How Much Wedding Photography Coverage Do I Need?

How Much Wedding Photography Coverage Do I Need

When starting the search for your wedding photographer a common theme you might notice is that photographers often base their pricing on the number of hours of coverage your wedding needs. This leads to you asking, “How much wedding photography coverage do I need.” 

As a wedding photographer, we fully understand what that amount of coverage would look like on a wedding day. As an engaged couple, you likely have no idea what the difference between 6, 8, or 10 hours of coverage is. I’ve found that 8 hours of coverage is typically the sweet spot. You might think of 10 hours of coverage if there is driving between different locations and if you have a longer reception and want your photographer to stay until the end. 

In this post I’m going to walk you through the main parts of a wedding day with time estimates included and what is typically photographed. 

Want a printable timeline to use as a draft? I’m providing a free one to download at the bottom of this post!

bride's sister zipping up wedding dress

Getting Ready

I recommend planning for 1.5 to 2 hours for getting ready photos. 

Your getting ready location is usually the first place I arrive on a wedding day. If my client has details I’ll spend 30-45 minutes photographing those (invite, rings, shoes, the dress, special heirlooms). If details are important to you, I’d suggest considering two hours so your photographer has time to arrange and style your details. 

Getting ready photos will typically include photos of the bride and bridesmaids getting their hair makeup done and candids of everyone hanging out. When the bride’s hair and makeup are done then we’ll set up an area for her to put on her dress, jewelry, and shoes. Bridesmaids will usually get dressed at that time too. Usually close family members of the bride will help her get into her dress. Thinking of a bridesmaid reveal? We’ll have the bridesmaids go to another room, until the bride is dressed and ready to reveal her dress!

If you’d like photos of the groom getting ready too, it’s important to consider where he’ll be getting ready at. This is often where having a second photographer is helpful. If a second photographer isn’t there, the photographer might have to go back and forth to different locations.  If the groom is nearby, then I’ll go to the groom’s location and get photos of him putting on his jacket and fixing his tie and cufflinks. If the groom has special details those will get photographed too. Candid photos of the groom hanging out with his groomsmen will also happen during this time. 

Groom Reaction to First Look with Bride

First Look

I recommend 1 hour for the first look and photos after the first look.

If a first look is something you are planning to do, then I recommend allocating at least 3 hours before the ceremony for both getting ready and first look. 

What is a first look? It’s when a couple sees each other BEFORE the ceremony. Traditionally a couple won’t see each other until they are walking down the aisle. There are several benefits of a first look. It’s one way to get most of your photos done before the ceremony, so you can spend more time with your guest post-ceremony. Some couples choose a first look to have a few moments of private time together and to calm any nerves before the whirlwind of their wedding day begins. 

Once the bride and groom are ready, I’ll have a location where they’ll do their first look. Often I’ll do photos with the couple right after that. Or I’ll grab the bridesmaids and groomsmen, and we’ll do full wedding party photos. 

To add more detail I usually plan 15 minutes for the first look, 30 minutes for bride and groom photos, 30 minutes for all wedding party photos (full party, bridesmaids, groomsmen), and another 15-20 minutes for family photos before (if family members are there in time before the ceremony). All of these photos can be done before the ceremony!

Not doing a first look? 

I plan for at least 1.5 hours of time for photos AFTER the ceremony.

You want to keep things traditional and wait to see each other until walking down the aisle.

If you’re not doing a first look, I plan for at least 1.5 hours of time for photos after the ceremony. This would include family photos (30 minutes), wedding party photos (20 minutes), and your husband and wife portraits (45 minutes). If not doing a first look I like to aim to do photos of just bridesmaids and just groomsmen before the ceremony at least. Then after the ceremony we would do full photos of the wedding party. 

Lyons-Farmette Wedding in Boulder

The Ceremony 

I recommend 30-45 minutes for a non-church ceremony. If doing a Catholic or church ceremony, potentially 1-1.5 hours. 

I encourage couples to plan for their ceremony to happen two hours before sunset. Be sure to factor in time change when planning this too! If you are doing a traditional ceremony usually 30-45 minutes is enough time to block for. I’d add buffer time of 15-30 minutes before the ceremony of “nothing.” Just time for you to relax and prep before you walk down the aisle. If possible, I’ll use the 15-30 minutes of  time before the ceremony to photograph ceremony and reception details (if the reception is in the same location). 

Planning a church ceremony? You’ll need to account for 1-1.5 hours of time, especially if you are doing a traditional Catholic ceremony! If you’re Catholic, you know wedding ceremonies are a little longer. 

Family Photos 

I plan for at least 30 minutes.

Family photos typically happen right after the ceremony. While guests head off toward cocktail hour, family photos are happening. 

Family photos should take less than 30 minutes. If you have a list of all family combinations with names of family members, then your family photos can be really quick. If you are including lots of extended family in your photos, keep in mind those photos will take longer. Before the wedding, I send a questionnaire to my couple’s that includes a family formals list that they complete. This makes family photos go so much faster!

Mariachi Band at Wedding Reception

Cocktail Hour

I plan for  1-1.5 hours of cocktail hour.

If you didn’t do a first look, then while your guests are enjoying cocktail hour we’ll  be taking photos. After family photos then photos with your wedding party would be next (15-30 minutes depending if any were done before). After wedding party is done then I typically spend at least 30 minutes of time with the couple for their portraits. If I know we are doing sunset photos later, then I’ll keep that in mind too. 

If you want photos of your guests mingling and hanging out, then a second photographer would be a great addition for your day to get snap photos of guests while I’m with the couple.

If you did a first look and all photos before the ceremony, then I’ll likely grab you for 15-30 minutes of couple’s portraits post-ceremony and during sunset. You aren’t off the hook yet!

After family, wedding party, and couple portraits, I like to photograph as many reception details as possible before guests are seated too. This is another area I like to make room for at least 15 minutes of time.

The Barn at Raccoon Creek Denver Wedding Venue


I plan for 2-3 hours of reception. 

The time allocated for reception really depends on each couple and what they are planning for during their reception. While you are eating dinner I  also hop in the buffet line or will eat a vendor meal. A girl’s gotta eat and keep energy up for the rest of the reception activities! Here are some things to consider for your reception timeline. 

  • Dinner: 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on buffet, plated service, etc.
  • Toasts: 15-20 minutes (unless you have some long winded speakers)
  • First Dances: 15 minutes (3-5 minutes each)
  • Cake Cutting: 5-10 minutes
  • Any reception games/bouquet/garter: 15-20 minutes
  • Open Dancing: 1-2 hours depending on how much you’d like that photographed
  • Exit/Fake Exit: 15 minutes 

The Exit

I plan for 15-30 minutes for the exit!

Dreaming of a sparkler exit, but don’t want two full hours of dancing photos before the end of the night? Consider doing a fake exit! Once your exit is done, then you can go back into your reception to dance and chat with your guests all night long. The one thing to keep in mind is to make it clear to your guests that THE PARTY IS NOT OVER! A fake exit is a great option, but sometimes it can kill the vibe of the party.

With all my couples I help them put together a timeline that perfectly fits what they’re looking for and needing on their wedding day! Trust me, I don’t send them this post to figure it all out on their own, but hopefully this gives you a good place to start.

Want a visual example of what 6, 8, and 10 hours of wedding coverage could look like? Download my free wedding timeline templates!

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