How Much Time Should I Book With My Photographer

How Good is Your Internal Clock?

As creatures of habit, we develop very accurate internal clocks for the things we do every day. Whether it's your commute, how long to cook your favorite recipe, or how much extra time to allot when your friend tells you they're “almost ready”. 

Groom Checking Watch on Key West Wedding Day.jpg

With such repetition on everyday tasks, it's easy to estimate time for these when you've had lots of practice.

But your wedding...!?

Many of us have very little experience planning a wedding, so we have to rely on our vendors to tell us how long their service will take. Your hair and makeup stylist may ask for a head count and a few simple questions.  For the DJ, their schedule is going to revolve around how much time you've rented the venue.   

Schedule time in your Key west wedding day to capture photos like this.jpg

When it comes to photography, however, there are so many variables to consider.  

Combined with the fact that they will spend more time with, and have more access to, you and your guests than any other vendor, it's a good idea to carefully think through how much time you need before booking. When discussing the amount of coverage needed to shoot a wedding, how tightly you schedule your day depends on how you answer these questions:

1) What kinds of locations are most important to you? 

Couple kiss behind sea grass on beach in Key West during engagement photos shoot

  • Are you hoping to spend some time going around town and hitting scenic spots around the island?  

  • Or are you content to shoot just at the venue?  

Driving around town is a great way to add images you can't get anywhere else, but the driving, setting up, and shooting takes time, so be sure to account for that if this is something you want.  

2) Do you prefer more “outside the box” artistry or more traditional images?

  • Are you inspired by epic creative shots you see in magazines and on Pinterest?

  • Or do you prefer more traditional posed-style close-up portraits?

I find that while some clients are game to climb over rocks, brave the wind, teeter atop a sunset seawall, and indulge every creative trick I can pull out of my bag on their wedding day, others just want to spend time with family and want something more simple and traditional. While I typically incorporate BOTH regardless, I definitely know when I have a client who describes specific images or themes or ideas, that we need to budget time to set up and create those shots, as they do take more time. A professional photographer is used to working under pressure and on a time-crunch, but creativity tends to flow a little more generously when they know they've got an extra 15 minutes to spare.

3) How many posed family groupings do you anticipate?

Family Group Photo during Wedding at Hyatt Centric.jpg
  • Will it be a quick set of shots with parents and siblings only?

  • Or will we need a clipboard, referee, and a bullhorn (kidding!) to round up your posse for every possible combination of extended family portraits?

On average, it takes approximately 2 to 3 minutes to set up, shoot, and break down each family grouping. That doesn’t sound like much when you just say it like that, but when we start outlining multiple combinations (ie, “mom with dad, dad with uncles, sister with spouse, then add their kids, now get grandma, but we forgot Aunt Sally, etc), the time quickly adds up.

I like to keep my family groups under 20 minutes, or about 10 combinations of family members.

If you will have more groupings of family members, that is totally fine, but just make sure to budget the time for it. Try as your photographer might, there is just no changing the laws of physics, and it is impossible to do 37 groupings in 5 minutes.

4) Are you a high-energy person who likes to move fast? Or would you rather take your time and savor each moment? 

Married couple walks across black wall of Fort Zachary Taylor historic site during wedding day photos

If you are a naturally “Type A”, with spreadsheets for your spreadsheets, are high-energy, fast-talking, and don’t like to dawdle, then you will do just fine having your wedding day scheduled down to the millisecond, and you will relish in the efficiency of it all without batting an eye.

However, if you're someone who would rather take it all in, walk slow, take time to stop and chat, or are generally someone who needs time to pause and think, then you should plan to buffer your schedule. If you don’t, you’re going to feel rushed and it’s going to impact the experience of the day.

5) Does your Family tend to run late for group outings?

Family members perform a flash mob at a Key West wedding.jpg

Let’s say you’re very punctual and move through your day like clockwork, but your family is one that notoriously moves on island time (even if they don’t live on an island!).

Then, you may want to build a little more time into your schedule anyway, otherwise a tight timeline may make it hard for everyone else to keep up.

Whatever your schedule looks like, I'm going to make sure you stay on it. Most of the time, that just involves my assistant reminding us occasionally how much time we have left throughout the day.  But sometimes that means cutting out the last stop from our around-town session because 3 groomsmen ran late.  Think about how much hustling you want to do, and how comfortable you will be with last minute changes if things don't go according to plan. 

6) How much variety are you comfortable with in your photos?

After 18 years in the business, I have a workflow and methodology that lets me produce high quality images regardless of how tight the schedule gets. But like any creative professional, the more time there is to take in the surroundings, look for unique opportunities, and take advantage of serendipitous moments, the more variety you'll see in the finished product.  For some people, this is very important and is what they look for in a photographer.  For other people, as long as they have a few nice shots in a single spot, they are happy.  

7) Are you open to seeing each other before the ceremony?

  • Is tradition more important and not having him see you until you walk down the aisle?

  • Or is maximizing your time for photos of the two of you without sacrificing time with your family more important?

If you are open to seeing each other beforehand, then it means we can spend some of the time beforehand capturing images of you together, with the bridal party, with family, or hit areas around town without the rush of knowing everyone is waiting for you.

As a result, less time is typically needed between the ceremony and reception, and it means you get the benefit of joining cocktail hour if you like.

I understand traditions are nice too, but when you’re trying to maximize your time with both your photographer and your family, a First Look is often the best way to go about it.


"That's great and all, but I still have no clue where to begin."

No worries.  Your Key West Wedding Photographer should be willing to help you write your schedule after you’ve booked them, or be willing to discuss it with your wedding planner.  But if you want some general guidelines, here is what I suggest:

FIRST - Start with the one "set" time you know will not change.  If your officiant has set the ceremony time, use that.  If you're basing the entire schedule around something like a sunset, do a quick search to determine what that time is.

SECOND - Work backwards from your "set" time to determine when you need to start.  Use the answers to the questions above to help you determine where more or less time is needed.  If you're unsure, always assume you've calculated short and buffer in extra time.  

THIRD - Go back to your set time, and work forward through the rest of the day to determine what time you'll be done.  Again, keep in mind where you might need to be extra generous to avoid the stress of rushing.

And if that wasn't enough, I want to leave you with one more helpful tool.  Use it to get a rough estimate of how much photography coverage you will need, based on the parts of the day that you know you definitely want covered.  Use it as a literal checklist to build your coverage, or just reference it as a guide for a schedule you’ve already made.

Wedding Day Photography Timeline Checklist

Details (shoes, dress, flowers, etc) 30 min Photo with each bridesmaid  3 min/ea
Girls / Bride getting ready 30 min Photo with each groomsman  2 min/ea
Guys / Groom getting ready 15 min Posed group images 10-15 min
Moving between rooms (same location)  5 min Fun & playful group images 15-30 min
Moving between locations 15-30 min CEREMONY  
Portraits of bride alone 15 min Walking to ceremony (same location)  5-10 min
Portraits of groom alone 10 min Getting bride only to/from car  5 min
BRIDE AND GROOM   Getting entire bridal party to/from car 10-15 min
Moving into "first look" position    10-15 min Driving to ceremony location 15-30 min
First look moment                      5-10 min Lining up for processional 10 min
Posed / traditional images            20-30 min Processional   5 min
Fun & candid-style images           30-60 min Ceremony & Recessional 15-75 min
Loading/unloading into vehicle         5 min/stop Post-ceremony congratulatory moments   5 min
Driving to next location  5-15 min RECEPTION  
Walking to each shooting spot  2-5 min Grand entrances 15 min
Photos during each location stop     20-30 min Special dances & toasts 30-45 min
Returning to ceremony venue 10 min Scenery and decor photos 15-30 min
FORMAL / GROUP PORTRAITS   Bouquet/garter/other traditions 30-45 min
Gathering family for portraits 10 min Wedding rings and other creative photos 30 min
Posing and shooting small group  3 min/group Sneaking B&G away for sunset photos 20 min
Posing and shooting large group  6 min/group Cake cutting 10 min
Buffer time if "sideline shooters" distract groups 10 min Mingling and miscellaneous candids 45-60 min
Buffer time for missing guests 10 min Dancing and miscellaneous revelry 60-75 min

I hope you find these tips helpful!

And if I’ve missed any, leave me a comment and I’ll add them to the list!

Key West Photographer Karrie Porter discusses how much coverage for wedding day on her blog.jpg

Karrie Porter is a Destination Wedding and Portrait Photographer based in Key West, Florida. Shooting professionally since 2001, she brings nearly 2 decades of shooting and studio management experience to clients and other photographers, serving up creativity and education with her signature style and energetic personality. For More Info, Meet Karrie and Team