Shooting a wedding is a big undertaking and something that a professional wedding photographer doesn’t take lightly. Managing your expectations goes a long way to ensuring that there are no nasty surprises down the pike.
This post was created in tandem with this other post.
That post provides insight into the actual process from cards of RAW files to the finished gallery.
So why does it take so long to get your finished wedding pictures?
Every business works differently so this is intended to be a more general introduction. Anyone that wants to understand why it isn’t exactly an instantaneous turnaround!
We have a lot of other weddings
Even though editing is a HUGE part of our jobs, it has to fit into the rest of our schedules. For me that involves shooting a lot of weddings along with the day to day reality of running a business.
Currently I spend probably countless hours a week not only running my business but also going out and shooting and then doing the editing for all those other weddings.
We have businesses to run
When I know I have a lot of editing to do I try to clear my schedule as much as I can to allow for uninterrupted editing time. The day-to-day things are still there such as my bookkeeping, answering emails, talking to new clients, doing venue visits, marketing, blogging, scheduling Instagram posts, working on branding, networking, client care and so on.
One funny thing to consider is that an amateur photographer may even get you the photos faster! They may simply download the few they took onto the computer, slap a quick preset or filter on them the next day, stick them on Dropbox and Bob’s yer uncle! (In fact, it probably was uncle Bob that took those photos.)
Although it seems comparable at first glance, avoid conflating the time it takes a guest to upload her ‘fancy camera’ snaps to a Facebook album, to the 4 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months or whatever that your wedding photographer informs you that they will take.
Want to understand wedding vendor pricing? I’ve created this in-depth resource linked below that dives into the often-misunderstood topic.
Wondering what else wedding photographers actually do (when they’re not shooting weddings?) If you’re curious, or an aspiring wedding photographer yourself, check out my detailed article, linked below!
New client procurement (marketing) always has to come first
The reality of running a business is that the #1 task every day is always marketing. We need to make sure we’re always replying to new leads inquiring with us immediately. It may not be cool to admit, because our clients are ALL important, but without the highest touch given to new clients coming in, our businesses would suffer.
I aim to get back to all new inquiries within 5 minutes of their hitting my inbox. Depending on the number of leads coming in every day, it can be disruptive to the tasks I’m trying to go deep with, but it’s a vital part of business.
The same goes for new client meetings and phone calls once people have got in touch with me. They have to come first, otherwise I’ll lose that business and they’ll find someone who can be more attentive.
We’re doing non-photography stuff and can’t edit around the clock
On the flipside, some photographers have full-time jobs, young kids, caring responsibilities, vacation plans, or simply limit the time that they spend working/ editing for their sanity and the time-freedom that being self-employed allows.
Many people pick up a camera because they are looking for a bit of supplemental income. Nothing wrong with that! A lot are hugely talented and respected professionals that you may not even know actually do photography as their side hustle. I personally have a full-time job (as of May 2021) that I’m trying my best to balance with my photography business.
As a result, I have had to make some changes to my business. The most important change is that I now only edit on weekends, meaning there are longer lead times for each client. However, I guarantee that the final images will be with you in the time scale formalized in your wedding photography contract. So please be sure to check over your contract to see what the delivery timeframe is – or if you haven’t signed one yet, just ask your photographer!
Backlogs are baked into reality of photographing weddings
When the full force of wedding season is upon us, we will always run into a backlog. Why?
I take about 14 hours to edit a wedding, optimistically. (I heard other photographers that take 2 hours, and I personally know another that takes 150 hours). I’m pretty efficient on the whole.
If I had a wedding two days before yours, the editing process won’t have even started by the time I shoot yours. And what if there was another one 5 days before that, and yet another the previous weekend.
I’m not always going to find those 14 hours between weddings to start editing before the next wedding comes up. So when I come home from yours, the next job on the docket is to edit the weddings previous to yours.
I want to be fair to all my clients so I don’t rush to edit my ‘favorite’ ones – everyone’s treated the same in the order the events took place.
The exception to this is that City Hall weddings which have a shorter turnaround time. However, as I specialize in City Hall weddings, I can frequently have a backlog of half a dozen of those that are ahead of you in the editing queue.
Note: turnaround time should always be outlined with specific timeframes in your wedding photography contract. Photographers need to be realistic with their turnaround times, given that workload varies and life can throw a curveball, but what was agreed upon should not change after the contract is signed.
We need to allow a contingency
OK so we’ve established it doesn’t take a solid 8 weeks of me working my skinny butt off to complete your wedding edits.
There are other things that take up a big portion of our time, on top of that backlog. So we have to allow longer than it might actually take.
I always want to exceed – no, smash expectations. Under promise, over deliver and all that jazz.
What I don’t want is to tell you that your images will take only 4 weeks, but in that time I was expecting to be quietly editing your wedding, I get booked for a bunch of last-minute weddings. Some of them involve a night away from home. I’m exhausted. Then I get sick and am laid up for 3 days. Then comes that weekend away with my husband that we’d booked months ago.
And all of this happens to be the week we finally find our new place and have to move, immediately!
I don’t want to be calling you up to say ‘hey, it’s going to take twice the time estimate I set for you’. By this time, you’re expecting to get your thank-you cards out and fielding questions from everyone asking ‘are the pics ready yet?!’
For most weddings my current turnaround time that we will sign & agree on is within 2 months.
Have I ever taken that long to deliver a gallery? No. Sometimes I get it done within 2 weeks. But I do ask that my clients understand that 2 months is the expected and agreed timeframe. I’ve never had a scenario like the one I described above happen… yet.
We all approach editing differently
Most photographers get onto this career path because they love taking pictures, being at weddings and interacting with their fun clients.
I have never heard of anyone getting into wedding photography because they want more time quality locked in a dark room with Lightroom.
If not super motivated, procrastination is…. likely. Think going through your 300 phone snaps from your vacay in Santorini is a daunting process? Try tackling 200GB of RAW files!
And when photographers do start the job, they may work slower, differently or less efficiently because they’re refining their style or trying out 58 different presets before they settle on one they like for each picture.
Editing is deep work and only happens when I clear my plate of the mundane tasks, and get into a flow. Not always possible with all the other tasks that are at that moment more pressing, like responding to dozens of emails, doing marketing chores and onboarding new clients.
Outsourcing vs inhouse editing?
Typically once a photographer reaches a certain volume of bookings, it becomes unfeasible for them to cull/ edit all the work themselves. This is especially the case if they use associate photographers working for them so effectively their business can shoot multiple events on the same day.
There simply would not be enough hours in the day. So many higher end or high volume photographers are forced to outsource the post-processing work. Some may use an employee or independent contractor who can do this.
The editor can do just the culling (picking out the best images) or just the editing (putting the images into Lightroom and tweaking them) or both.
What does that mean for you? Well, it might not mean anything but the photographer is at the mercy of that editing company or contractor. If the editor goes out of business, make mistakes or there is a problem transferring the massive files, the photographer has to step in and put things right. Now there’s a delay.
There’s always an element of risk, and a trade-off involved when outsourcing work to other companies or foisting it on a contractor. But this isn’t generally something for clients to be concerned about.
I personally don’t outsource my editing at the current time. I want the absolute best work for my clients. The expense of outsourcing editing is one I do not want to pass on you.
No-one will work as hard as me getting my images just right, executing the creative vision I saw in my mind’s eye when I hit the shutter button.
However, with the insane hours I work solely on my business I do realize this is somewhat unsustainable.
There is an art involved. We’re not doing grunt work.
Kudos to Anne for her eloquence and artistic spirit which shines through beautifully here.
It’s a delicate balance – trying to be an artist and a business person at the same time. The artist mentally is quite obsessive and perfectionistic…. hates being bothered in the middle of being intensely focused because it can ruin a creative streak.[She] wants to simply shut out the world around her so that she can enjoy every little creation as it’s being made…. works on something until it’s done, not until the timer has run out…. has a lot of pride in her work and would be horrified if it were to be out there unfinished.
Yet, we also have to be business people. We have to meet our clients’ needs and keep them happy, even if it doesn’t always give us the freedom to do what makes us happy…. have to set deadlines and meet them no matter what happens or else we lose our clients’ trust.
….have to answer emails and return phone calls in a timely manner so that our clients feel valued and respected.
As a business person, we WANT to do all of these things because we care about our clients, and because without our clients support, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do!! We love our clients and we want to give them the best of everything.
It’s just a delicate line we must walk every day, always trying to stay in balance – and sometimes we fall down, but we pick ourselves back up in the hopes that it is our accomplishments, not our failures, which will be the ultimate measure of our success.
Rest assured, it isn’t you! And it isn’t because the photographer lost the photos!
From reading about this online, I gather that some marriers are nervous when days, weeks and months go by. Still no shiny gallery link appears in their inbox.
They start to worry – what if our pictures were totally unusable? What if we did a bad job at posing and our photographer can’t work with the images? Was our venue too dark? What if our photographer accidentally lost all our photos?
This never happens, at least not with a professional. We love working with every kind of couple and bringing out the best.
It’s a similar story for the different lighting scenarios. Like boy scouts, we’re prepared for anything.
We have multiple steps in place to make sure that we don’t accidentally lose your files, or forget to record them to our cameras in the first place! That is part of the reason you use a pro, not a ‘cousin who has a Nikon’.
One of the many reasons I send out sneak peeks (a sample preview of 20-30 images from your day) is so you can see that everything’s good. You look amazing. I’ve got the pics. The whole day is on film.
Excitement IS high, I know, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not long to wait for images you’ll have forever! The work you commissioned me for takes time, and we will already have communicated and agreed in our contract. I take that delivery date very seriously, that’s why I overestimate it. I’d never want to let you down!
I would be super bummed if I missed a deadline. No matter what might be going on in my business or personal life. That isn’t your concern.
The biggest takeaway I can offer you here is:
Always ask your photographer ‘how long will it take for us to receive our finished wedding images?’
Ask that question before you agree on the arrangement. Get it in writing, and then ask them about it just to be sure.
Ask that question whether it’s a friend with a camera, a newbie photographer or an established professional.
If your photographer is saying a hard 3 months and you cannot wait that long, that’s a deal breaker. Search for a different photographer that prioritizes quick turnaround.
If your photographer doesn’t deliver by the date they said they would, reach out and ask them what’s happening. A responsible photographer should at least be able to tell you what’s going on if they haven’t been able to perform the services in the contracted timescale.
A true professional should be able to stick to their agreed-on delivery schedule as that was their end of the deal.
But… we’re human. Sometimes life throws a curveball. Reality doesn’t align with intention. Something comes up. Accidents and emergencies happen. We make mistakes. Just ask and we will let you know what’s going on.
Phew, this article is long. Hope it’s helpful! I promise, your wedding photos will be worth the wait!
Want more wedding planning resources? Boy, I have just the blog post for you! All my wedding planning resources together in one place: