When you first start looking up wedding photographers, you will eventually find that many of them have a certain number of packages, usually named after well known metal types. Each package will have it's own amount of hours, from 3 or 4 hours, to 8 or 10. If you're just starting your planning, it will be somewhat overwhelming. You've got so many other things to plan, that it's unlikely you will know precisely how many hours you need photo-cover.
Stemming from frustration, you might find yourself leaving it alone for now, and get a photographer at last minute when everything else is settled. You can also quickly decide to go for a specific package of hours and hope it all works out, the photographer might not simply walk out on you when the time is up after 5 hours, but he might charge you a premium rate per hour, (read the contract carefully).
Here, we're going to break down your wedding into realistic chunks of time and hopefully it will guide you better into finding the right amount of time coverage you need for you wedding.
Just remember that no two weddings are the same, and one of the most substantial factor when planning your wedding will be how many guests you will have, and how large your family is. You will also need to determine how in depth you want to go about formal portraits of family, friends, and bridal party, there are quite a lot of options, check this list (.PDF) for an example.
The main thing is, just because it's traditional to do so, doesn't mean you have to. Make a list of only your absolute must haves, this can be as short or as long as you want it to be. To provide some perspective, a full list like the one linked above, will take about 45 minutes to an hour to shoot, depending how how speedy the guests are to move around.
Now to break it down in bite-size chunks:
Bridal preparation | Time: 2:30 hours
Getting ready takes a good chunk. Documentary style shots featuring the bride and the assistance her bridesmaids doing make-up, treating and composing the hair, some shots that you might want posing with this or that bridesmaid, posing by the window and so on. You might also like a nice shot of your dress on that lovely hangar, or artistically displayed in the bed, rings, veil, shoes, some cute prop or significant item. By the time this is all done you're looking at two to three hours simply gone.
Ceremony | Time: 1 hour
The ceremony will usually take anywhere between 30 to 40 minutes, that's pretty standard. But by the time everyone is outside of the building, the confetti depleted, hugs from everyone, and everyone congratulated you both for being a bona fide couple, by that time, it's been a good chunky hour. Now you can finally start gathering people.
Formal family portraits | Time: 20 minutes to 1:15 hours
This part has a lot of variables, so you'll need to know exactly what you want (here's that list again). After the families and bridal party photo shoot, you can also choose to have a shoot of bride and groom alone, or you can have this done on your reception location. Some couples want both options if the ceremony site is of significant beauty or importance to them, so make sure you have ample margin for everything you want done before that vintage car or 1960's London bus comes to get you.
Reception: | Time: 5 to 6 hours
From the moment you walk into that house reception or at the venue as the newest Mr. and Mrs. of the family, to the first dance and cutting of the cake. Photography coverage here will include everything and anything that looks pretty or moves. Drinks, toasts, speeches, laughs, food details, table and house decoration, husband and wife alone, family shots, special requests (I get tapped on the shoulder a lot, "can you get one of us?" - of course they can). Make sure you're still within the time limit of your photographer so you can cut the cake and do the first dance before he or she needs to leave, you don't want to rush these things.
(Optional) After Party | Time: 2 to 3 hours
You can ask your photographer to keep shooting your guests while they dance and drink through the night, but it usually increases the price of your photo coverage substantially as night time shooting is harder and considered over-time, so expect a premium hourly rate or package price.
Take into account that you need to plan a timeline of your wedding and with that information decide how many hours of photography coverage you actually need.
- Write down the desired shots list - convene with your other half and parents on both sides to see what they would like.
- Take into account all of the venues you are using and time it takes to travel from and to each one. Remember the special locations where you might want photos of just you and your loved one, such as a beach, a riverbank, or a certain park.
- Write down what parts of the day are most important to you to have photographs of and meet the photographer, I highly recommend this so that you get to know him/her and explain what you are looking for in your wedding documentation.
Your wedding day is unique and should be a once in a lifetime thing, the only thing you'll have to remember all of it will be the photographical archive. Consider getting an album.
- It will be more cost effective to choose the right photography package from the start than to leave it to chance and pay premium hourly rates for extended coverage. On a related note, and at the risk of self promoting, I personally don't have packages, I tailor everything to your wedding specifically and cover everything you want me to cover, I don't charge an hourly rate. Have a look at my wedding page.