How many hours of photography coverage do you actually need?

One of the things my husband and I struggled with when we were planning our wedding last year was trying to determine how many hours of photography coverage we actually need! Our wedding had a tea ceremony, had numerous locations, and had a medium-size guest list that might require some wrangling for family photos. Trying to pin down whether we wanted 8 hours or 10 hours, or more was a bit of struggle at first. This is a common issue that many couples planning their wedding face. Well, worry no more! In this article, we will go over with you a typical wedding day and help you determine how much photography coverage you might need as you plan your big day!

Just a couple of caveats before we dive into to it: every wedding will be different and will have different moving pieces, so keep that in mind when going through the timeline below and when planning your own timeline! We will also be looking at schedule mostly from the perspective of the bride as the wedding elements on the bride's side tend to be a bit more involved (hair and make-up is a huge chunk of the day, for example!). We will only be outlining for you the minimum number of hours (or minutes) we would recommend to our couples to get the most out of your wedding coverage! Of course, always remember that it is your wedding day; you know what is most important to you and your spouse-to-be. If you feel you only need the ceremony captured or only certain parts of the day captured, no one can tell you otherwise!

GOAL - the ultimate goal here to ensure a stress-free day for you, your wedding party, and your guests. You want your day to be as enjoyable as possible. When you are rushing through things, like your photo-session, or skipping out planned events because you are running out of coverage time, this can cause stress, which can definitely lead to unflattering photos!!

As always, make sure to communicate with your photographer! - there will be many factors that can impact the length of your wedding day coverage, so best to discuss with whoever you choose to cover your day!

Getting Ready - 2 hours

We spend the first 30 minutes of the "getting-ready" taking photos of wedding items (rings, invitations, flowers, dress, heirlooms, etc.). Those gorgeous detail photos you see on bridal magazines are usually shot during this first part of the "getting-ready". After the detail photos are done, we will then focus on the hair and makeup application, the zipping of the wedding dress, putting on jewellery. There will be a lot of candid photos during this time, but we will definitely curate some of the scenes, like mom helping you with your dress, or you and your bridesmaids having a toast! We do recommend that the bride get her hair or makeup done either last or second to the last!

Side note: While we recommend 2 hours of photography for getting ready, hair and makeup can and do take up to five hours or so depending on the number of people who will need to have their hair and makeup done. Most couples don't allow enough time for this part of the day. If this part of the day runs late, it creates a snowball effect on the rest of the day. So make sure you allocate ample amount of time for your getting ready, even if the photography part only requires 2 hours.

Ceremony - 1-hour

The time needed for this part of the day will really depend on the length of your ceremony. Most of the weddings we have seen have non-denomination ceremonies, which can last from 15 to 30 mins. If you have a church ceremony, it can definitely run longer. As a general rule, we would recommend allocating time for your ceremony plus 15 minutes before and after the ceremony. Many couples usually say that they want to go straight into photos as soon as the ceremony concludes, but the reality is that you will want to greet your guests and your guests will, in turn, want to congratulate you! So make sure to factor this in your schedule.

Family Photos - 45 mins.

We always say that family photos - if done at the same location as your ceremony - can go super fast and easy. Generally, it requires that everyone stand beside the bride and the groom, look at the camera and smile. Rinse and repeat for all other family photo combination. These are generally your traditional family portraits so they can be quite fast! That being said, it does require some preparation to make your family photo session as smooth and quick as possible. We usually ask for a list of all the family combinations you want, preferably with the first names of all the family members so we can call them up ourselves. Family members always tend to forget their titles, so calling out "mother of the bride" is generally not as efficient at getting their attention as me calling by their first name. It definitely helps to have friends and family who know the family members to help out with wrangling everyone for photos! There will always be a family member who will wander off!

Wedding Party and Couples Portrait - 1.5 hours

Assuming wedding party photos and couple's portraits will happen after the ceremony, we recommend one and a half hours for this part of your day. The first 30 minutes of this is usually allocated to getting all the wedding party photos and the different artistic combinations we have planned. This will also give us a chance to take photos of you and your spouse with each side of your wedding party. After your wedding party members are done with their photos, they can head to the reception where they can relax a bit, or help out with the reception preparations.

The next hour is then devoted to taking photos of you and your now husband or bride. Usually, we will already have a route planned out for you to optimise the time we have together before the reception. This is likely the only time we will have with you and your new spouse without guests or interruptions, so we want to make sure we make use of the limited time we have! If you've had your engagement session (included in all our packages), your wedding portrait session will be a continuation of that. By then you will hopefully feel at ease in front of the camera!

Reception: 4 to 5-hours

Depending on what you have planned for your reception, on average couple spend about five hours of their wedding day on the evening events. You will have your dinner, speeches, cake cutting, first dances, etc. Like the "getting-ready", your photographer or videography does not need to be there for the entire duration of the reception. We generally recommend that we cover 30 to 45 minutes of everyone dancing on the dance floor. Keep in mind when you have your bouquet or garter toss scheduled - many tend to forget about this until late into the night!

Nancy and Jovan Aquatopia 2

To sum it all up:

  • "Getting ready" - 2 hours

  • Ceremony - 1 hour

  • Family Portraits - 45 minutes

  • Wedding Party and Couple's Portraits - 1 hour and 30 minutes

  • Reception - 4-5 hours

Total: 9-10 hours

Other things to consider that might affect the number of hours you need for your wedding day:

  • Any cultural or unique traditions should be factored in your timeline. For example, we have been to weddings where there were multiple impromptu dances as part of the couples' family's wedding tradition. This added 5 to 10 minutes to the schedule each time the impromptu dance occurred!

  • The size of your wedding party. Three bridesmaids and three groomsmen will take less time to get ready, wrangle for photos, etc., than, let's say, eight bridesmaids and eight groomsmen, so definitely keep that in mind when planning your schedule! Make sure there is buffer time!

  • The size of your family. For family portraits, be mindful of the size of your family and the different combinations you want for family photos. Of course, the bigger the family, the longer it will take to take the family photos.

  • Are you doing a "first look"? The "first look" takes 5-10 minutes, after that, you can allocate the recommended 1.5 hours for wedding party and couple's photos!

  • The distance from one location to the next. If everything is happening in one place (getting ready, ceremony, reception), you can expect for things to go a lot faster, however, if there is driving time between the ceremony and the reception, for example, make sure to factor that in your itinerary! 15 minutes of driving here and there can significantly impact your timeline!

Bonus: Season of the year!! In the winter months, the sun will be setting a lot earlier, so factor that in your timeline. If you would like to have outdoor photos, make sure that you have ample amount of time after your ceremony to take outdoor photos!


MOCHA TREE STUDIOS is based in Ottawa, Ontario, and specialises in romantic and cinematic wedding photography and videography. MOCHA TREE STUDIOS produces stunning and modern photographs and films with dramatic lighting, deep shadows, and romantic tones. MOCHA TREE STUDIOS focuses on capturing candid moments and raw emotions. MOCHA TREE STUDIOS offer services in surrounding areas, including engagements and weddings in Toronto, Montreal, Kingston, Wakefield, and the Ottawa Valley.

Sheen Andola

Mocha Tree Studios, 378 Gallantry Way, Ottawa, ON, K2S