How many hours of photography do I need?
A Step-by-Step to Planning the Photography Shoot of Your Wedding


I’m often asked, “How many hours of photography do I need for my wedding?” Most commonly it is 6-to-8 hours–but everyone’s wedding is different.

Some couples choose to book us for 12 hours, some for just 2 hours–everyone’s day is unique when it comes to their schedule and factors like the length and location of their ceremony and their reception.

So, to help you understand how to schedule the photography for your wedding, I will do my best as a photographer to walk you through a typical wedding day schedule, and then break this schedule up into a timeline. This timeline will be useful for you in calculating how much photography time you will require for your wedding.

Below you will see a list of the various component parts that make up a typical wedding day. I will explain the terminology and what the photography for each part includes. Since you are designing your own unique Wedding Day, you will need to decide:

  1. Which components you want to include in your Wedding Day.
  2. Which components you want to have photographed.
  3. Where you want each component of your Wedding Day to take place.
  4. What time you want each component part to begin and end.

Once you have created your Wedding Day plan, you will be able to create the timeline and estimate how much time will be needed to photograph your special day.

Preparations: “Preparations” are photos of the Bride and Groom getting ready for the Ceremony. If we are going to do Preparations, I look to find out what time the Bride will be putting on her dress and when the Bride plans to leave for the ceremony.  Generally, I plan to start at a minimum of 30 minutes before the dress is to go on, and hopefully we will have at least 30 minutes to photograph before the Bride leaves for the Ceremony. (So Preparations time is usually scheduled for an hour minimum.)

*****Sometimes, though, as part of Preparations, we will also be photographing the Bride’s hair and makeup as it is being done, or taking more Bride, bridal party portraiture or family portraiture –in this case, we will need to be scheduled to be there, on location with the Bride, for a longer period of time.

We will also be photographing the Groom’s Preparations–even if he is at a separate location–at the same time that we are photographing the Bride’s Preparations.

Some Things to Note:

If you are booking me for more than 2 hours, I will be working with a second photographer–allowing us to be at two places at once. If you include videography in your package, then there will also be two videographers, allowing them to be in two places at once as well. We all work as a well honed team.

Travel Time to the ceremony location also has to be accounted for. For some couples, everything takes place at one location, but for others, we are traveling “all over the map”. This travel element adds to the time that you will need to account for in your schedule.

It is great to have a schedule of the day’s events, but oftentimes things will be running late on the Wedding Day. It’s important to plan for delays and build a little “flex time” into your schedule.

Ceremony: Wedding Ceremonies can be as short as 20 minutes and as long as 1.5 hours. Some couples who choose packages that include fewer hours, choose to have us start their photography with the Ceremony.

(But personally, I really enjoy doing Preparations, because this allows me to better tell the story of the wedding day photographically, and there are a lot of special details to capture during the Preparations that lead up to the big event.)

After Ceremony Formals: After the Ceremony, generally, I look to photograph the Wedding Couple under the ceremonial arch or at the altar: the Couple together, and then with their families, and with their wedding party. I will provide you an After Ceremony Formals list when booking, so that you can review the “shot list” and remove those images that are not important to you–and add those that are. In this way we can work more efficiently.

These After Ceremony Formals can take up to an hour or more to complete, starting from the time the Ceremony ends. The reason these Formals take so long varies from how many shots we are looking accomplish to waiting on family members who have gone missing, or waiting on guests to leave the church aisle so we can have room to set up our equipment, or waiting on the Bride and Groom to finish being congratulated by their guests.

Some Things to Note:

Confirm with the church/temple etc. that there will be enough time after your Ceremony is over to capture these After Ceremony Formal images. Some places require that you leave as soon as the Ceremony is over, because they have another event coming in right after yours.

Sometimes complications are out of our control—when, for example, we can’t find your father for the After Ceremony Formals because he has already left the church for the reception.  So please: Inform those people that you want to include them in the After Ceremony Formal photos, so that they will know not to leave the location immediately after the Ceremony.

Beauty Shots: Beauty Shots are romantic images of the Bride and Groom. Beauty Shots can range from 15 minutes to 1.5 hours. If there is minimal time, these shots might just be done under the arch or at the altar in the same time frame as the After Ceremony Formals. With a bit more time available, they might be done somewhere at the Ceremony location – in front of the church or under a tree or a scenic spot within walking distance of the the Ceremony location. Sometimes the bridal party is included in the Beauty Shots, which consumes more photography time. Sometimes the Beauty Shots are done at the reception location. And sometimes another location altogether is chosen for Beauty Shots–and this consumes the most time, because it includes dedicated travel.

Something to Note:

Don’t forget to account for the time it takes to travel to the Reception location after the Beauty Shots.
If you’re interested in some suggestions for dedicated Beauty Shot locations–ask me.

Reception: The Reception can include Cocktail Hour, Dinner, or just the Wedding Events (Cake Cutting, First Dance, Toasts, Bouquet Toss, etc.). Sometimes the Reception goes on past midnight, and other times things wind down much earlier. Sometimes the Bride and Groom leave in a horse-drawn carriage or they have a sparkler send off, and sometimes they are the last ones at the Reception, along with their families, packing things up.

Generally, we start Reception photography with the Cocktail Hour–or I might be doing Beauty Shots during this time while the second photographer covers the Cocktail Hour. When we arrive at the Reception, we photograph the tables and the details of the Reception setup, along with taking photos of your guests. During Dinner, we photograph more of the overall room action, focusing on you and on your guests enjoying the event, including table shots of family groups and friends, and photos of kids eating or being fed (we don’t like to photograph adults eating and they appreciate it!). At this time, I may ask you for your rings so I can do a beautiful close-up studio shot of your rings together, possibly with your bouquet. There are many other shots opportunities of you during this time, for example: the two of you at your table, possibly from behind, with the room extending beyond you, as you kiss. You will also be photographed you as you walk around the room making your way to the various tables, visiting with your guests. Sometimes there are Mariachis performing or other forms of entertainment or activities happening in the room at this time–we are always looking for shot opportunities, and we never stop shooting. (During long wedding day shoots, I may sit for less than 10 minutes to eat dinner.)

After Dinner, the Events usually start. The scheduling of your Events is something you should pay attention to–both for your guests’ sake and for maximizing your photographer’s time. I have seen the Cake Cut as late as 11:30 p.m.–when many of the older adults have already left and small kids are sleeping in chairs. So, you could choose to schedule the Cake Cutting earlier not only for your guests–but for the photography. Why? Because I am looking to tell the story of your day, whether you have us there for 2 hours or 12–and by having the Cake Cutting earlier, you could end the photography right after this, saving you some funds, while the story of your wedding day will end memorably with the Cake Kiss. (This is the Couple kissing each other after feeding each other cake).

Of course you could choose to end photography after another event, like the First Dance–but I would not recommend ending photography after the Dinner. Why? Because we want to end “your wedding day story” on a dramatic high note.

After all the Wedding Events, or in-between action around the Events, there is dancing and we photograph this as well–there are many shot opportunities here, but often times the last hours of the Reception, as we approach mid-night, it can just involve more dancing, which can get repetitive, and without a dramatic Bride and Groom exit, there may be no reason to keep your photographers on the clock.

Something to Note:

Often, we shoot all of the Reception Events, but some Wedding Couples chose to organize their reception to maximize the photographer’s time, capturing the most dramatic moments early in the reception, and save some funds by releasing the photographers early.

But what if there is a large gap of time between my Ceremony and my Reception or elsewhere in my day?

IdleTime: Idle Time is a break in your continuous photographic coverage. It is billed in increments of one hour at a rate of $40 an hour.

An example of using Idle Time would be if you started your Preparations at 12 noon followed by the Ceremony and After Ceremony Formals, and then the Beauty Shots, ending at 4pm–but your reception begins at 6pm. You may choose to have us shoot from 12 noon to 4pm, have Idle Time for two hours, and then begin continuous photographic coverage again from 6pm to 10pm. So that would be calculated as 8 hours of Photographic Coverage and 2 hours of Idle Time.

Idle Time is not Travel Time–Idle Time is when your photographers are on standby, waiting to shoot the next scheduled component of your wedding. Travel Time is when the Photographer is working, busy packing up, driving and relocating equipment to set up at your next location.

No Wedding is the Same 

Apart from every wedding being different, there are many other factors that may affect the schedule of photography for your day. For instance, if your Wedding is outside, with the Ceremony taking place at sunset, I may suggest a “First Look”. The First Look is name given to the moment when a Groom first sees his Bride before the ceremony. We may choose to do this First Look mini-photo shoot in combination with the Beauty Shots before the ceremony, because after the sunset Ceremony, the outdoor event will quickly become really dark and will not yield the best Beauty Shots. Yes, I bring professional studio lighting equipment with me, but I cannot light a golf course, its trees, and the mountain behind it. : )

So, to estimate your photographic coverage time, you may start by laying out your Wedding Day’s components and then look at which portions you would like covered photographically, cross out those you don’t want covered, and adding Idle Time in 1 hour increments for those large gaps.

Preparations (Bride & Groom)              Location / Start Time / End Time / Travel Time to Ceremony

Ceremony                                           Location / Start Time / End Time

After Ceremony Formals                     Location / Start Time / End Time / Travel Time to Beauty Shots

Beauty Shots                                       Location / Start Time / End Time / Travel Time to Reception

Reception:                                          Location / Start Time / End Time

Cocktail Hour
First Dance
Cake Cutting
Bouquet /Garter Toss
Other events
Departure of Bride & Groom

Idle Time: A break in your continuous photographic coverage.

So I hope this breakdown of Wedding Day events helps! After you lay out your wedding day’s schedule with the portions you would like covered photographically, you should then have a better idea of what your Photographic needs are and a good estimate of the time you will require. Then we can discuss how to make the best use of your funds and give you a beautiful photographic record of your Wedding Day. I’m happy to meet with you personally, speak to you over the phone, or just exchange correspondence via email – I Skype too.

Thank you!