even when our couple’s do a First Look before the ceremony, we still ask that you budget about 15 minutes afterwards for these romantic “Just Married” photos. You won’t regret this. This is also usually the only time we can get veil shots, because you don’t wear your veil to the First Look.
Cloudy Day Portraits
As much as I LOVE romantic sunset portraits, sometimes it’s just not in the cards. Particularly if it’s raining or cloudy on your wedding day. If I could have just one super power it would be to control the weather, like X-Men’s Storm. But alas, I am always at it’s mercy. So when you’re creating your wedding day timeline, be smart and have a plan B that includes plenty of time earlier in the day for pictures. On cloudy days the light fades much faster. we may be doing all group pictures at 2pm or as late as 5pm on cloudy days, depending on the season. On rainy days, we’re constantly checking our app Dark Sky to find accurate, up-to-the-minute forecasts so we can plan accordingly. Here are examples of cloudy day portraits.
And if you’re ok with a little drizzle, so are we.
A General Breakdown of Time
While every photography company is different, and every wedding is as well, 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, if most of the things I’ve listed in this post are important to you.
As your wedding photographer, it’s my privilege to tell the story of your wedding day, and that day starts long before you’re walking down the aisle. The more time we have before your ceremony, the better I can capture every aspect of this monumental day in your life, and the more memories you can preserve and pass down. And with more time, that means you’re less rushed, as are your wedding party, family, and your other vendors. It’s a win for all!
I hope this has helped guide you, or at least given you a starting point. The main thing is to talk to your photographer, because that’s what we’re here for! Happy planning!
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