You’re planning your wedding and have found the photographer of your dreams! But what package do you want from them? Will you want photos of the whole day, from getting ready to leaving the reception, or would just half the day do? Do you need to add on extra hours? Is there a difference between full-day and all-day coverage? This seemingly simple concept can easily become confusing.

Every wedding and every couple are different, and the amount and type of coverage you need for your big day depends on a variety of factors, but there are a couple things you should definitely keep in mind:

Photography coverage is continuous

When you book a wedding photographer, that means they’re going to photograph your day without breaks. For example, if you have eight hours of coverage, that’s eight hours from the time they arrive at the venue. A photographer won’t pause between events or segment their coverage unless you make special arrangements.

Terms vary from photographer to photographer

When looking at package options, you may see phrases like “half-day coverage” or “full-day coverage.” Exactly what those terms mean depends on the photographer, so be sure to ask before you book so you know just what you’re getting. Some photographers consider eight hours a full day, while others mean 12. Don’t assume you know what “full-day coverage” means!

Every wedding is different, but most weddings can be broken up into getting ready, the first look, the ceremony, family portraits, and the reception. Let’s take a look at how long on average each part of the day will take.

Getting Ready

A safe assumption is that each bridesmaid will take about an hour and a half to get ready, while the bride should have about three hours, just in case anything doesn’t go according to plan. However, if you only have one person doing hair and makeup, add a little extra time to everyone’s preparations as a buffer. 

Getting ready may not seem like a huge deal, but it takes a significant amount of time, and couples often don’t schedule enough time for hair and makeup. If this part of the day takes too long, it can mess up your entire timeline and throw off the whole day, which is definitely the last thing you want!

The First Look

If you choose to have a first look with your partner before the ceremony, allot about 30 minutes for photos. Your first look should be an intimate, special moment, but it also shouldn’t take long, especially if it’s just you, your soon-to-be-spouse, and the photographer. Try to keep parents or the wedding party from hanging around and causing distractions or taking away from the moment.

The Ceremony

The length of your ceremony is entirely up to you and depends on what traditions you choose to include. Regardless of the length of your ceremony, consider adding 15 to 20 minutes of buffer time, just in case your officiant is running late or something else goes wrong. 

Post-Ceremony Family Portraits

After the ceremony is over, guests will head to the reception venue, leaving the couple, the wedding party, and family members to hang around for formal portraits. How long these portraits will take depends on the number of people being photographed and whether you have a first look because, if you choose not to have a first look, couple portraits will take place after the ceremony as well. 

If all portraits are going to be taken post-ceremony, consider allocating about two hours for those images to be taken. That may seem like a long time, but you’d be surprised how much time it takes to get everyone together and posed. But, if you only need a few wedding party photos and images of your immediate family, you may only need an hour for photos after the ceremony. 

The Reception

Like your ceremony, your reception will last for a specific amount of time, depending on how long you have your venue. However, your photographer doesn’t need to be there for the full four or five hours, just long enough to capture all the big events, like the first dance, parent dances, toasts, and cutting of the cake, as well as a few shots of everyone grooving on the dancefloor. You can usually end your photography coverage an hour or so before the reception ends, when things are starting to wrap up and guests have begun to go home.

Stay in conversation with your photographer

To make sure you get the coverage you want of your wedding, it’s important to talk to your photographer about what details and moments matter most to you. Maybe you only want images of the ceremony. Maybe you want to capture every second of your day. No matter what you want, your photographer can work with you to make sure you have the coverage you need.