I get this question a lot: how many hours should you book a wedding photographer?
What photography package do we need?
When I started changing my field from glamour and boudoir photography to wedding photography, I couldn’t realize why couples ask me this question when I am not their wedding planner and soon I realized why I was wrong! In fact, I am the one who should support them in this decision. The more experienced photographer I became, the more clear vision I gained to help my clients with such a matter.
In this blog post, I would like to give you an insight into what needs to be photographed and how much time should be dedicated to it. Stay with me to the end, I have a special bonus for you; you should not miss it.
Ideally, couples book their photographers right after reserving the venue, which means it will be roughly one year from the wedding day as we discussed in the previous blog post:
It is too much of an expectation to know the detail of your wedding day one year in advance.
That is why I always meet (e-meet if preferred) with my couple twice:
For both, I designed a questionnaire to document all the information in one place to refer to. Read the What does a Wedding Photographer really do? I shoot 25-30 weddings a year and I got to be organized.
Here is how I look at the wedding day in general; I categorize the wedding day into four sections:
Let’s discuss each section and raise the questions you need to ask along the way in order to have a better vision of how to design your timeline one year in advance and how many hours of coverage you are going to need for photos and videos.
By far, this part of the day is my favorite time on the entire wedding day. There is a sweet excitement going on with everyone that as a storyteller wedding photographer, I like to narrate Beautifully. Sometimes I have couples, in their consultation sessions, who tell me they don’t care about the getting ready images as they don’t want 100 images of the wedding gown and shoes and they care more about people.
Well, the photographer who focused only on the objects like wedding accessories, lost a ton! I personally, don’t spend too much time on that part. There is better stuff going on with the crowd that needs to be captured and unfortunately, lots of photographers lose such a great opportunity. No one hates having beautiful images of the dress and accessories but it should not be all about that. Or at least my style of photography _Documentary/ storytelling/ lifestyle photography_ cares more for human connection and interactions.
Some people like to get ready at home, and some prefer to get ready at a hotel or the bridal suite of the venue. Both are great. Home is more nostalgic to some people and the comfort of it gives them a sense of security, while others usually say that their house will get messy and they prefer to consider a hotel room or an Airbnb for the getting ready location.
Some venues also offer separate locations for the bride and groom to get ready, examples are Artifact Events venue, Bridge 410 venue, Salvage One venue, Fairlie venue, The Haight venue, The Farmhouse Plainfield, and etc.
Please read: What to focus on when starting to plan your wedding
Logistically, you also need to see which one is close to the next location, be it a first-look location or the ceremony.
I personally, need not more than one hour for this part of the day. I tell my couple to start their coverage when the makeup artist is supposed to be done with the bride. While she is doing the last touch-ups, I photograph the dress, shoes, jewelry, vow books, possibly the rings, and the bouquet. I hung the dress usually by the window or the chandelier; magically there is always a perfect spot for it in each room.
Next, I take some pictures f the bride finishing up her make-up and I focus on the people in the room. Sometimes the messiness of the room, tells the story of the getting ready experience. Before asking people to get dressed, I take a group shot of everyone in their PJs or robes then I tell them to get dressed.
I instruct the person, helping the bride _usually mon, sister, or the maid of honor_ to position herself by the source of light (window) and I focus on the thing that is taking place. I learned not to interrupt and let it go in a natural way.
I highly, strongly suggest adding a second shooter to your package, for you don’t want to miss any of these precious moments for the groom-to-be as well. While I am photographing the bride, my second shooter takes picture of the groom.
Next can be the ceremony or the first look.
It all depends on you and your plan. Some people like it in an old fashion way and traditional way, wanting to see each other for the first time walking down the aisle and some like to have a private moment together before the ceremony. I personally like the latter in which you get to capture some unique moments and love interaction and excitement without considering the formal atmosphere of the church or the ceremony location while so many pairs of eyes are looking at you. In the end, you get to have some portrait shots. For this segment of the day, I need 30 minutes. Please take the logistics and locations into consideration.
The Church ceremonies usually take longer. There are formal religions and traditions that should be done. This segment does really depend on your culture and religious point of view. I have shot 15-minute ceremonies to 2.5-hour Eastern and South Asian weddings. Once again, calculate the logistics and traffic once you are designing your rough timeline.
Don’t forget to do family formal shots right after the ceremony. I have a complete blog post about that. Feel free to read.
When you are planning for your wedding, make sure that sunset is at different times throughout the year, We have longer days in the summer and very short days in the winter. If you are a Pinterest fan, look at the portrait images you admire the most and see if they are taken by natural light or flash. Have in mind that it may not be possible to have portrait pictures with natural light if you get married at the church with no first look before the ceremony in November. The first look provides the opportunity to have some pictures with natural light for winter weddings and that is one of the reasons I like it when couples choose to have a first look with one another.
Another thing that you should take into consideration is the bridal party. If you have a bigger number of bridesmaids and groomsmen, the portrait pictures require more time.
Overall I need 1.5-2 hours to accomplish this segment of the day. I spend half of it on the group pictures and then individual shots of the bride with each and every bridesmaid and the groom with each and every groomsman. As soon as I get enough pictures, I will send them to enjoy the cocktail hour and focus on the couple for the remaining time. Believe me, managing the bridal party is the toughest part special if they had alcohol already. I tell my couples beforehand that I will be one bossy girl during the group portrait pictures; Loud and a bit mean. Just saying! Lol:D
If I have a second shooter (which I highly recommend), this part of the day goes more smoothly as the other photographer would take care of the groomsmen pictures, and right when the portrait images start, The second shooter can leave with the bridal party to cover the cocktail hour.
Because after being done with the portraits, I must run to the reception area to set up my lights and get ready for the entrance, and at the same time I need to grab some shots of the decoration. You’d better not miss documenting the beautiful decorations before the guests arrive. If my second photographer has enough images for the cocktail hour, then I send him/her to take some shots of the bride, bustling up her dress. Usually, this time of the day is when the bride bustle up her dress to get ready for the entrance, and the first dances and the tail of the dress should not slow her down. There are beautiful and funny moments that can be shot while the bridesmaids are trying to figure out how to bustle up the dress. Believe me, it is not easy and it normally takes longer than they anticipated. I highly recommend you practice it beforehand, for each style of dress, requires its own way of doing it.
Right after the cocktail hour, the guests sit and the newly wedded couple enters the room followed by the cake cutting, and possibly some toasts.
Right after the toast the dinner starts to get served and People usually give speeches during the dinner (towards the end of dinner).
When the tables are cleared it is time for the party to get started.
After the first dance, I am going to need 30 minutes to cover the dance floor.
Overall from the introduction, till I leave, I am going to need about 2.5 hours.
I tried to explain how much time each segment needs in order to come up with an idea of how much coverage you are going to need, however, after photographing hundreds of weddings, I finally came up with a less confusing method.
Simply, I don’t oblige my couple to make up their minds on what package they want and let them decide closer to the wedding day when they have a more precise timeline in hand.
All I am going to need to block that date on my calendar is a fixed $500 deposit which brings a commitment to both sides. I found this method a relief for my clients. As a creative service provider and an experienced wedding photographer in Chicago, I meant to make the couple’s life easier not more stressed.
Anyhow, I decided to write about this question, for we may not end up working together and you must know what are you going to be committed to before choosing any photography packages.
It is always better to use the budget wisely. If, for instance, your day needs 8 hours of coverage and you booked a photographer for 10 hours, you have lost the money that could have been used somewhere else, or the other way, if on the wedding day, you need to add an extra hour or two, then you have to pay over price on the day of the wedding.
Speaking of the wedding budget, I designed an awesome Excel sheet for the wedding budget, which you can edit, elaborate, and make your own. You can download it here:
Thanks for reading this blog post to the end, and as I promised, here is the bonus: I will give you a FREE SECOND SHOOTER with any package that you end up with means between a $600-$1000 discount.
Simply fill out the contact form in the comment section and mention the title of this blog post, “how many hours should you book a wedding photographer?” and I will take care of it.