How many hours of wedding photography do i really need?

You  won't  regret  taking  the time  to  read  this!

This is one of the most common questions every couple has when choosing a wedding package.  There are so many options - 4 hours, 6 hours, 9 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.  

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 every couple, and every wedding has unique needs.

Photography Coverage Simplified

When it comes to photography coverage, we must first understand that it's "continuous" coverage.  Meaning, your photographer isn'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 12pm - 4pm, break from 4pm - 7pm, and then resume coverage from 7pm - 11pm.  

If your photographer's packages specifically indicate the hours of coverage, it's easy to see exactly what you're getting.  An 6 hour package will provide 6 hour 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 between photographers.  Many consider full day coverage to be 6 hours, while others consider it to be 8.  It's very vague, but the words "full day" coverage makes you feel like you're getting more, right?  Don't be so sure!

All The Parts

When it comes the wedding day, there are a lot of moving parts and many elements that need to be photographed.  Let's take a closer look.

1. Getting Ready

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

Photographers's Perspective:  The getting ready part of the wedding day results in photographs that many couples really 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.

2. The First Look

The first look is when you and your partner see each other for the first time on your wedding day.  Traditionally speaking, this happens at the ceremony (you don't see each other until the ceremony starts).  However, many couples now elect to have a pre-ceremony first look because it offers several unique advantages compared to the traditional setting.  One benefit that most couples love, is gaining additional time at their wedding reception to be engaging with their guests.  We will touch more on this later, but keep it in the back of your mind.  

Photographer's Perspective:  Unless you absolutely insist on sticking with a traditional first look, I strongly recommend you consider having a pre-ceremony first look.  In most cases, it also allows enough time prior to the ceremony to photograph your wedding party and your couples portraits.  This will significantly reduce the amount of time needed for photos following the ceremony and it allows everyone more time to spend enjoying the reception.

3. 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 very unique.  One recommendation every couple should consider is having 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 really degrades the images from this special moment.

4. Post-Ceremony Photographs

Again, traditionally speaking, following the wedding ceremony is when the photographs of the wedding party, families, and the creative portrait session of you and your partner are captured.  These photos usually taken between 2-3 hours depending on the size of your families and wedding party.

Photographer's Perspective:  If you elect the traditional first look (at the ceremony), you will want to allocate at least 2 hours to do post-ceremony photographs.   If you do a pre-ceremony first look, you can allocate 1 - 1 1/2 hours. 

5. The Reception

Now it's time to celebrate your marriage and party!  Typically, your wedding reception with include various events that you'll want photographed - wedding party introductions, first dances, toasts, cake cutting, and those fun dance photos of guests whooping it up on the dance floor.  

Photographer's Perspective:  With the exception of the important shots like first dances, cake cutting, bouquet toss, exit and such....hours of photos of guests dancing/eating to become overkill and unnecessary. 



How Much Time Should You Dedicate To Each Part Of The Wedding Day?

Now that we've identified the different parts of a wedding day, it's time to look at how much time is needed to photograph them.  When creating your wedding day timeline, we will generally look at it form the ladies perspective because this is the most involved. 

Getting Ready

On average, each bridesmaid will take 1 1/2 hours for hair and makeup.  The bride should allocate up to a total of 3 hours just in case you're hair is being difficult or something doesn't go as planned.  If you have one person doing hair and makeup, you want to allocate another 15 minutes per person.

Hair and makeup is probably the number one reason why weddings run late.  Most couples don't allow enough time for this part of the day.  If this part of the day runs late, it creates a snowball effect on the rest of the day.  You'd be much better off having an extra 1/2 hour to relax than running around in panic mode.  Having a team of makeup/hair artists is strongly advised!

It's not necessary to have your photographer camped out at your bedside taking photos the second you open your eyes, unless this part of the day is super important to you.  Otherwise, I would recommend your photographer arrives early enough to capture some photos of hair and makeup (especially the bride), details (dress, rings, shoes, etc.), pre-ceremony first look (if applicable), and bridal portraits.  This will likely require between 2-3 hrs depending on your specific timeline. 

The First Look

If you elect to have a traditional first look at the ceremony, it's not going to impact your photography time because the moment is going to happen regardless.  However, let's assume you want a pre-ceremony first look.  First, I can't stress the importance of strictly limiting the number of people present during your first look.  I would try to limit it to you and your partner, but if parents insist on observing by all means let them.  The more people that are present, the more distractions it will create and ultimately, it will take away from this special moment.  

I would recommend allocating 30 minutes for your first look.  This allows 5-10 minutes for the actual first look, 10 minutes for a few photos following, and another 5 minutes of downtime so you and your partner can breathe for a second.  

Following the first look, the bridal party and family photos can be taken.  I would allocate another

1 - 1 1/2 hours for these images depending on the size of your families and wedding party.  Each photograph for these groups will take between 2-3 minutes per photo, provided that everyone cooperates and follows the photographers instruction. 

The Ceremony

The time needed to photograph this part of the wedding day will be based on the desired length of your ceremony.  Most couples are opting for shorter (30 min or less) ceremonies; therefore, I would recommend allocating time for your ceremony plus 10-15 additional minutes in case your officiant is running late or an unexpected issue arises.  

Post Ceremony

Whether or not you have a pre-ceremony first look will determine how much time you need for the post-ceremony photographs.  If all of the photographs are going to be taken at this time, you will need at least 2 hours of time for photos.  However, if you have a very small wedding or just need a couple more wedding party photos and then photos of you and your partner, you can allocate about 1 hour of time. Another thing to keep in mind is any travel time required to get to the reception venue. If it's at a different location you need to factor in drive time as well as at least 15-20 minutes for your photographer to have access to the reception space to get the detail shots of your decor etc. before it is disturbed once guests arrive.


Your reception will be a set amount of time - usually 4-5 hours.  However, like the getting ready part of the day, you don't need to have your photographer there for the entire time.  You generally only need your photographer for a couple of hours at your reception to capture all of the important moments including images of guests dancing.  Hot tip! If you are planning a special exit from your reception or ending – think sparklers or even fireworks – but don’t want to pay your photographer to wait until then, a suggestion is to have your “exit” earlier, and then invite people to stay for the “after party.”  Not only does this allow your photographer to take their leave, but it can also be a good point for more mature guests or guests with young children to say goodbye without feeling guilty that they are leaving your party.

Adding It All Up...

Getting Ready:  2-3 hours

First Look & Pre-ceremony portraits:  1 1/2 - 2 hours

Ceremony: 1/2 hour

Post-Ceremony:  1-3 hours 

Reception:  2 hours max


What Other Factors Influence The Time You'll Need For Wedding Photography?

As we just discovered, it's going to generally take between 8-12 hours to photograph a wedding.  However, there are some other factors that can influence the amount of time you'll need as well.

  • How big is your wedding party? 

  • How large are your families?

  • How many locations will be required for photos?  (i.e. is ceremony at church or reception site?)

  • Do you need to allocate time for driving?  (ceremony site to reception site?)

Obviously, the size of your wedding party and families will significantly impact how much time is needed to complete the photos.  The time frames provided in this article account for the "average" wedding party size (3 bridal party members for each side) and average sized families (parents, 1-2 siblings, and grandparents). 

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