How many hours do I need a photographer for on my wedding day?
For some reason this year we’re getting a lot of questions from couples about the number of hours they need a photographer for. And we’re seeing a lot of unrealistic ideas on both ends of the spectrum — from couples who think they can do cram their entire day into four hours of shooting, to those who think they need 10+ hours to get it done.
I think part of the confusion is every photographer has a different working style — some need more or less time than others do to shoot the same thing. And of course, most couples have never gotten married before, so they don’t know how long things should take.
So yesterday as I was helping a bride work through the “hours” question, it occurred to me that most people are thinking about this wrong. Instead of asking the couple how many hours they need, photographers should ask what events they want covered on their day. Then, with that information, the photographer can give an informed estimate of how many hours that particular couple will need for photography on their wedding day.
So grab a piece of scratch paper, and let’s look at what photo opportunities are important, or not important to you, and come up with a ballpark estimate on how much time will be required for YOUR wedding day!
Wedding Day Photo Opportunities
1. Getting ready photos – bride’s side
Do you want coverage of the bride getting ready? Or would you rather skip the whole thing? If you want it, do you want your photographer to grab photos of the details (your dress, shoes, jewelry etc.), before you get dressed, or do you want to start getting ready photos as you get into the dress? Or perhaps you only want photos with your bridesmaids after you are fully dressed?
Depending on your answers to these questions, your “getting ready” photography could be 0 minutes, 15 minutes, or up to 1.5 hours or more if you want the entire getting ready experience covered. All are common and normal — just depends on what you want.
Just remember that if you want to have photos like this one, you have to have the photographer start BEFORE you put on the dress!
So write down what you want covered during getting ready, and a guess at the amount of time – 0 minutes for no getting ready, 15 minutes for the shortest possible getting ready, and 2 hours if you want everything from beginning to end. You can see a collection of some of our favorite “Getting Ready” photos by clicking here.
2. Getting ready photos – groom’s side
Same question for the groom: Do you want it at all, and how much of it? Guys tend to get dressed faster and there are fewer details to shoot, so typically, this can be covered in half an hour to an hour, depending on whether the guys are dressing at a leisurely pace, or doing it quick.
There are no rules here either. If there are two photographers, we might show up at the very beginning when the guys are walking into the getting ready room in shorts and flip-flops, or you may decide you don’t want any photography until they are fully dressed and ready to put their boutonnieres on. So right down what you want covered during the grooms getting ready, and estimate the time — 0 minutes for no coverage at all, 15 minutes for the shortest possible coverage, and 45 minutes for full coverage.
3. First look
Lots of couples are choosing to do a first look these days. It’s an intimate moment where you two get to see each other for the first time in your wedding finery, and share some private moments (other than the photographer, of course!) Are you doing a first look with the bride and groom? Skip it, and of course it’s zero minutes. Otherwise plan on about 15 minutes for a first look with bride and groom, another 10 minutes for a bride’s first look with dad, and about 15 minutes to get it all set up. Write down what you want for first look, and 0 minutes for none, half an hour for bride and groom, and 10 minutes for bride and her dad.
Ceremonies can run from 10 minutes to a full hour or more. Typically we stop doing any other photos about half an hour before the ceremony starts so that you have time to pull yourself together, take a last bathroom break — groomsmen can go do their usher duties, etc. So figure on a minimum of 35 minutes for the shortest possible ceremony, to an hour or so. You can see a collection of our favorite recent ceremony photos by clicking here!
5. The marriage license
This seems to be a PNW tradition that often gets forgotten during the planning phase, and can throw off your schedule. If you want to have your wedding license signing captured, figure on about 20 minutes to gather everybody up and get this shot one. Or zero minutes if you skip it. Tip: If your officiant has never done an Oregon wedding before, go over the license with them before hand so you all know exactly what to do. We watched a couple spend 45 minutes of their precious wedding day on the license signing – time that would have been better spent, well, doing pretty much anything!
6. “Formals” with family
This is one that can take a lot of time, especially if you don’t plan ahead. So to help keep things moving along on your wedding day, we ask you to make a list of all the family “groupings” you want.
Something like this (names are obviously made up, but you get the idea!):
1. Katie and Robert with Katie’s mom (Cindy) and dad (James)
2. Katie and Robert with Robert’s mom (Fredericka) and dad (Willy)
3. Katie and Robert with both sets of parents (Cindy, James, Fredericka and Willy)
4. Katie alone with her mom and dad and siblings (Cindy, James, Terry and Bridget)
5. And so on. . . .
This way, you can just stand in front of camera and look pretty — you don’t have to try to remember all the various combinations you want photos of.
We typically recommend keeping it to about 15 different groups. It’s a manageable number and everyone can do that many before they start getting grumpy.
However, some couples want a longer list — we have been presented with elaborate spreadsheets of up to 80 different combinations! Nothing wrong with that . . . as long as you’re willing to spend an hour and a half or longer shooting family photos.
On average, if your family members are well-behaved and paying attention and haven’t been drinking much, it will take just over a minute per group for the family photos. If they aren’t on board and aren’t interested in making this go fast, it could take three minutes per group. So family photos could take anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour. We are very fast, so if you keep it to 15 groups or less, we’ll have your family shot and off to the cocktail hour in 20 minutes flat. You can see a collection of our favorite “formal” photos by clicking here!
7. Bridal Party formals
This is an important one to think through! Are there no attendants, or maybe just a couple per side? Do you want a lot of different photos in different locations of the bridal party, or are one or two simple photos enough? Are there ring-bearers or other children involved in the bridal party? All these things are variables that can add time needed. Figure on 15 minutes at the quickest, to half an hour with a big bridal party and lots of ideas for photos you want. Tip: Tailor the size of your bridal party to the season and venue. For example, a huge bridal party at an outdoor wedding in July is great — there will be plenty of places to photograph them. But on a rainy winter day at a small venue with no outside photo ops, and no room inside to get all the wedding party at once? Not so good.
8. Portraits and romantic photos of just the two of you
We’ve done this in as little as 10 minutes, or spent over two hours if the couple wants tons of photos of themselves in lots of different settings and locations. All up to you two! 20 minutes is probably a good time to shoot for. You can see a collection of our favorite couple’s portraits and romantic photos here.
9. Cocktail hour
Do you want to be able to attend your cocktail hour, or can the above photography take place during that time? Or will there even be one? The answers to this question could add another half hour or so to the time needed.
How formal is your reception — do you want photos of your entrance, table visits with guests, toasts and speeches, first dances, cutting the cake, and then fun photos of people dancing and so forth? If you want all of the above, you can generally expect to need photographers around for about two hours of the reception. If there are several things in that list you aren’t interested in — perhaps you just want a few pictures of you entering the reception and that’s about it, you could get away with 20 minutes or so at a minimum. You can see a collection of our favorite reception photos by clicking here!
On the other extreme, if you want photos of you leaving — a send-off with the car decorated, sparklers or bubbles, well, the photographers need to stay until the very end, and then figure on another 15 minutes to organize and capture the send-off.
11. Time to catch your breath
Finally, don’t fall into the trap of planning everything so tightly that the photographers (and you and your guests) must sprint from event to event. That can take a lot of the fun and joy out of your wedding. So make sure you think about a little time between each event you want photographed for everyone to get from one location to another, socialize with guests, take bathroom breaks, a moment for eating and drinking, and so forth.
And planning with a bit of time between each event can save the day if something runs late. . .the food is not ready, you can’t start the ceremony on time because someone important is missing, etc.
12. The details
We love capturing all the little details that go into a wedding. But we don’t really set aside any particular time for that. We take details photos literally throughout the day. You can see a collection of our detail photos by clicking here.
So there you have it! As you can see, your wishes for what photos you want will determine how much time you need with your photographer(s). If you want EVERYTHING covered it can be done comfortably in about six hours. We do it all the time. However, about half of our couples who start with six hours end up adding one or two more hours of photography once the final schedule is made, and they’ve accounted for inputs from parents and friends, the venue, DJ, etc.