Most people consider their wedding photography to be a very important aspect of the wedding day. However, if you do not plan for how your time is allocated, you may not end up getting some of the very important shots you really want. Ideally you should work out a timeline with your photographer once you have your ceremony and reception times set. Planning for specific time for the photographs on your special day will help make everything run more smoothly and assure you to get some awesome photos of all the people you want.
Before you book the number of hours you would like your photographer to stay, you should spend some time thinking over the timeline. Booking the photographer from the start time of the ceremony to the end of the reception is not usually the best approach.
A very important thing to decide is wether or not you are going to do a first look. I wrote about the pros of this here. If you decide on doing a first look, it opens up alot of time for photographs before the ceremony. If you decide on a first look you might want to consider having your photographer come 3-4 hours prior to the ceremony. If you are not going to do a first look you should consider 2-1.5 hours before. Getting ready shots are some of the best photographs of the day. The bride getting her dress on and spending time with her girls is a great time for some fun happy candids. If the photographer arrives about 30 minutes before hair and makeup finishes, they can get photos of that process and then have time for pictures of putting on jewlery and getting the dress on. After that, 15 minutes or so can be spent on getting formal photographs of the bride and her female bridal party. If a second shooter is there as well, they can do the same thing with the groom and his guys. If doing a first look, you should then allow for 1 hour of your special bride and groom portraits. These are my favorite and usually the most cherished ones of the day. After that, with the remaining time, the formal wedding party photos can be taken as well as the immediate family and extended family. In this scenario, all of your formals will be taken care of before the ceremony and you will no longer have to worry about it and can spend your time having fun with your guests. Also, travel time to the ceremony location should be taken into account as well. If you have your photographer ride in the limo with you, you can get some great shots in that time as well.
The bride and groom typically must arrive at the ceremony location 15-30 minutes before the start time. During this time the photographer can get set up and ready for the ceremony photos.
If you did not do your bride and groom portraits and/or formals before the ceremony, afterwards is when they will all happen. Depending on the size of your family and bridal party, you should allow for anywhere from 30 minutes for a small group, to 1.5 hours for a large group. After that, ideally you would want 1 hour for bride and groom portraits, but if you are rushed to get to the reception, 30 minutes is about the shortest amount of time you should set aside.
When you have decided on when the formals will take place, that information should be communicated to all of the people you wish to have in the photos before the wedding day. This way they know when they will be needed, so no time is wasted searching for people.
Now for the reception, you may want the photographer there the whole time, especially if you are having an elaborate grand exit. However, it is fairly common for the photographer only to stay the first 2-3 hours. This is when most of the important events happen. I would much rather have an extra hour with you before the wedding then the last hour. You probably wont want as many photos of people dancing in your albums as you will of you and your new husband.
My packages start at 6 hours, but usually that is not enough time. If you have a 4 hour reception, 6 hour coverage will not allow for much time before the ceremony or after if your ceremony is long.
It is way better to have too much time then not enough. There are no do overs and you really dont want to cut yourself short on photos. Your photographs are something you will have forever and will look at often to remind you of this wonderful day.
I am here to help along the way because I want your pictures to rock just as much as you do.