Read this before choosing your big-day photography package.

jessica ryan wedding couple in lush garden
Credit: Laura Gordon

If you've looked into hiring a wedding photographer, you've already seen that many photographers offer packages with time limits. That may lead you to wonder how many hours of photography coverage you really need. Arriving at an answer can be tricky, but it's important. "Putting a limit on the number of hours just prevents the wedding day coverage from being construed as open-ended, and puts everyone on the same page as far as expectations," says Valarie Falvey, owner of Kirkbrides Wedding Planning & Design. That doesn't mean it's not scary, though—picking too few hours could mean missing out on pictures you will treasure for a lifetime.

Luckily, there are general guidelines you can follow: "Most couples with a standard five-to-six-hour wedding will need about 10 hours of coverage," says Falvey. While some packages offer eight hours of coverage, Falvey warns against choosing that option. "We have found that eight is almost never enough coverage time," she says, adding that some couples even need as many as 12 hours with this pro.

Your photographer should be able to help you decide the number of hours that will work for you and your wedding plans. "As a wedding photographer, it is my job to listen to my couples and understand [a couple's] priorities," says wedding photographer Hannah Jan Schillinger, who agrees that 10 hours is often the sweet spot. If you're still unsure about how many hours you'll need your photographer, ask yourself the following questions. The answers will help you pick the perfect amount of coverage.

Do you want to capture getting-ready images?

If photos of your makeup being applied and your dress being zipped up are on your must-have list, Schillinger recommends setting aside two hours for these photos alone. "Please keep in mind whether or not you and your partner are getting ready in the same location, as this can affect the amount of time needed," and could necessitate extra time, she says.

Are you having a first look?

Without a first look, couples can capture their formal photos during the cocktail hour, says Falvey. But a first look will mean adding extra time before your ceremony for photos—time you can't forget to add into your schedule, she says. If you would like to knock photos with family and friends out before the wedding, too, or take formal photos at multiple locations, you may need to add as many as three to four extra hours before your ceremony, she says.

How much travel will be involved?

"Is your wedding all at one location?" asks Schillinger. "Or are you getting ready at a hotel, having the ceremony at one location, and then the reception at another?" She asks because travel time adds up, and it's something you have to account for when deciding on the hours you'll need your photographers. "Photographers also have to get from one place to the other and often needs extra time to show up before the guests to capture details," she says.

How long is your wedding reception?

Look at your wedding reception schedule: If you have three hours of dancing slated for the end of the night, your photographer likely doesn't need to be there for all of it, Schillinger explains. "Things can get sloppy and sweaty towards the end of the night, so that can be a good place to shave off time that you can put towards something else like getting ready." If you're having a send-off, however, you'll need to book your photographer to the very end.


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