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.
To me, a full day of coverage is 8 hours. Other businesses might have a 6-hour minimum, but it’s not usually less than that.
- “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 fine 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 first started, 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.
Now, years have gone by and I have upleveled 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.
And if I don’t, 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.
Before anyone thinks that’s lazy or selfish, there are a few things that no-one would know, that I dive into here.
So here we go – 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
- 2 – 4 hours on phone calls or meetings
- 1 hour prep before meeting
- Prepping a custom timeline for each client (many hours over months)
- Venue scouting visit (1 hour + travel)
- Coordinating & connecting with other vendors involved (time varies)
- ½ day of prep before wedding
- Travel to and from wedding (could be a few hours!)
- Deliver 30-image sneak peek day after wedding (at least ½ hour)
- ½ hour Instagram sneak same day as wedding
- Culling, editing & delivering the wedding (2-3 hours per hour of photography) – more about that here.
- Follow up after delivery (customer satisfaction, reviews, add-on sales…. etc)
Hopefully this helps see what goes into the experience I offer. It definitely isn’t wise to compare apples to apples in this industry as each photographer may be doing something radically different to the next.
Saturdays 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.
But not only that, but there’ll be a higher chance of add-on sales such as prints and albums. Longer weddings typically indicate more lavish celebrations and bigger budgets.
We have very few opportunities to make the income we need, so every Saturday 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 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.
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.
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 planner who can steer you in the direction of what’s realistic, you could be setting yourself up for stress.
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 to them 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.
And yes, it also has to be worthwhile to me.
I have to be selective about the clients I work with
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 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 at this stage of my business 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 cut flowers, music, decorations, food or cake if it means being able to afford the photographer whose work will be with you for the rest of your life.
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 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.
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.
You may not 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.
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 when booking within about 6 weeks of your wedding date
- Elopements or small weddings – providing they meet one of the above criteria!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and hopefully you’ve learned a bit about minimum coverage for wedding photography.
I hope this article helps to clear up any misconceptions.
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 Saturday 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 likely to remain the case.
To wrap up
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.
If you’re wondering how to fill that time, please come talk to me! It’ll look different for everyone, and we’ll create something that makes sense for your unique wedding celebration.
Other photographers out there – do you agree, or do you prefer shooting a greater number of shorter weddings? Do you prefer to shoot shorter wedding days and make up your income by volume?