This is probably one of the top questions I get from my couples. “How many hours should we book you for?” The answer is complex are really depends on your wedding day, but here is what I would recommend.
First, find out from your photographer if you can adjust the contract if you need more hours as you approach the wedding day. Many photographers have no problem with you adding hours or jumping up to the next package. With COVID, photographers have had to become extremely flexible (which is a good thing) because there are so many variables up in the air. If the photographer you are looking to book is not flexible then that is a huge red flag and I would consider looking elsewhere.
Out of all of the weddings I have shot in the last 15 years, I would say the average number of hours I am booked for is eight with ten coming in as a close second. It seems to be the sweet spot between too much and too little. With eight hours many couples can have the tail end of getting ready captured, the ceremony, and the first part of the reception covered. But you need to be strategic when planning out your day. If your ceremony is at 12 noon and your reception doesn’t start until 7pm, 8 hours will likely not cut it and you’ll want to bump up to ten or even twelve hours of coverage.
Hours booked will also be dependent on what is most important for you to have photos of. I have worked with many couples who do not want photos of them getting ready. In that case, you could squeak by with six hours if your wedding is later in the afternoon (say 4pm) and your reception is immediately following. Just keep in mind, though, you will likely want time for group photos, bridal party photos, and photos of just you and your spouse.
Here are some sample wedding timelines with corresponding photo coverage that may help you decide how many hours you need your photographer and how you want to structure your day.
Option 1: The all day affair (for big bridal parties or couples will extensive hair/makeup/outfits too coordinate)
8am-2pm: Everyone is getting ready (hair/makeup/getting dressed)
3pm-4pm: Ceremony (even if your ceremony is only 30 minutes, please schedule at least 45 minutes in your timeline to save your sanity on the day of)
5-6pm: Cocktail Hour/Family and Bridal Party Photos (remember, for groups you can estimate 3-5 minutes needed for each grouping)
5-6pm: Couples photos
6:15pm: Enter reception
6:15pm-10pm: Reception (let your DJ help with this portion, they are masters at planning our your reception timeline)
With the above schedule you could have your photographer start at 12 noon and catch the end of getting ready. If they stayed until 8pm you would also have coverage of the formals parts of the reception (entrance, dances, toasts, cake cutting). If you want a little more coverage of getting ready and definitely want to capture some open dance floor, party pics then you would want to bump up to ten hours of coverage and book your photographer from 11am to 9pm.
Option 2: The evening affair (great for a more compressed timeline of very small/no bridal parties)
2-4:30pm: Getting ready
6:15-7:15pm: Cocktail hour/Family and bridal party photos (short list, maybe 5-10 groupings)
6:30-7:15pm: Couples photos
7:30pm: Enter reception, immediately cut cake
7:45-11pm: Reception (speeches during dinner then open dancing!)
You could book a photographer for 8 hours and have them cover almost every single part of your wedding day with the above schedule. They would arrive at 2pm and stay until 10pm. However, this schedule only works for smaller weddings with smaller bridal parties. I commonly see this with micro weddings, backyard weddings, intimate weddings, and so forth. If you don’t want any coverage of getting ready you could also get by with 6 hours of coverage from 4-10pm or 5 to 11pm.
The only piece of advice I give you with all of the above discussed is you don’t want to feel rushed on your wedding day. The price difference between having a photographer for 8 hours versus 10 is usually not monumental and it does give you peace of mind. If budget is a concern, use the above tips to help stay within 8 hours, but if there is room, go for the 10 hours and take a big sigh of relief!