How Many Hours of Wedding Photography Coverage Do You Need?

This is a question I’m asked by pretty much every couple who hires me, so I thought an article might be useful to give a more in-depth answer. Keep in mind that every wedding is a little different, but hopefully this guide will give you a good start in figuring out how much wedding photography coverage time you need from your photographer.

Which events do you want captured?

Most wedding days can be broken down into a series of smaller events that take place throughout the day. These are the most common wedding events that are captured along with an estimate of the time needed:

  • Getting Ready (30 minutes – 1 hour)
  • Wedding Party (30 minutes)
  • Bride’s Portraits (30 minutes)
  • Groom’s Portraits (30 minutes)
  • Ceremony (30 minutes – 1 hour)
  • Family Formals (30 minutes – 1 hour, but more on this later!)
  • Wedding Couple Portraits (30 minutes)
  • Cocktail Hour (30 minutes – 1 hour)
  • Reception Introductions/First Dances/Parent Dances (30 minutes)
  • Dinner (30 minutes – 1 hour)
  • Cake Cutting/Toasts & Speeches (30 minutes)
  • Dancing (varies, usually 2-4 hours with other events throughout)
  • Bouquet/Garter Toss/Send-off & Getaway (30 minutes)

TOTAL HOURS: 8-11 or more!
And this doesn’t include a lot of the “in-between” stuff like detail shots, guests arriving for the ceremony, etc.


Need to reduce the # of coverage hours?

Let the second photographer cover some events simultaneously

Many wedding photographers utilize a second photographer to help them provide complete coverage of your wedding day. Depending on how experienced they are, it’s possible that the second shooter can cover some of your events at the same time as your primary. Getting Ready and Wedding Party Portraits are often photographed simultaneously, for example.

Keep in mind, though, that your lead photographer should be allowed to make the decision about whether they are comfortable with their second shooters covering these events for them. Challenging locations & lighting situations may be more complex for our less-experienced shooters and we may prefer to be on hand personally for these.

Eliminate coverage of events at the beginning or end of the day

Do you really need your professional photography team with you for an hour or two of hair & makeup photos at the salon? Keep in mind that for the first hour or so, most of your gals will be in casual clothing with messy hair and no makeup, so it may not be worth the added cost to have your photographer there if they are hiding from the camera.

There’s often several hours of dancing before the Getaway & Send-off at the end of the night. If you aren’t planning a special exit, or if those photos aren’t that important to you, you might consider having your photographers cover about an hour of dancing only. Unless you are including things like a bouquet toss or other special events towards the end of your reception, 2-3 hours of general dancing may be more than you really need.

Choose your timeline wisely

By simply changing the order of your wedding day events, your photographer may be able to shoot more efficiently and cut down on some of the time needed. First Looks are more popular than ever before, and they can often shave a full hour off of your timeline. (Not sure if a First Look is right for you? Read more in my First Look article!)

How many formal portraits do you really need?

Portraits of your family are a very important part of your wedding day, and I don’t think I’ve photographed a wedding yet where these weren’t wanted. I highly recommend making a list of the important family groups that absolutely must be captured as “formal” portraits. Keep this list of must-haves to immediate family only (parents, grandparents, siblings & their families) but then create a second list of “like-to-haves” that can be taken as time allows. This way your photographer knows which ones can’t be missed, but if time is running tight they can fall back on less formal group photos during the reception if needed.

I also urge you to keep any post-ceremony portrait time limited to no more than 1 hour. Your guests will hopefully be enjoying cocktail hour during this time, but you don’t want to keep them waiting for the rest of the festivities!

Ask about adding coverage time later as needed

Most of my wedding couples book me a full year or more in advance, and they usually have no idea of their wedding day timeline at that point. All of my wedding packages start with a 6-hour minimum so couples with shorter weddings aren’t paying for coverage they don’t need, but I allow an option to add additional coverage hours at any point. We always have a final consultation about 4-6 weeks prior to the wedding where we discuss the timeline & shot list, and if at that point we realize that more coverage is needed we simply adjust the contract and final balance due. But be sure to keep this in mind and budget accordingly so there are no surprises later if you decide to add extra hours.


Only you can decide how much coverage you really need and how far your photography budget can go. My estimated 8-ish hours of wedding day coverage is just an estimate, so be sure to talk to your photographer about your specific wedding day and budget.

Want to talk to me about your wedding day timeline & budget? I’d love to hear from you!