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 our minimum number of hours.
During the popular wedding season months many established wedding photographers are sadly only able to entertain inquiries that are 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 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.
For weekday weddings AND those taking place during the off-season months of December – April, the minimum coverage is 3 hours. Please see the table below:
|Wedding date||Minimum number of hours|
|Wedding season weekend||8|
|Wedding season weekday and off-season weekend||3|
|San Francisco City Hall ceremony||2|
If you would like less than 8 hours of coverage, couples should opt for a wedding date that is NOT a Saturday or Sunday during wedding season.
Wedding season, as far as I define it for the purposes of my business and the market we operate within, starts on 5/1 and ends on 11/30.
It’s not only myself that operates like this, it’s common for anything but the newest or lowest-budget wedding photography businesses. In fact, many of my competitors have an 8-hour minimum for ALL weddings, regardless of season or day of the week!
- “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.
What it comes down to is this: There is a base level of time for each job no matter how small it is. This base level barely decreases if you have a shorter wedding day, or even a non-wedding shoot.
The truth about those starting out in business…
I started my business photographing small weddings which were often much shorter too. They were quirky, non-traditional, short and low-budget.
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 specialized in intimate weddings (which tended to be shorter!). I still do them when I can, but we don’t limit our services to solely low-guest count weddings.
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 work a little more than I’d like to be working.
At this point in my career, I choose not to hustle for every single small job that comes in, and that’s OK. Whether it’s myself or an associate shooting a wedding, all of the work (except the hours while at the wedding) still fall on me to attend to.
There are a few specific reasons that there’s a minimum number of hours required for your wedding photography. Let’s dive in!
There is a base level of time for each job no matter how small it is
Job-specific tasks with every client
- Exchange dozens (or hundreds!) of emails during planning (many hours)
- Phone calls or meetings (2 – 4 hours)
- Pre-meeting prep (30 mins)
- Prepping a custom timeline for each client (many hours + lots of back and forth)
- Venue scouting visit (1 hour + travel – not offered any longer)
- 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 – this is now a paid add-on)
- Instagram sneak same day as wedding or in the days 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.
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 many 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.
We can’t let a valuable Saturday go just because someone doesn’t want to book for the whole day. It makes more sense to wait for the next inquiry for that date, who will.
A short session isn’t enough time to create what you’re expecting
We’re storytellers. Documentarians. We pride ourselves on our unobtrusive, documentary style where it’s less posed and more about you enjoying your wedding.
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. You might have a first look then a few romantics followed by the ceremony (which frequently will start later than slated).
Immediately after that, there’s half an hour or so of family and wedding party photos. And then there’s just enough time for the newlywed portrait session potentially with some travel time.
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…) which many people end up wanting to do, despite having a very pared-down vision initially.
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, couples inadvertently 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 6 to 8-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 taking it all in.
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 fact of business. Gone are the days of saying yes to everyone. 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 to others 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 arguably 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.
Do you remember every meal you’ve eaten at weddings you’ve attended? Do you recall the types of flowers and the size of the cake? Can you remember the calligraphy wedding invitations and the custom signage? Likely not.
Photographers don’t need lavish floral displays, expensive signage, exquisite furniture rentals, a $20,000 ballgown, 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.
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:
a) Less experienced photographers who are looking to take any bookings. This was me a couple of years ago, striving to build my wedding portfolio.
b) More geared toward serving the low-budget market
c) From larger photography firms that dispatch independent contractors to shoot your wedding, and take all bookings
d) A photography side-hustler that already makes a full-time income in a traditional job so weddings are just a bit of bonus money for them.
What about using an associate photographer?
As you may be aware, I do have a team of wedding photographers – my associate team. You can meet them here! You may even be thinking it’s possible to get one of them to shoot your weekend wedding, as it’s not impeding the lead photographer (me) of the chance to pull in a full-day booking.
While that may sound like a good idea (and sometimes it definitely is!), the talent that I have on the team is just as in-demand as I am. The associate photographers may have their own photography businesses, families, travel plans, busy jobs and lives as well as other commitments.
For them too, taking on a short booking is not worth giving up a Saturday or Sunday for. This is a date when they could have taken on a more lucrative booking for another photography company or for their own businesses (or had a well-deserved break as sometimes during wedding season they do not have a single weekend to spend time with their families and friends).
If I had to give low-hour bookings to a team member, I wouldn’t want to compromise the quality of the photographer you’re getting by choosing someone who is not in demand and therefore may be less experienced.
However, sometimes I do have dates when an established team member IS happy to take on a <8 hour-day for their own reasons. For example if they have a long wedding the other weekend day, or if they feel like taking on a shorter wedding to break up a weeks-long run of full-day weddings.
Please inquire directly about your date and I would be able to ascertain whether an associate photographer is able to reserve this date for you, turning away all other longer bookings that may come their way. There’s no guarantee but it’s worth asking as everyone’s schedule is unique.
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.
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!
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.
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.