How many hours of wedding photography do you need?

This is a popular question and with good reason. Offerings from wedding photographers range from wedding collections with a set number of wedding day coverage, to a la carte options allowing you to choose exactly what you’d like. You may even run across photographers with wedding collections offering “all day coverage”. Of course, the latter comes with its expense but may be a great value for those who envision a longer wedding day. With so many options, how many hours of wedding day coverage is right for you?

Wedding at the Hall and Gardens at Landmark

We receive several hundred wedding photography inquiries every year. I’ve seen a significant percentage of couples pause when reviewing wedding collections and wondering which is right for them.  I want to help you to better understand exactly how many hours you want, and likely save you some last minute panic and possibly so money along the way.

Backyard Wedding Portrait

What does the average wedding day look like? You’ll have your:

  • Wedding preparation
  • Wedding ceremony
  • Post-ceremony portraits
  • Wedding reception

More and more couples are adding these before the ceremony:

  • Wedding day bridal portraits
  • First looks before the ceremony

And also adding these after the ceremony:

  • Bride + Groom alone portraits
  • The desire to enjoy cocktail hour w/ guest
  • Ballroom reveals
  • Grand exit at the end of the reception
Wedding Day Portraits at Duke Gardens

These are activities many couples incorporate in their wedding days. That said, I am a big proponent of couples making their wedding day their own! Whatever you’d like for your wedding day, there are a few things you don’t want to overlook:

  • How long transitions and travel really take
  • Time the bride will be tucked away before the ceremony so the guest won’t see her
  • The time needed to capture ceremony and reception details
  • How much time should be added to allow people to enjoy the wedding day

So how much time will you need on your wedding day? Well, that depends on what you want to do. I’ll discuss how long it may typically take for the most common activities we run across with our couples. This is a generic review, however, we customize a wedding day photography timeline for all of our couples.

You can save yourself a few days of head-scratching and some post-wedding regret by allowing us to help you determine what’s best for you by contacting us here.

If you’re the DIY type, or intrigued to know more, read on …

Wedding Preparation

The getting ready time of the day is an important part of the wedding day story.

Bride’s details + makeup application: Our wedding days typically start when the bride sits in the makeup chair. In our area, most makeup artists spend about an hour with the bride. While the bride is sitting for the early portion of her makeup application I’m photographing her details. This includes her gown, shoes, jewelry, stationery, flowers, etc. By the time we complete the details, the bride’s makeup application is just about complete. We then capture the finishing touches while the bride is looking amazing! The time for this is 1 – 1.5 hours.

Wedding rings photographed at the City Club Raleigh
Bride's makeup application before her Prestonwood Country Club wedding celebration.

Brides and bridesmaids in robes: Have you seen those cute images of the bridal team in matching outfits (robes, shirts, jumpsuits, etc)? This might take place in the hotel room, on a porch, on a large bed, in the backyard, etc. You may want to pop champagne, throw glitter, show face being cute, or otherwise just having fun with your ladies. The time for this is 15 – 30 minutes (depending on what you’d like to do and where you’d like to do it).

Bridesmaids in Pajamas

Bride getting dressed: This part of the day can make for a great portrait in the wedding album. Ideally, the room is spacious with ample window light. Your mom and select bridesmaids will help you. This can make for a very beautiful portrait of the bride getting ready! The time for this is 30 minutes.

Mint Museum Uptown wedding preparation

First looks: This activity allows beautiful moments to be enjoyed and captured, such as the first time her father she’s the bride in her wedding gown. Or, the first time mom sees her son in his tux ready to marry his bride. Or even, the first time the bride & groom see each other and enjoy that moment alone, together. The time for this is 15 – 30 minutes (depending on where you’d like this to take place).

Bride and Groom First Touch at the Hall and Gardens at Landmark

Bridal portraits: This is something that can be done in advance of the wedding day. However, I find most often my brides are opting to capture their bridal portrait on the day of the wedding. This allows the couple and family to have images of the bride looking amazing in her gown. The time for this is 30 minutes (depending on where you’d like this to take place).

Wedding Day Bridal Portrait at the DoubleTree Hilton Brownstone in Raleigh

Bridal party portraits: For those brides who want to slay with her bridesmaids, this is for you! Although photos of the bridal party are also often captured after the wedding ceremony, adding this activity before the ceremony allows for different styling, location, and overall look. The time for this is 30 minutes (depending on where you’d like this to take place).

Millennium Center wedding photo

Groom Prep: All the items above were discussed from the brides perspective. However, all of them are applicable to the groom’s wedding day preparation as well. This is where having a second photographer would allow the activities to happen in parallel. If you have a single photographer on your wedding day, you’ll need to plan your wedding day photography schedule accordingly.

Umstead Hotel Wedding
Groom Getting Ready at the Hall and Gardens at Landmark
Groom getting ready for his wedding at Umstead Hotel

Lastly, you’ll want to comprehend:

  • Travel time between the getting ready location and the ceremony location.
  • The time the bride might want to be tucked away so the guest do not see her in advance of the ceremony. This is often 1 hour before the ceremony.

Wedding Ceremony

The wedding ceremonies vary depending on religious affiliation, ethnic backgrounds, and the bride + groom’s desires. I’ve photographed ceremonies that were as short as 10 minutes and as long as 1.5 hours (Coptic Christian weddings).

One of the things you’ll want to plan for is the transition time from the ceremony to whatever you choose to do next. Most often the next activity is the post-ceremony portraits (also known as the family formals) and the cocktail hour. However, some couples have an extended amount of time between the ceremony and the reception. For example, a Catholic Wedding Mass might take place in the morning with a cocktail hour and reception later in the evening.

City Club Raleigh Wedding Ceremony
First Presbyterian Church Durham wedding ceremony

Post Ceremony Portraits

Family formals often take place right after the wedding ceremony. We discuss, in advance, what portrait groups our couples would like on the wedding day. I’m always mindful of what groups the family would like as well. This is another important time of the day. For many families, this is one of the rare occasions when almost all the family members are together and dressed for a formal portrait. I’ve established what amount of time is needed to prepare for the portraits, as well as how long it will take to complete them. The time for this is 30 – 60 minutes (depending on how extensive a list of formals are desired).

Sheraton Hotel downtown Raleigh wedding portrait

Bride + Groom Portraits

This is your opportunity to capture images of you and your spouse (yes, you’re married now) together, alone. Many of my couples still prefer not to see each other before the ceremony, therefore this is their first portraits together on the wedding day. I like to create these stylized images at a location away from the family and friends. I want my couples to have a moment to let it all sink in and enjoy each other before greeting their guest. The time for this is 30 – 120 minutes (depending on how much time we have and the locations the couple agrees to).

Kure Beach wedding photo
Governors Club wedding
Wedding portrait at the Hall and Gardens at Landmark

Cocktail Hour

After the ceremony, the guest often enjoy cocktails + h’orderves prior to the wedding reception. Most of our couples prefer to have this activity documented (photographed) because:

  • The bride + groom aren’t present and will only enjoy the cocktail hour via the pictures later.
  • The couple prefers candid images of their family and friends.
  • The couple has invested in the cocktail hour and wants images to remember it.

The time for this is 60 – 90 minutes (depending on how long it’ll take to flip a ballroom, the entertainment arranged, or the desires of the couple).

Ballroom Reveals

Our couple often invests in beautiful reception locations + decor. When the schedule allows, we like for our couples to see their ballroom before the guest enter. This reveal gives them time to “ooh and aah” over how their planning has come together. During this time we create a portrait of the couple in the midst of their decor. The time for this is 15 – 30 minutes (depending on the depth of portraits the couple would like created for them on the day).

Prestonwood Country Club Wedding Reception
Barclay Villa wedding photo

Wedding Reception

The wedding reception (which I like to call the celebration) is planned between the wedding planner, venue coordinator and the couple. The order of activities often includes (but aren’t limited to) the entrance, first dances, dinner, speeches, cake cutting, the tosses, and open dancing. You’ll most likely want your photographer to cover all of these activities and at least some of the dancing. I love to include an entire spread in the wedding album that shows how much fun the guest had celebrating on the dance floor. The time for this is 2.5 – 4 hours (depending on the reception activities, schedule and the amount of dancing the couple wants to be covered).

Suite 300 Greensboro wedding reception

Grand Exit

It’s the end of the day and you’ve planned a send-off for the evening. This can also be done during the day after the ceremony. If your grand exit is during the day our couples often choose bubbles and sometimes confetti (beware of the clean up for the later). A horse and carriage are really nice, but cars and limousines are more common. During the evening our couples often choose sparklers or glow sticks. The time for this is 15 minutes.

Butler Chapel Wedding
Barclay Villa wedding exit

OK, so the question still stands: How many hours of wedding day coverage do you need for your wedding day? I’d love to make this process much easier for you. We complete a wedding day photography timeline for all of our couples. This timeline fits within and works in conjunction with the overall wedding day timeline created by your wedding planner. Our timeline is focused on what the couple wants to remember their wedding day. A custom timeline is best because one size fits all rarely looks good on anyone.

How many hours of wedding day coverage is right for you?

We photograph intimate weddings with coverage as little as 5 or 6 hours with one photographer. More often we’re photographing larger and longer affairs starting with 8+ hours with two photographers. We have special options for those needing 10+ hours of wedding day coverage. Allow us to help you determine what’s best for you by contacting us here.

African American Wedding Photographer