So you’re recently engaged and now you’re wondering “how much time do I need for wedding photos”? This is where I come in. I’ve been a Toronto wedding photographer for over 13 years now and I can absolutely shed some light on wedding photography timeline creation and how long it takes for your wedding photos.
Before I start dropping numbers though, it’s important to remember that there are two key factors that you need to consider when it comes to how long it takes for your wedding photos: experience as well as style + approach. Not all wedding photographers are alike and sometimes we need more time (or can make do with less time) depending on these two factors. Let’s explore them a bit more.
Wedding Photography Timeline Factor #1: Experience
An experienced wedding photographer can typically work faster and be more efficient in a short period of time. They don’t need to fiddle with settings, they can find great light in a matter of seconds, they can confidently directly you (or the group of you) for what they need and they can set up/take down any extra equipment with ease.
For myself, I love having at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted time with my couple, so if a videographer is there, it should be 45-60 so they have time too! In reality, I get about 30-45 minutes for most couples although I’ve also had weddings where I’ve gotten literally 7 minutes with the couple and still managed to come out of it with a wide variety of poses, compositions and backgrounds. Did I like that I had 7 minutes? No…. will I spill the tea about why I only had 7 minutes? Let’s just say that it’s important to choose a videographer who has a similar style to your photographer (bonus points if you use your photographer’s preferred vendor list to choose your videographer!)
Wedding Photography Timeline Factor #2: Style + Approach
Style and approach are also other factors when deciding on your wedding photography timeline. Some photographers have more of a documentary style which means they go with the flow, don’t often set up external lights, and don’t spend a lot of time fluffing dresses, moving hairs, and finessing wee little details. They capture spur-of-the-moment emotions and the natural beauty of the day. Editorial photographers, on the other hand, may require a bit more time because they do spend extra time fluffing dresses, adjusting jewelry, and setting up external lighting to create beautiful masterpieces. Both styles and approaches are completely valid but editorial-style photographers may often need more time to create their portraits than a documentary-style photographer – so keep that in mind.
Now that we’ve considered experience and style + approach, let’s dig into the real wedding photography timeline:
I recommend starting your photographic coverage 60-90 minutes before you leave for your ceremony (or your first look) and no earlier than that. Depending on the hair + makeup team you’re working with or what your morning getting-ready routine is, there is a lot of tired eyes, coffee drinking, and “still waking up” happening in the early a.m. Starting 60-90 minutes before you leave for the next part of the day will give plenty of time for not only candid moments but details and a quick portrait session.
What is a first look? If you haven’t heard of it yet it’s when the couple chooses private time to see each other before the ceremony. You don’t have to do this if it doesn’t feel right for you, but there are some benefits to it so have a conversation with your photographer! If you are opting for a first look, it’s best to schedule 15-20 minutes for the overall experience. This will include time for the partners to arrive separately, get ready, and have some time together before heading to the next part of the day.
The amount of time you need for a wedding ceremony will vary considerably depending on what kind of wedding ceremony you’re having. A micro wedding ceremony can be as short as 15 minutes while some religious ceremonies can be longer than an hour.
Some folks opt to have a receiving line immediately following their ceremony, others do it before their reception and some forgo it altogether. Receiving lines take on average 20-30 seconds per person coming through the line so if you have a 150 person wedding that’s 60-75 minutes worth of time. There are pros and cons to receiving lines, so make sure to read the linked article for a more in-depth discussion as well as for opportunities on how to maximize the experience for everyone ( including how to get amazing photos of it! )
Wedding photography timelines are often the most crucial when it comes to family photo timing. Knowing how long family photos take depends solely on how many combinations of people you want to be captured. Someone who has 7 combinations of family photos will need substantially less time than someone who wants 28 combinations of family photos.
Before you start creating your wedding photography timeline, you need to make a list of all the formal family photos you want!
Once you have that list, here’s a breakdown of the amount of time:
- Groups of 4 or less: 2-3 minutes per group
- Groups of 5-12 people: 4-5 minutes per group
- Groups of 13+ people: 6 minutes per group
This is enough time to not only take the photo but to do all of the “wrangling” of people, giving them time to put down purses, sunglasses, or other accessories as well as to pose and capture the images.
One of the biggest mistakes couples make when figuring out their wedding photography timeline is that they schedule a block of time for family photos first and then they try to squeeze as many combinations into there as possible. This will result in either having to borrow time from the wedding party/couples photoshoot, not being able to make it to your cocktail hour or being late for your reception.
Wedding Party Photos
Similar to family photos, knowing how many breakdowns of combinations you want will determine how much time you need for wedding party photos. An additional factor to consider as well is how large your wedding party is. A wedding party of 4 people total (not counting the couple) will take less time to photograph than a wedding party of 12 people. With all of that being said, if you twist my arm and ask me to throw some numbers around for how much time it takes for wedding party photos I suggest 30-45 minutes depending on whether you have a smaller or larger wedding party.
Depending on where your priorities are on your wedding day, couples photos might be some of the most important photos of the day. While not every couple values couples’ photos the same way, ultimately these are the images that become the family heirlooms and that are loved and displayed not only by yourselves but by your family.
When you’re creating your wedding day schedule, couples photos can have anywhere between a 30-90 minutes depending on:
- Whether there is a videographer present or not
- If you’re traveling to different locations
- If you’re covering a lot of ground within the same location
- What you’re hoping to achieve, artistically
It’s quite common for couples to choose to schedule a 15-minute “sunset session” later on in the day as a supplement to the couple’s photos that they take earlier in the day. Sunset photos are absolutely stunning but they are a bit of a risk. On an overcast, cloudy or rainy days there’s almost no light left at sunset so you can’t rely entirely on your sunset session for a full array of couples photos.
Wedding reception photography is extremely variable because there are so many types of receptions and so many different ways to schedule the events within your reception. Often times the key components that couples want captured are (in order of priority):
- First dance
- Parent dances
- Couples speech
- Cake cutting
For couples who want these moments captured but don’t want to pay for reception coverage for several extra hours can adapt their schedule to prioritize these events. It’s extremely common for couples to do their first dance immediately following their grand entrance. After the first dance happens, the parent’s dance will happen and thank you speech from the couple. (Pssst! Another good reason to do your speech early in the reception is that this is often the last ‘big stressful event’ of the day, so if you get it out of the way early you can enjoy the rest of your reception!) Not all couples have a cake to cut, but if you do it can be done after your speech, and then you can wrap up photography coverage before you sit down for your first course.
For those who want reception coverage later into the evening, I recommend ending your coverage after about 30-45 minutes of dancefloor time. Once the party really starts rockin’ the photos will be similar as the same people will be on the dancefloor for most of the evening. In lieu of having hours of dancefloor coverage, consider renting a photo booth! A digital photo booth is a great addition to the wedding day and a source of entertainment for guests.
Wedding Photography Timeline: Bonus #1
There’s one thing I didn’t cover above but it definitely needs to be included: travel time. I always recommend minimizing travel time on a wedding day (nobody wants to spend a total of 2 hours in a limo!) but even with smaller amounts of travel time, you need to factor that into your wedding day timeline. A lot of couples can get behind in their wedding day because they forgot to factor in travel time to-and-from different parts of the day!
Wedding Photography Timeline: Bonus #2
As a final note, it’s important to recognize that there is a myriad of different wedding day traditions and personal moments that couples can incorporate into their day. From tea ceremonies to door games to making off-site visits to special guests that cannot attend or to share in a moment of silence for loved ones not present. All of these activities absolutely hold value and deserve a place during your wedding day, but you need to make sure you have enough time for them. Always discuss timelines with your photographer and wedding planner as early in the process as you can so that you can set yourself up for success.
Creating your wedding photography timeline isn’t always easy, but when you’re working with experienced wedding vendors who happily educate and provide guidance, it should be a pretty straightforward process. Make sure that you list all of your family photos first before creating a solid timeline so that you ensure you’re giving enough time for what you’re wanting and don’t forget to include travel time in your schedule. If you’re ever unsure about how much time it takes for wedding photos, always contact your wedding photographer and have open conversations with them about your goals and priorities on your wedding day and they can offer advise specific to your situation. Internet articles are a good start, but forming your timeline needs personalization for it to be successful.