How Many Hours of Wedding Photography Do I Need?

March 28, 2019

Maybe this photographer is just trying to pull one over on me. There’s NO way I could need that many hours of photo coverage…right? How many hours of wedding photography do I really need?

One of the most common mistakes brides make is miscalculating their timeline and photo coverage. They forget to account for the little things in between the big moments. These little errors can lead to big stress! A few minutes here and there of lost time can add up quickly, especially when you have vendors who are there on an hourly schedule. Let’s discuss a few ways you can calculate how much time you really need!

Let me first say that if you’re in the process of shopping for a photographer, this should be something that they are eager to discuss with you before giving you a price! Why? Because weddings vary greatly! How can they know how many hours you should pay for until they know the specifics of YOUR wedding? Wedding photography is NOT a one size fits all service.


This section is first because it is the MOST IMPORTANT factor in figuring out how much time you need. Here are a couple of examples… Couple A really values family as a top priority. Getting a really good photo with all of the family members they’ve invited is a big priority for this couple. The thing is, a typical wedding timeline allots about 20 minutes or so for family photos. On a wedding day, that 20 minutes feels like no time at all. If having some amazing family photos is on their priority list, then 20 minutes might not be enough to truly focus on what this couple values most! Knowing this ahead of time will allow the couple, wedding planner, and photographer to build a timeline that’s better suited to get great photographs of what’s most important to the couple.

This next example is one that actually happened with a client of mine. Couple B wanted AMAZING bride and groom photos at sunset! They even kept the guest list intimate so that they could make sure to have time to visit with their guests and still leave time for epic photos. The thing is, their wedding venue didn’t really have an “epic” picture spot, it was a winter wedding, so the sunset was very early, and the photo location they love is about a 2o minute drive from the venue if they wanted to get there in time for golden hour. I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that this situation needed to be strategically planned out!

What events will be covered?

When I’m first discussing coverage with a couple this is one of the primary questions I’m trying to answer. It might seem like a silly question, but given the variety of wedding customs these days, it’s actually a very useful piece of information. Some brides want getting ready coverage, some don’t. Some couples want TONS of dancing photos, others just want coverage up to cake cutting. Some couples have chosen to have their ceremony and reception at the same location, others have chosen a reception location that requires a 25-minute drive in between. Some weddings have 20 person bridal parties and some only have 4. All of these things have a huge impact on the amount of time you need coverage for.

One specific event I want to mention, because this comes up a lot, is “getting ready.” If you chose to have “getting ready” photos taken, you should allow for 1.5 to 2 hours of coverage for this part of the day. This rule applies to the groom’s getting ready photo time too! It may only take a few minutes to just put on a suit, but for photo coverage, we’re documenting details, the interaction between you and your bridal party, and storytelling images of you getting ready. Good photography of these things requires time; trust me, it will be worth it!

Consecutive hours of coverage

Most commonly you’ll find that photography teams provide coverage in consecutive hours. Meaning, you can’t have them for an hour in the morning, stop the coverage and then start it up later in the afternoon again. The reason for this basically comes down to the simple fact that they cannot cover any other events on your wedding day; they must be fully present (physically and mentally) for only your event that day. So that time spent away from other clients, family and so on, is consecutive, regardless of how much drive time or downtime you might have on the day of.  Keep in mind too, that it’s not uncommon with large events (like weddings) that things run behind or unexpected things come up. So what looks like downtime on a timeline usually ends up getting filled with catching up on little delays!

Drive times

I see this mistake so often! Here’s a little trick for you as you create your timeline: Go to Google Maps on a computer and type in the address of your ceremony location as a destination. Then in the space for the “from” location, type in the address of your getting ready location. Then, just underneath you’ll see a little drop-down menu. Select “arrive by” and put in the date and time that you are supposed to arrive at your ceremony (remembering to also account for the time it will take you to park, get out of the car and get tucked away before you go down the aisle). Now look underneath where the direction options are. Google will tell you what time you need to leave your getting ready location in order to make it to your ceremony on time! Make a note of what time you need to leave on your timeline and use this method for any other day of locations as well.

Ceremony time vs how long a ceremony takes

You’ll also want to account for the amount of time each timeline item actually takes. For example, almost every single bride makes the same statement when we are timeline planning. “Our ceremony starts at four and it’s only thirty minutes, so we’ll be leaving for the reception around four-thirty.” This bride has forgotten to account for a few vital chunks of time… If your officiant/priest is given 30 minutes of time for the ceremony, that’s what they plan to use. This doesn’t count the time it takes you to walk up and down the aisle, guests stopping you on the way out, the time it will take to corral the bridal party into the limo, etc. It might seem like a small detail, but forgetting to factor in those things can cause a big discrepancy in your photography time.

Give yourself a few minutes here and there between each event to breathe. It’s a LONG day and it goes by really fast! At the very least, factor in time for yourself to eat a snack, or go to the bathroom so that you don’t have to feel rushed throughout the day! If you or your fiance are at all introverted, you will especially appreciate this on the big day!

How big is the bridal party and family photo list?

This might seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning: The more people you have, the more time it takes. Take into account the number of people you have in your bridal party as well as the number of family shots that need to be taken. If you want more information on how to organize your family photos for best results you’ll want to check out this article.

While we’re on the topic of people, it’s worth noting that we all have that one friend or one aunt who is notoriously late for everything. You might not be able to solve their tardiness problem, but you can work around it by planning ahead. Ask them to arrive a bit earlier than you actually need them. Let them know how important timeliness is in order to make your day run smoothly and keep stress low.


This is a part of the day that can easily run off schedule if not managed well. Having a solid team of professional vendors (wedding planner, photographer, and DJ/MC) will be the best thing you can do to keep things on time during your reception. As I mentioned previously, you’ll want to really think through the amount of time each timeline item takes, and give yourself some breathing room in case your best man’s speech runs a little over his allotted time.

So how many hours do you need? The answer depends on the factors we just mentioned, how many events you want covered, how many guests and travel times between locations. Factoring in a little padding throughout the day is important too! On average, I see most of my clients book around 8-10 hours of coverage and occasionally some with larger weddings will book us for 12+.

If you’re still looking for a wedding photographer in Southern California and you’d like help figuring out your timeline I’d be happy to help! Inquire by clicking here for more information!

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Enter your information to download my free wedding planning checklist. As a bonus, I'll also send you 8 tips for a low-stress wedding day!

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