How Many Hours of Photography Do I Need for my Wedding?

How Many Hours of Photography Coverage Do I Actually Need for my Wedding?

You’re about to book your wedding photographer, and you’re wondering how many hours of photography coverage do you actually need? Booking a wedding photographer is a large expense and an important vendor for your event. You probably don’t want to book someone for too many hours, and definitely not too few! But how many hours of photography do you really need? What moments you would like captured and the timeline of your wedding day will determine the hours of coverage needed. Would you like the getting ready details captured, as well as the tipsy dancing at the end of the night? Then you will need a full-coverage package ranging from 6-10 hours. If you are looking to only capture the ceremony and formal portraits, then 1.5- 3 hours will be sufficient.

I will break down each component of an average wedding day and list how long it may take for photos. I have photographed over 80 weddings at the time of writing this article, and am confident in these timelines!

The girls have their hair and makeup already done and are celebrating before putting the bride's wedding dress on.
Lindsay and her bridesmaids enjoy mimosas after their hair and makeup has been finished. Photographing the moments in between hair and makeup are important too!

Photographing the Getting Ready Moments

Do you want both the girls and the guys photographed?

Wedding photography coverage usually starts when the girls and guys are getting ready prior to the ceremony. You need to determine if you want both the girls and the guys getting ready moments captured. If yes, do you have a wedding photographer who has a second-shooter? Their second shooter can start with the guys while your main hired photographer will begin with the girls. If they do not have a second shooter, your photographer will need to travel between the two locations. Make sure to add this travel time into the final calculation.

Girls vs. guys getting ready timing

You might have guessed it; girls typically take longer to get ready than guys. However, the photographer does not need to start when your hair and makeup artists arrive. This would add additional hours of photography coverage that are not necessary. I like to spend anywhere from 45-90 minutes with the girls. This allows me to capture the dress hanging shot, candid moments, final hair and makeup touchups, and then finally the bride putting on her dress. The bride may have her hair and makeup already done by the time the photographer arrives. In that case, I have her touch up her lipstick or hair for a few photos. Done.

Guys are very quick. I like to spend 30-45 minutes with the guys as they get ready for the wedding day. I ask that they wait for my arrival before putting on their suits, shoes, ties and boutonnieres. This allows me to capture the highlight moments in a structured time and ensures I don’t miss those important details!

Girls Getting Ready

45-90 Minutes

Guys Getting Ready

30-45 Minutes

Travel Time Between Girls and Guys

0-? Minutes
The bride and groom are seeing each other for a private first look and exchanging personal vows.
Caitlin reads a love letter to her hubby during their private first look… well almost private, there were some friends in the window who couldn’t help themselves!

Photographing the First Look

What is a First Look?

A first look is a private moment between you and your partner prior to the ceremony. This moment can be used as an opportunity to get any stage-fright jitters out and take cute couples photos. Sometimes, couples exchange personal vows during this moment. Read more about what a first look is here;

How long does photographing a first look take?

Photographing a first look can take between 15-60 minutes. On the shorter side, couples are briefly seeing each other before the ceremony. On the longer end, couples are spending some quality time with each other and incorporating their bride and groom photos. Bridal party photos can also take place during this time. This essentially cuts the formal photo time in half after the ceremony since bride/groom and bridal party photos are already done.

First Look Between Bride and Groom

15-60 Minutes
An oceanside wedding ceremony in the summer sunshine
Savannah and Triston exchange personal vows and perform a handfasting ceremony during their wedding ceremony.

Photographing the Wedding Ceremony

The length of a wedding ceremony ranges from 20-60 minutes. If there are any cultural traditions being performed such as handfasting, sand or candle ceremonies, tea ceremonies, etc. this will add time. If you are not exchanging vows and have asked your officiant to be as short and sweet as possible, you might be less than 15 minutes!


20-60 Minutes
Ashley and Frank take a moment on the beach with their bridal party at Tigh Na Mara for their formal photos.
Ashley and Frank take a moment on the beach with their bridal party at Tigh Na Mara for their formal photos.

Photographing Formal Photos

Photographing formal photos takes between 30-120 minutes. This number varies greatly on a few factors. How many guests will you have? How many formal photo requests do you wish? Most commonly, formal photographs include immediate family members, grandparents, cousins, aunties and uncles. Any extended family member requests are usually done in large groupings, rather than individual couples shots with the bride and groom.

For guest lists of 40 or less, 30 minutes is plenty of time. Guest lists between 40 and 100, 45 minutes is a good amount of time. And guestlists of 100+, a solid 60 minutes for family is needed. Bridal party photos take 30 minutes, and bride and groom photos take 30 minutes.

Jumping into formal photos after the wedding ceremony

There are two ways I see formal photographs happening. Either right away after the ceremony starting with a big group shot and shooting smaller and smaller groups. Or, allowing 10-30 minutes of hugs and hello’s before starting. There are pro’s and con’s to each which I wrote in detail about in my article Smooth and Efficient Wedding Day Formal Photos.

Formal Photos With Family

30-90 Minutes

Bridal Party Photos

30 Minutes

Bride and Groom Photos

30 Minutes

Break Between Ceremony & Formals

0-30 Minutes
Dancing photos are always worth the extra hours of photography coverage… so much fun is had!

Reception and Party Time!

The reception is pretty straightforward. You’ll have your set timeline of events, which you’ll probably want your photographer to be around for. Speeches, cake cutting, dancing, and games are all really fun memories to capture in a photo! To calculate this, just add up your hours including dinner through to the dancing. Dancing typically happens at the end of the activities, and takes between 20-60 minutes to capture. After the first dance/father-daughter/mother-son dances are completed, the rest of the guests are usually invited to get the party dancing started. Having 20-60 minutes to capture all of this is really nice, as some people tend to be shy at first and then warm up. I love to photograph everybody on the dance floor!

Sunset Photo Opportunity!

I love sneaking away at golden hour with just the bride and groom for a sunset photo opportunity! This is when the most beautiful light of the day happens, and can also be a really sweet moment to slow down and be with only each other. I always finish my photo timing early so that the couple can legit be alone on their wedding day. This can take 15-30 minutes depending on if there is travel involved, and needs to be timed within the hour before sunset. Ask your photographer to advise a time based on location and date!


30-60 minutes

Reception & Activities

60-180 minutes

Bride and Groom Sunset Photos

15-30 Minutes


20-60 Minutes

In Summary

After reading this article, you should have a good idea of how long photography takes for certain aspects of a wedding day. When thinking about how many hours of coverage you will need, you must first ask what moments you are wanting captured. If you are looking for a full-day from getting ready details through to the height of the dancing at night, you will need 6-10 hours. If you are only seeking the ceremony and formal photos, you will need 1.5-3 hours. Your wedding photographer will be able to help guide you through this as well. When drafting up your timeline, feel free to send it over to the photographer to get their advice on the photo-timing part of things.

Moorecroft Park Wedding