How many hours of wedding photography do you really need?

By | November 26, 2016 | Wedding Advice

How do you decide how much wedding photography coverage you need? It’s a question I hear often from my clients. And unfortunately there’s no clear answer to it. Every couple is unique and every wedding is different. A few factors need to be considered when planning how much wedding photography coverage is the right fit. Ceremony and reception location, family and wedding party size, guest count, and ceremony length are just a few things to think about.

I’ve broken down the most common events you might want covered on your day and how long I like to budget for each one:

Bride and groom during portraits for Pike Place Market elopement in Seattle, WA during wedding photography coverage
Couple laughing during portraits on Aliki Beach for Seattle wedding during wedding photography coverage

Portraits: 30-60 mins

Yay! Portraits. Time with just you and your partner where we’ll get to hang out and take some beautiful pictures. I like to take a minimum of 45 minutes for these photos to ensure we capture you both together and alone. And make sure we get a variety of areas and different backgrounds.

Wedding Party: 20-30 mins

Wedding party photos are always a fun part of the day. Photographing everyone individually and in groups takes around 20-30 minutes depending on how many people there are.

Family: 30 mins

Family formals are pretty essential to the day. I guarantee these are some the images you’re most likely to print or have printed (Christmas gifts for years!). It typically takes 2-3 mins for each grouping. For the sake of everyone’s time and sanity I usually suggest you keep your formal groupings to 10-15. If you have any larger family groupings (extended family or groups of friends) we can capture those during cocktail hour or the reception.

Related: Here are the top three reasons why you should do a first look!

Bride and bridesmaids during portraits at Volunteer Park in Seattle, WA during wedding photography coverage
Bouquets for wedding at Laurel Creek Manor in Sumner, WA during wedding photography coverage
Couple kissing during wedding ceremony on Argosy Cruise wedding in Seattle, WA during wedding photography coverage

Ceremony: 30-40 mins

Most ceremonies last anywhere from 15-30 minutes, not including the procession. I always like to budget an extra 10-15 minutes for the ceremony starting a little late or guests not arriving on time.

Cocktail Hour: 60 mins

Most cocktail hours last—you guessed it—an hour! This is a great time to mingle with your guests and get any group shots you might want. A lot of couples will sign the marriage license during this time and take some time to themselves in their first moments of being married.

Dinner & Toasts: 60-90 mins

Dinner takes around 40-50 minutes depending on how many guests you have and what type of food service you’re doing (buffet, family style, plated, food truck, etc). And I’m a huge advocate for toasts during dinner. You’ll have everyone already gathered and engaged. People can still eat while toasts are given, and caterers can clear away plates and fill up drinks.

Bride and groom walking during portraits at Fireseed Catering wedding on Whidbey Island, WA during wedding photography coverage
Bride and Groom first dance during wedding reception at Laurel Creek Manor during wedding photography coverage

Reception Events: 15 mins each

Budget around 15 minutes for any events during the reception. First dances, cake cutting, and the bouquet and garter toss are a few popular ones.

Sunset portraits: 20-30 mins

Sunset portraits! They’re the best. The light is beautiful. You and your love are relaxed. It’s a completely different feel than formal portraits taken earlier in the day. I like to set aside 20-30 minutes for these though we can always adjust to more time or a little less.

Getting ready: 40-60 mins

Photos of you hanging out with your people, details, and getting dressed are a few things captured during the getting ready time. It’s a bit more of a relaxed and excited feeling. And these images help round out the story of your wedding day.

Bride's shoes for wedding at Golden Gardens Bathhouse in Seattle, WA during wedding photography coverage
Bride and Groom during wedding portraits in Volunteer Park before wedding at Melrose Market Studios in Seattle, WA during wedding photography coverage

Time before ceremony: 30 mins

In the wedding world there is an unspoken rule that guests will start arriving 30 minutes before the ceremony start time. It gives people time to socialize, sign guest books, put gifts in the appropriate area and find the best spot to sit. I like to have all photos wrapped up when people start showing up in order for you to either hide or spend time with your guests.

Travel time: 20 mins

If you have any travel time between the ceremony, the reception or any portrait spots make sure to budget for it. I give at least 20 additional minutes between each spot due to traffic, parking and people getting lost.

Reception Exit: 20 mins

Reception exits are so much fun! They’re a nice indicator that the music is off, reception is over and guests—sadly—need to leave. Sparklers, confetti, and bubbles are just a few great ideas. If you’re interested in a send off and want it photographed you’ll want your wedding photo coverage to last until the end of the reception.

Related: Six Tips on Creating the Perfect Photography Timeline

Bride during sparkler exit during wedding reception at Salish Lodge in Snoqualmie WA

Basic Breakdowns

Whew. So that’s a lot to think about. If you’re furiously pulling out your calculator and adding all the different events up let me make it a little easier for you. Here are some basic breakdowns for how much coverage you can get with different hours:

Six Hours of Wedding Photography Coverage

This option is great for smaller more intimate weddings. Your wedding party is four or fewer and you don’t have many family formal portraits. This amount of coverage typically only works if your ceremony and reception are happening at the same venue. And you’re also not very interested in any getting ready moments or much/any reception coverage.

Eight Hours of Wedding Photography Coverage

This amount of coverage is great if you’re having a medium sized wedding—around 150 people. More time is allocated for getting ready, portraits, bridal party and family portraits. You also get more coverage for the reception (all those crazy dancing shots). This option is also ideal if the ceremony and reception are happening at the same place.

All Day Wedding Photography Coverage

This covers everything. Getting ready details, a large amount of time for portraits, travel between multiple locations, any reception events, all the dancing, an exit, and everything else you can possibly think of will be covered. I usually suggest this option for larger weddings of 200 people or more.

Still have questions? Don’t worry! I’d love to sit down and talk more about your wedding day plans!

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