Once you’ve decided on a wedding date and secured a venue, the next task on your overwhelming to-do list is to hire a wedding photographer. Many photographers try to make this process as painless as possible for you by putting together packages that include a set number of hours of coverage and perhaps a specific number of high-quality prints or an album. But how do you figure out how much photography coverage you need?
The answer is always, “more than you think.” Most weddings last around five to six hours from the start of the ceremony to the end of dancing. So you might think a wedding photography package that includes six hours of coverage would be sufficient, right? Wrong. (Prefer watching videos to reading? Skip to the end to find my YouTube video explaining all this stuff.)
The wedding day begins well before the ceremony starts. Hair and makeup will begin at least a few hours before the ceremony, and perhaps quite early in the morning if you have a lot of bridesmaids who are all having hair and makeup done. (See this post about who should pay for those professional services.) The “getting ready” time with your attendants and mom is a chance to drink a little Champagne, catch up on everyone’s life, and relax a bit before the big show begins. It can be really fun to have photos of this time.
And no wedding album is complete without some shots of the bride finalizing her dress, veil, and jewelry. But if you haven’t budgeted enough time for the photographer to capture these memories, all you’ll have is some poorly lit and badly framed iPhone photos. And nobody wants that.
The “getting ready” portion of the day is also when your photographer snaps photos of your dress hanging in the window, your shoes and jewelry staged for display, and your invitation suite (like the photo above). These are classic photos that you don’t want to miss out on.
Extra photographer time becomes even more important if you’re having a first-look photo session. These are usually scheduled for about two hours prior to the ceremony start time and last for about an hour and a half. Wait, what? An hour and a half for a first-look?
Yes. The first-look isn’t just couple photos. We start with those, but then we also do wedding party photos and immediate family photos. We allow about half an hour for each of the three components. And you have to finish these photos at least half an hour before the ceremony begins so that you can be hidden away when guests start arriving.
On the back end, we can usually get away with letting the photographers leave before the end of the reception, unless you’re planning a grand exit, in which case you’ll want the photographers on hand to capture that. But with no grand exit, we can usually structure your timeline so that the major events (first dance, parent dances, cake cutting, bouquet/garter toss) are done well before the end of the reception.
You only need so many photos of guests dancing. We make sure the photographer is present for at least some of the dancing, to capture the mood of the party. But usually the last hour of the reception is just more of the same, from a photography standpoint.
So back to the original question: how many hours of wedding photography do you need? We recommend at least eight. Here’s an abbreviated sample timeline:
12 - 2:30 getting ready
3 - 4:30 first-look
5 - 5:30 ceremony
5:30 - 6:30 cocktail hour
6:30 - 7:45 grand entrance, dinner, toasts
7:45 - 8 special dances
8 - 8:30 dancing
8:30 - 8:45 cake cutting and bouquet/garter toss
8:45 - 10 or 11 dancing
If you book your photographer for eight hours, she can arrive around 1 pm to capture the getting ready time, and depart around 9 pm, once all the scheduled events have happened. Anything less, and you’re going to find that we have to skimp on getting photos of everything.
When you find a photographer you like, if her packages don’t fit your needs exactly, don’t be afraid to reach out to her anyway. There’s a good chance that she can customize something just for you.
Will the additional hours of coverage cost you more? Yes. Will it be worth it? Yes. When you look at photos from your wedding five, ten, fifty years after the day, will you remember the extra money you spent on a photographer? Absolutely not.
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