Now and then in my wedding photography business, I’ll get questions about minimum coverage hours for wedding photography. It’s usually people looking for short wedding coverage below my minimum number of hours.
During the popular wedding season months, typically summer, wedding photographers will not be able to say yes to all inquiries that come in, when those leads are not looking to book us for a full day of coverage.
At Zoe Larkin Photography, during the summer, peak-season weekend dates, a full day of coverage is 8 hours.
For weekday weddings AND those taking place during the off-season months of December – April, the minimum coverage is 3 hours. If you want less than 8 hours of coverage, to avoid disappointment it’s highly recommend booking a wedding date that is NOT a Saturday or Sunday during wedding season.
- “We are only having a short wedding, so don’t need a lot of coverage”.
- “I only want a photographer to be there for a couple of hours”.
- “8 hours is good – but we want it split over two separate days”.
I’m going to address this here to be as honest and transparent as possible. The issue of the minimum number of hours for wedding photography is not one that’s discussed by the community at large.
And I fully expect that many people have never even considered this before. Maybe you’re thinking photographers are just greedy or don’t understand the needs of their clients.
Please know that it’s not a decision I take lightly when I have to inform hopeful prospects, unfortunately, no, I don’t think we’ll be a match.
When I was new to business, I’d take any wedding booking…
I started my business photographing small weddings which were often much shorter too. They were quirky, non-traditional. These types of weddings didn’t fit the mold.
That was fine because full-day wedding bookings were few and far between. I’d take any bookings that came my way.
And I loved those weddings! I even specialized for a while in intimate weddings (which tended to be shorter!)
I was still honing my craft and gaining confidence as a new business owner.
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Now, years have gone by and I have up-leveled my business. I can predict with some certainty I’ll book popular dates. Sure, not every single Saturday but enough to keep me sustainable and growing (COVID notwithstanding).
And if I don’t book them, then no real loss. I’ll enjoy the weekend off with my family. At this point in my career, I choose not to hustle for every single small job that comes in, and that’s OK.
There are a few things I’d like to enlighten you on, if you’ll indulge me. Specific reasons that there’s a minimum number of hours required for your wedding photography. Let’s dive in!
There are time costs per wedding that barely decrease with less coverage time
Job-specific tasks with every client
- Exchange dozens (or hundreds!) of emails during planning (many hours)
- Phone calls or meetings (2 – 4 hours)
- Prep before meeting (1 hour)
- Prepping a custom timeline for each client (many hours)
- Venue scouting visit (1 hour + travel)
- Coordinating & connecting with other vendors involved (time varies)
- Prep before wedding (½ day)
- Travel to and from wedding (could be a few hours; may involve overnighting)
- Deliver 30-image sneak peek day after wedding (1 hour)
- Instagram sneak same day as wedding or morning after (1 hour)
- Culling, editing & delivering the wedding (About 3 hours per hour of photography) – more about that here.
- Follow up after delivery (customer satisfaction, reviews, add-on sales, album sales consults…) (At least 1 hour)
Hopefully this list helps see what goes into the experience I offer. And sure, each photographer is doing something different to the next, but I think this would ring true for a large proportion of full-time working professionals.
Saturdays and Sundays during wedding season are valuable because they are limited.
When understanding the minimum coverage hours required for wedding photography, what’s good for business is a big factor.
It doesn’t make a lot of business sense to accept a 4-hour booking on a Saturday in June when the wedding is still 6 months out.
In the intervening 6 months, there is a high likelihood that I’ll be able to book a full-day wedding. That wedding will undoubtedly bring in more income for that one day. This is simply a fact of business.
But not only that, but there’ll be a higher chance of add-on sales such as prints and albums. Longer weddings typically indicate bigger budgets.
We have very few opportunities to make the income we need to see us through the year, so every weekend is valuable.
Most photographers don’t shoot any weddings Monday – Friday. The volume of inquiries isn’t there. The weekends are when they must make all the money they’ll need to support themselves and their families for the whole year.
I can’t let a valuable Saturday go just because someone doesn’t want to book me for the whole day. It makes more sense to wait for the next inquiry for that date, who will.
The caveat to that is that once a photographer grows beyond a certain size, they may start using independent contractors to go out and shoot multiple weddings on the same date. However, when the business name is the name of an individual, this is incredibly difficult to do, so I have had very little success with building out associates to shoot my clients’ weddings for me.
A short session isn’t enough time to create what you’re expecting
We’re storytellers. Documentarians. I pride myself on my unobtrusive, documentary style. It’s what I get the most compliments on when new clients inquire with me.
If the candid style of capturing moments is what drew you to my work, I’m assuming it’s one of the main reasons you’d hire me.
But when we’re only given 3 or 4 hours to complete the assignment, it may not be enough time to do our best work.
Say you have 3 hours of coverage. Of that time an hour is pre-ceremony set-up. Then you have individual portraits of the couple followed by the ceremony (which frequently will start later than slated).
Immediately after that, I’m pointing my lenses at the family groupings & any wedding party for half an hour. And then there’s just enough time for the newlywed portrait session.
There’s little time if any for candid photos of the guests mingling. Same goes for decor and wide shots of the venue before the guests arrive. And what of all the other parts of the day (getting ready, first look, decorations, food, cake-cutting, speeches, dancing…)
There’s hardly any time for creativity, for pausing and considering the most beautiful way to take a photograph rather than the quickest. Because that’s the thing.
Even though a photo is taken in 1/250th of a second, finding that right moment to capture, that great eruption of laughter, waiting for you to redo your make up or someone to come back from the bathroom, that perfect bit of sun, the way some folks take longer to warm up to a stranger… that takes much, much longer.
To create the visual story of your wedding day, there’s a minimum number of time investment required for best results.
Shorter weddings can actually be more stressful!
With shorter weddings, there can be a temptation to cram a regular wedding into a much shorter time frame. Or at least to try. Sometimes trying to save a few hundred dollars – having spent thousands on the wedding, couples create a stressful situation for themselves & their guests.
Without a wedding planner who can steer you in the direction of what’s realistic, you could be setting yourself up for stress. Many couples are very unaware of this aspect of small /short weddings, so I’ve compiled this detailed article to throw some light on a misunderstood topic.
Chances are, there’s a reason why most wedding days, and wedding photography packages, sit somewhere in that 8 – 10-hour range.
It’s a kind of sweet spot that ensures time for everything you value. Yet you’re still living in the moment, enjoying your day, savoring and reflecting,
The wedding photography I provide is an experience, not just a product or service
My couples are those that put a high value on photography and are willing to invest in it. They are the people that trust me and let themselves learn about something that’s new and unknown – but is my life’s work.
Beyond the wedding day itself, I want to provide a stellar experience. As I mentioned in the section about the job-specific tasks, every client I take on deserves the best of me.
For example, I make it a point to meet with every client I can before the wedding day. This takes time, usually during evenings and weekends. This is time that I, frankly, don’t relish working but I need to stay flexible to meet the needs of my busy clients. It’s part and parcel of the profession I’ve chosen.
To continue to provide such a high level of service, I have to be selective about the clients I work with. It may sound harsh, but it’s a simple fact of business. Gone are the days of saying yes to everyone, or even people-pleasing. It’s an adjustment for sure, and part of the constant evolution of being a business owner.
The decision is partly linked to coverage hours.
If I take on too many clients, I’ll inevitably let some people down. I wouldn’t be able to provide a high level of service. Or I’ll burn out and close my doors, which I’ve seen happen many times in this industry.
I would strongly suggest trimming down your overall wedding budget if you have your heart set on a particular photographer. You can easily go for cheaper or more creative options when it comes to floral design, music, decorations, catering or cake if it means being able to afford the photographer whose work will be with you for the rest of your life. This will end up being all the tangible goods and memories you take away from your wedding day.
Photographers don’t need lavish floral displays, expensive signage, exquisite furniture rentals, the finest table linens, the most prestigious venue in town and the most up-to-the-minute wedding attire, in order to create meaningful photos. All we need is the two of you, in love and in the moment. That’s all.
But so-and-so will do a package for just 2 hours!
The good news is there will always be many photographers that will happily take shorter bookings. Perhaps they take any length of wedding coverage or have lower minimums.
They may be less experienced photographers who are looking to take any bookings. This was me a couple of years ago, striving to build my wedding portfolio.
The second category is to choose a large photography firm that will dispatch an independent contractor to shoot your wedding.
I’d typically recommend the former (but can provide recommendations for both types).
I actually have many many newbie part-time photographer friends in my network who create great work. They are looking for smaller jobs to cut their teeth and can be super flexible with packages. Is there work guaranteed to meet the standard of an experienced professional? No. But you’ll be able to take a chance on someone that may be the next big thing!
The reason I’d recommend the first option is that when you’re dealing with a larger company they have to make up the bookings in volume. They may not be able to carefully vet and train each contract photographer on their books.
It’s possible you won’t have the chance to build a rapport with the actual photographer who’ll be at your wedding. Instead, you’ll likely be dealing with the business owner, office manager or admin assistant.
However, their prices will be unbeatable and you may get someone seriously talented. We all have to start somewhere. I used to take on jobs like this not so long ago. In fact, I’ve contracted for many photography businesses, large and small.
What happens if a wedding couple wants split coverage?
‘Split coverage‘ is the name I give to it when couples want photography coverage on two separate days – OR on the same day but split into two.
Wedding photography coverage on two different days (‘multi-day coverage’)
The first application of this is actually an incorrect understanding of split coverage. If you want events covered on two different days, that is not one event split into two – it’s two separate bookings! Enter: multi-day coverage.
For this case, it’s very simple. You are simply making multiple bookings with me. Each day represents a different booking. If you are going this route, it’s possible we can come to an arrangement in which I can offer you a SMALL discount against ONE of your bookings : ).
This is as a thank you for giving me the chance to work two separate days in a multi-day coverage situation.
Wedding photography coverage on one day with a gap in the middle (‘one-day split coverage’)
In the second case, we are talking about one event with a large gap between proceesings. The first thing I must impress upon you is – don’t do it! It’s really not true that there’ll be idle time during your wedding day – no matter how simple and low-key – when there’ll be ‘nothing to photograph’. Of course there is! There’s so much to capture even if it’s not one of the so-called big moments.
This is a mammoth occasion where everyone comes together. And, as candids are my specialty and the main reason people hire me, I urge you to have your whole day covered, even the parts where you are thinking ‘oh, nothing much is happening now’. Au contraire!
Plus, wedding days always run late. You may be thinking there will be all this ‘dead time’, but that can not only be super fun as everyone has the chance to enjoy themselves, chances are this will be eaten into by prior events running into this time.
In 5 years of shooting weddings full-time, I’ve only had one wedding that’s ever run completely, 100% on time. (Shout out to Jenn and Brian and their wedding at the Quadrus Conference Center!)
Anyhoo, if you insist on having a break in the wedding day (all contained on one day), here are the two scenarios.
Whether or not the weddings are within home base – for one-day split coverage only
If both events – taking place within the same day only, of course – are NOT within the exact boundaries of the City and County of San Francisco, I charge idle time at half of the regular rate for photography that’s applicable to your booking.
This obviously works out to be fairly expensive given that you’re getting NO return on that money. It’s designed this way to encourage you that it’s worthwhile having everything covered!
If – and only if – both events are contained within San Francisco proper, then I do offer the option to split your coverage, with the following caveats:
- There is an extra $100 split coverage fee on top whatever is due for the coverage hours.
- The gap between the sessions must be at least 2 hours.
- The sessions must be on the same day – no exceptions.
- Each session must be at least 1.5 hours in duration
- There is a maximum of two sessions per split day. (You cannot break it up into three or more chunks.)
The reason for this difference is that I live in San Francisco. I can just go home during the parts of the day I’m not needed. If I’m elsewhere in the Bay Area, it would take too long to drive home and then return to where the rest of the wedding is taking place, so I don’t offer this as an option.
This can be a cool option for San Francisco City Hall weddings, in which you are having your ceremony at the time of day when the light’s horrendous, but really want to do a sunset photo shoot, for example.
These are blanket rules that I have established for a reason, so please don’t ask for exceptions to be made for your wedding if it’s not warranted. However, I do welcome questions in case anything is unclear.
Also, I reserve the right to judge each request on a case-by-case basis and make no guarantees that I can definitely accommodate your requests for split coverage, especially if they are made at a later date. I also may change my approach without notice, as and when I get more of these bookings and assess what did or didn’t work for my business.
Most photographers would not dream of offering something like this, so I hope that it’s met with the spirit in which it was intended – to offer flexible options for my clients who often have unconventional wedding days and request bespoke arrangements.
Where there is some leeway
So, we’ve established there’s a minimum amount of hours I can offer to make it worthwhile. In the San Francisco Bay Area, wedding season is rather long, which is one reason why it’s such a popular wedding destination.
For my purposes, wedding season starts on 5/1 and ends on 11/30. My minimum during that time is “up to 8 hours”. I say “up to” because even if you only need a photographer for fewer than 8 hours it’s still the same price you’ll pay.
So here’s where there’s some leeway with having less than 8 hours of coverage (please inquire for specifics):
- Monday – Friday weddings (year-round)
- Weddings during the months of December – April (any day of the week)
- Weekends during wedding season only when booking within 4 weeks of your wedding date
- Elopements or small weddings – providing they meet one of the above criteria!
- Hiring an associate photographer trained by me and working in a similar style (edited in-house by me / my editing team for consistency)
To wrap up
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and hopefully you’ve learned a bit about minimum coverage for wedding photography.
This is my reality as a full-time photography business owner. It’s different for everyone, but much of this information will apply to others, too.
Want to know what a realistic photography cost is for your weekend wedding during the season?
I’ve written an article about exactly this topic, to help educate and guide you as you to what’s low-end, average and high-end. While there are exceptions to every rule, my in-depth article with independent research is a good place to start.
Currently, my pricing is below the average price for a wedding photographer in San Francisco. But as my business grows that is unlikely to remain the case.
Want to understand wedding vendor pricing? I’ve created this in-depth resource linked below that dives into the often-misunderstood topic.
I hope this has helped to shed light on minimum coverage hours for wedding photography and why it exists. So, let us capture it all! You won’t regret it.