How many hours of wedding photography do you need?

You’re planning your wedding and have found the photographer of your dreams! But what package do you want from them? Will you want photos of the whole day, from getting ready to leaving the reception, or would just half the day do? Do you need to add on extra hours? Is there a difference between full-day and all-day coverage? This seemingly simple concept can easily become confusing and overwhelming.

Every wedding and every couple are different, and the amount and type of coverage you need for your big day depends on a variety of factors, but there are a three things you should definitely keep in mind.

#1 Terms vary from photographer to photographer

Photography hours are continuous

When you book a wedding photographer, a majority of the time they factor their hours as continuous coverage. That means they’re going to photograph your day without breaks. For example, if you have eight hours of coverage, that’s eight hours from the time they arrive at the venue. A photographer typically doesn’t pause between events or segment their coverage.

What exactly does "Full Day" mean? ANd Do I need it?

When looking at package options, you may see phrases like “half-day coverage” or “full-day coverage.” Exactly what those terms mean depends on the photographer, so be sure to ask before you book so you know just what you’re getting. Some photographers consider eight hours a full day, while others mean twelve. Don’t assume you know what “full-day coverage” means!

Our base package starts at six hours of coverage and we go up from there. If you’re looking for just the basic coverage of the day as it unfolds with a handful of portraits this can be accomplished within 6 hours. However, if you want more coverage of the “behind the scenes” moments of the day like getting ready, first looks, or more time for creative portraits you will need additional time. We’d love to chat with you about what your vision of your wedding day looks like!

Anticipation of the first look. Bride and groom with their backs to one another in the front window lit room of The Lit a wedding venue in Grand Rapids, MI. Wedding Photographer March81 Photography. Dress from Magnolia Bridal and Tux from Bunny Tuxedo.

#2 The Story of Your Day

You’ve hired your photographer to capture your wedding story. Making sure you have the right amount of time to be able to tell this story is crucial. Every wedding is different, but most weddings can be broken up into getting ready, the first look, the ceremony, family portraits, and the reception. Let’s take a look at how long on average each part of the day will take.

Getting Ready - Approximately 3 Hours

A safe assumption is that each bridesmaid will take about an hour and a half to get ready, while the bride should have about three hours, just in case anything doesn’t go according to plan. However, if you only have one person doing hair and makeup, add a little extra time to everyone’s preparations as a buffer.

Getting ready may not seem like a huge deal, but it takes a significant amount of time, and couples often don’t schedule enough time for hair and makeup. If this part of the day takes too long, it can mess up your entire timeline and throw off the whole day, which is definitely the last thing you want!

The First Look - 30 Minutes

If you choose to have a first look with your partner before the ceremony, allot about 30 minutes for photos. Your first look should be an intimate, special moment, but it also shouldn’t take long, especially if it’s just you, your soon-to-be-spouse, and the photographer. Try to keep parents or the wedding party from hanging around and causing distractions or taking away from the moment.

Pre-Ceremony Portraits - 1-2 Hours

You want to make sure you look your best in your wedding portraits, so we suggest getting as many portraits done ahead of the ceremony as possible.

If you’ve chosen to do a first look we will get all of the bridal party portraits done ahead of the ceremony. This leaves only a few additional family portraits for after the ceremony and more time for you to party!

If you haven’t chosen to do a first look, we will still get as many bridal portraits completed without the bride or groom seeing each other. We can capture a lot of portraits of the bridesmaids, groomsmen and the bride with the groomsmen or the groom with bridesmaids.

Another thing to consider is where you want your portraits captured. If you want to go to an offsite spot such as downtown Grand Rapids or a favorite park that is away from where you’re getting ready or your ceremony location travel time and logistics of getting there will need to be considered.

Ceremony - 30 Minutes to 1 Hour

The length of your ceremony is entirely up to you and depends on what traditions or religious ceremonies you choose to include. Regardless of the length of your ceremony, consider adding 15 to 20 minutes of buffer time, just in case your officiant is running late or something else goes wrong.

Post-Ceremony Portraits - 30 Minutes family / 1 hour whole bridal party

After the ceremony is over, guests will head to the reception venue, leaving the couple, the wedding party, and family members to hang around for formal portraits. How long these portraits will take depends on the number of people being photographed and whether you have a first look because, if you choose not to have a first look, couple portraits will take place after the ceremony as well.

If all portraits are going to be taken post-ceremony, consider allocating about two hours for those images to be taken. That may seem like a long time, but you’d be surprised how much time it takes to get everyone together and posed. But, if you only need a few wedding party photos and images of your immediate family, you may only need an hour for photos after the ceremony.

REception - 2 to 3 hours

Like your ceremony, your reception will last for a specific amount of time, depending on how long you have your venue. Keep in mind, that depending on what style of a meal you’re serving and how many guests you have dinner time can widely range. Buffet service is usually much quicker than a plated meal and 100 guests can be fed a lot faster than 200 guests.

Your photographer doesn’t need to be there for the full reception time of four or five hours, just long enough to capture all the big events, like the first dance, parent dances, toasts, and cutting of the cake, as well as a few shots of everyone grooving on the dance floor. You can usually end your photography coverage an hour or so before the reception ends, when things are starting to wrap up and guests have begun to go home.

Lighting of the unity candle. The Red Shed, Hudsonville, MI. Photographed by March81 Photography
The wedding toast with sunflower bouquets and wooden arch. The Red Shed, Hudsonville, MI. Photographed by March81 Photography

#3 Stay in Conversation with your photographer

To make sure you get the coverage you want of your wedding, it’s important to talk to your photographer about what details and moments matter most to you. Maybe you only want images of the ceremony. Maybe you want to capture every second of your day. No matter what you want, your photographer can work with you to make sure you have the coverage you need.

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MIchael and Jennifer at the beach portrait of West Michigan Wedding Photographers, owners of March81 Photography