You might be thinking "I'm just having a really small Key West destination wedding; I could never use up 4 hours of coverage".
Planning a big wedding is easy. You know you're going to need lots of time to include everything. Small weddings, however, can take more time than you think, so watch out for "little things" that eat up the day, regardless of how big the wedding is.
It's true, four hours does seem to be that magic starting number of many wedding photographers. If you're planning an event with a handful of guests, it might be tempting to look past photographers whose packages start at four hours.
Elopement ceremonies are about the only weddings that can easily make use of only 1 or 2 hours of photography. Having photographed tons of "small weddings" (which are "average" sized for us here in Key West!), I can attest to how many brides struggle with this. Sure, there are some events that really only warrant an hour, maybe two, but they tend to be teeny tiny, ceremony-only type weddings where it's just the bride and groom, the photographer, and the officiant. Every now and then we'll see a few friends in attendance, but that's it.
Beyond that, most weddings, even self-described "tiny weddings" (again, often "average" in Key West) can easily make use of the standard four hours of coverage. I'll get to the breakdown in a minute, but in a nutshell, the timing blocks out into four major areas:
PREPARATIONS | CEREMONY AND FAMILY GROUPS
BRIDE & GROOM PORTRAITS | FINAL PARTY/TOASTS/COCKTAILS
In a very broad sense, each one of these makes up roughly an hour. Now, before you scoff that there's no way you'll need "an hour" of getting ready shots, let me just say that I agree! You don't need an hour. But if you're going to have them, you will need about 30 minutes for the ladies and about 15 minutes for the groom. And assuming you're not getting ready in the same room, you know that bipedal action it takes to get from one end of the hotel to the other...and back? Yep...that's an easy 3 to 5 minutes each way.
Okay, okay...so no, we aren't counting steps between rooms, but my point is that it is so easy to forget about all the little things that eat up the day. Walking to and from, loading into the car, waiting for the elevator, and so on. If 10 different activities each take "only five minutes", that's basically an entire hour right there. And even if you are executing your wedding day with military precision, something will inevitably take longer than expected, so you have to account for some conservative "buffer time", just in case.
You chose a destination for a reason. Why not make use of it for your wedding photos? You can bet your best friend won't have cannon balls in her wedding album, now will she?
Here is one sample 4 Hour Wedding Schedule for a smaller event in which everything is taking place at a single location (assuming the couple are both staying at the venue where the ceremony will be held), assuming the bride and groom won't see each other beforehand, and aren't needing the photographer for a big reception.