How Long Do I Need a Photographer On My Wedding Day?

I like to browse various social media forums where brides are discussing their wedding planning, just so I can see what kind of issues they are experiencing and get a better feel for how I can provide service with value.

One issue that seems to come up regularly involves trying to put together a time line of the day.  I can understand that.  For many couples, this is the first “big” event that they have had to plan and chances are they have a number of people offering their own experiences and advice that can be overwhelming.

One of the decisions is hiring a wedding photographer.  The good news is that a professional wedding photographer will have a website and be ready to offer images showing how they cover a wedding so you can judge whether or not you like their style.  That’s the easy part.  The harder question I suspect is can I afford them?

Generally, for a wedding photographer time is money.  A full package can see us hustling through a 10 to 12 hour day, and even after that, we have to offload our images, back them up, cull through them, edit them, and back them up again before we can deliver them to you.  The post-wedding work can take as long as the wedding day itself!  So for many photographers, their pricing is based on how long they will be at your wedding.

The answer to how long you need them to be at your wedding depends on what you want them to photograph.  At first you might think, well, I want them to cover my wedding day, but is that a 4 hour duration, a 6 hour duration, or even a 12 hour duration?  To help you answer that and estimate how long you need a photographer there, it helps to look at the type of pictures taken throughout a typical wedding day.

But note – you may want less, you may want more, you may want to spend two hours after the ceremony hiking to a waterfall just to take formal portraits there (happened to a buddy of mine).  There is no “right” way to do things – the only right way is what meets your expectations and budget.


If you look at this infographic, you can see that the day is divided into two parts – everything that happens before the ceremony and everything that happens after it.  Let’s look at each part.


This the part of the day when everyone is getting ready.  During this time, the bride and her bridesmaids may be at a salon or in a hotel room with a team of stylists getting hair and makeup done, while the groom and his men are waiting for the time when they need to suit up.

You can see that the time estimate for this varies from one to four hours.  That’s a big difference, but a bride with two bridesmaids with only the bride getting styled will take far less time than a bride with six bridesmaids, and a flower girl, and the mothers of the couples all having their hair and makeup done (this is why trial runs for hair and makeup done before the wedding day can be critical).  In addition, there may be other activities taking place.  The groom and his groomsmen are shooting skeet.  The bride wants to take time to give her bridesmaids gifts.  Traditions specific to your culture. 

You may want your photographer to capture fun, candid shots of everyone getting their hair and makeup done, as well as the groom and his guys hanging out and later putting on their tuxedos.  So you would be willing to pay the photographer for the time to be there, as well as for a second shooter if you and your groom are getting ready in two different locations that prevents one photographer from covering it all.

Or you may decide that you only want to have your photographer capture the “final touches,” such as your Mom or Maid of Honor placing your veil on you, or lacing up the back of your dress.  That will not take as much time for the photographer and so you ask them to arrive later than when you started getting ready.

During this time, I also take the detail images, such as pictures of the dress, shoes, bouquet, rings, and special jewelry.


What do you plan to do before the ceremony?  Several things are popular with couples are:

First Look.  Once you and your groom are dressed and ready, you can take some time away from the bustle to spend a quiet moment with each other, delighting in seeing you both dressed up in wedding finery.  For your photographer, this can be an ideal time to do formal bridal portraits, or you may choose just to have them capture the moment.  This can take 10 minutes to an hour.

Note/Gift Exchange.  For couples who do not want to see each other before the ceremony, they opt to do a note exchange of short letters letting each other know how they are feeling this day, and sometimes includes a gift to one another.  These can be done around a corner where you won’t see the other, or in separate locations.  Generally, this can take 10 to 15 minutes.

Reveal.  Some brides want to have a special time when their father, or both parents, see her for the first time in her wedding gown.  Moments like this often produce genuine and very heartfelt reactions that your photographer can capture.  And it is not just for brides, as grooms might do the same for their parents.  This usually takes 10 to 15 minutes.

Family/Wedding Party Pictures.  You may want to get a head start on family pictures or pictures with the bridal party.  This depends on what you want and whether you and your spouse-to-be plan on seeing each other before the wedding.  If you are not planning on seeing one another before the ceremony, you may want pictures done of each of you with your own family and pictures of you alone with members of the wedding party. 

But take note:  you can come up with numerous variations of picture taking when dealing with family and wedding party pictures.  If it is important to you to have them, then you have to be willing to make the time to do them.  You also have to think about whether they will all be taken in the same spot, or whether you want different settings; if you do want different settings, based on lighting conditions you may have to move around to different locations, which takes up more time.  And I would remiss if I did not warn you that sometimes getting family members together for a picture is like herding cats – everyone is ready to go, except now Uncle Bob is missing because he stepped outside for “just a quick smoke.”


I recommend to couples that they plan to do nothing in the hour before the ceremony starts.

Use that time to decompress.  Take a breath.  Maybe even grab a sandwich.  Chances are good that due to excitement and last-minute details, or a late rehearsal dinner, you have not had a good night’s sleep the night before your wedding.  Guests will start arriving about an hour before the wedding and if they see you, they will want to talk to you, hug you, kiss you, tell you how beautiful you look, and fawn over you.  While they have the best of intentions, it can add to any anxiety you may be having.

And if the pre-ceremony portion of your timeline slips, you will have that hour as a buffer.  Because yes, things can happen.  Your stylist promised three people to do hair and makeup, but one called in sick that morning.  The limo got stuck in traffic.  Your best man left the rings back at the hotel.  The florist got a late start decorating the church.  Things like this can happen and that hour can help save you from worry and stress.


Everyone lines up.  The music starts.  You start walking down the aisle.  And your photographer captures all of it.

The next thing you know, you’re walking back with your new husband.  You did it!

Now what?


A decision to make is what do you want to the 20 to 200 people who showed up to do.  Are you going to greet them in a receiving line as they exit the ceremony?  Do you want them to head over to the cocktail reception right now?  Or do you want them to line up with bubbles to blow while you do a formal exit from your ceremony?

And what about those pictures of family and the wedding party that did not get taken before the ceremony?  Once more, it may be time to round up the same group of people, except now you are looking for pictures with the couple and various family members, guests, etc. 

Now is also the time when formal portraits of the couple typically are done, unless they have been done at a First Look.  Some couples want to have all their pictures finished before their reception – it’s over, it’s taken care of, and they can enjoy their reception while the photographer captures the candid moments of it.

But another couple may want to capture a certain time of the day, such as sunset.  That may not be possible at this time, especially in the warmer months when sunset comes later.  It may make sense to take some time out from the reception to do these pictures; in fact, I have found that couples have enjoyed taking a short break from their reception to step away from the music and bustle, and do portraits in a more quiet setting.


It will be your photographer’s job to capture all the events of the reception.  But you might want to consider whether you want to pay for your photographer to stay for the entire receptions.  Here is the reason: when the cake has been cut and the bouquet tossed, and all that is left is two to three hours of dancing, the images can start looking very much the same.  If you are working with a budget – and knowing that a photographer’s time is money – you may want to have your photographer stop their work before the end of the evening. 


If you are planning a special exit from your reception or ending – think sparklers or even fireworks – but don’t want to pay your photographer to wait until then, a suggestion is to have your “exit” earlier, and then invite people to stay for the “after party.”  Not only does this allow your photographer to take their leave, but it can also be a good point for more mature guests or guests with young children to say goodbye without feeling guilty that they are leaving your party.


Communication is key.  When you sit down to meet a wedding photographer, while you don’t have to have every detail known, it helps to discuss your ideas and expectations for the images you want from your wedding.  If you are working with a tight budget, maybe there are parts of the day that you would want a professional photographer to capture and find another way of picture taking for the rest of it.  As a wedding professional, I welcome collaboration with a couple so that I can ensure that I know what to deliver to make the permanent memories of their wedding day – their photos – be wonderful.

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