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How Long Does it Take to Photograph a Wedding? A Perspective from a Toronto Wedding Photographer

I’m a lucky lady; I get to give myself quite a few labels in life that mean a lot to me: wife, daughter, friend, entrepreneur, proud Canadian, Toronto wedding photographer as well as storyteller.  Over the past few years, as I’ve turned to my blog to share my perspectives and advice with the world, I’ve been able to add ‘educator’ to that list of labels.  I’m passionate about sharing information; even is the rest of the industry may feel like certain topics are taboo or if I’m “sharing an industry secret”.  A confident professional shouldn’t have secrets; secrets show insecurity and that’s the last thing a client is looking for in a vendor.

I wanted to use today’s blog post to chat about the length of a wedding day; specifically answering the question of just how long does it take to photograph a wedding.

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Photographing the Bride

Most brides want their photographer present in the morning.  Getting ready photos isn’t just about lacing up a dress; it’s so much more than that!  When you have your photographer present in the morning, they’ll be photographing not only the details such as the dress, shoes, jewelry and stationery but also the super awesome candid moments between the bride and her family and closest friends.  These are typically some of the most emotional and heartfelt images of the day.  If the day is going smoothly and you’re not pressed for time, getting some of the smaller groupings of family photos or wedding party photos (bride + mom, bride + each of her bridesmaids, etc.) can help buy you some extra time later on in the day.  Oh… and the most important part of all… the bridal portraits!  It’s great to have some time to work with just the bride and capture some amazing portraits.

  • Photographing the details: 30 minutes
  • Bridal portraits: 20 minutes
  • Family portraits: 20 minutes
  • Wedding party portraits: 20 minutes
  • Candid moments, the dress going on, makeup and hair: variable

In total, a morning with a bride encompasses at least 1.5 hours of time for the essential photos + typically 1 to 1.5 additional hours to photograph the actual story of the morning including all the wonderful candid moments.  Total time: 2.5 to 3 hours

Photographing the Groom

Not all grooms are really up to this.  In fact… most grooms aren’t really up to this.  As a photographer, it’s absolutely heartbreaking to be photographing someone who doesn’t actually want to be photographed on an early wedding morning so to all brides please understand that if your soon-to-be-spouse doesn’t want a photographer present in the morning, it’s okay!  We can get a lot of the images later on in the day so don’t fret.  That being said, if we are stopping by the groom’s place pre-wedding, the timing is somewhat similar to that of the bride’s morning schedule:

  • Photographing the details: 15 minutes
  • Groom portraits: 15 minutes
  • Family portraits: 20 minutes
  • Wedding party portraits: 20 minutes
  • Candid moments and the finishing touches: 30 minutes

In total, a morning with the groom requires about 1 hour and 15 minutes worth of essential photos + about a half an hour of fun candids.  In total, you can expect around 1.5 to 2 hours of time to capture the groom’s wedding morning story (this is where hiring a second photographer comes in handy!)

Photographing the Ceremony

The duration depends largely on the type of ceremony you are having.  From my experience, ceremonies can last anywhere from 15 minutes to upwards of 90 minutes.

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Photographing the Formal Photos

Can vary significantly based on must-have images, amount of family photographs as well as well as number of locations you plan on going to.  Generally, 2 hours of active shooting time is adequate to shoot family photos, wedding party photos and bride and groom photos.  It’s always nice to have an hour to work with the bride and groom; 45 minutes if you’re pushing it.  Anything less than that and you are risking  a super rushed atmosphere, a smaller variety of poses and a decreased chance for your photographer to get creative.

This is my preferred breakdown for the (ideal) wedding day photography timing:

  • Family photos = 30 minutes (assume 3 minutes per group so choose your family photo groupings wisely!)
  • Wedding party photos = 30 minutes (a few poses; both creative and and timeless, + individuals)
  • Bride + Groom photos = 60 minutes

Photographing the Cocktail Hour and Receiving Line

Not all couples have this photographed; it often happens while photos are taking place.  Photographing a cocktail hour is fun – the bride and groom are moving around and really interacting with their guests.  The photographer can capture the cocktail hour from a variety of angles and really tell a story.  Photographing a receiving line, on the other hand… well, it’s not without it’s challenges and doesn’t tell much of a story.  You can read more about the challenges of photographing a receiving line if you wish.  Cocktail hours and/or receiving lines typically last an hour; anything beyond that and guests begin to get anxious and bored and the energy of the day drains significantly.

Photographing the Reception

Depends largely on the order of events; many couples choose to have their first dance immediately upon entering their reception and then end their wedding day coverage after that.  Other couples; however, choose to have their photographer stay to cover the speeches as well as the party.  How long does the photographer stay?  Well, reception coverage is like fingerprints – it’s personal and unique to every couple.  Reception photography coverage can vary between 30 minutes up to 4 hours depending on the couple’s wishes .

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More time is needed when…

The guidelines I mentioned above are just that… guidelines.  Every wedding day is unique as is every timeline but there are some instances where more time may be needed for photos.

  • If you have a videographer.  Some videographers are happy to shoot what the photographer is posing – others like to line up their own shots.  It’s important you know what your videographer needs before you iron down your schedule.  Knowing how to choose a videographer can help you prevent this problem, though.
  • If you have a lot of family photos.  I mean, like, a LOT.  When brides and grooms have large families or are including a lot of extended family in their photos, it may be necessary to add more time to the “family photo” section of the day.  Talk to your photographer about what your needs are.
  • If your family and wedding party are notoriously late!  Photos won’t be nearly as important to anyone else on your wedding day except you.  Even mom won’t care about the photos quite as much as you will.  This means that although these people love you dearly, they may not be as diligent about following timelines and as aware of their actions as you expect them to be.  If your family has a tendency to be tardy, add some “padding” to your photography schedule to anticipate a potential delay.  And hey, if they show up on time – bonus!  More time for pretty bride and groom pictures!

As you can see, the amount of time it takes to photograph a wedding depends largely on the type of story you want to tell; but it can generally take between 8 and 14 hours.  Sure, you can condense your day down into just a few hours, but your images will lack personalization and meaning as time-limits not only rush a bride and groom but curb the creative spirit of your photographer, too.  Ultimately, the amount of time you choose to have your photographer stay will depend on your own priorities and wishes; but from a photographers perspective… it’s always nicer to be able to tell the whole story of a magnificent, once in a lifetime day.

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