A wedding guest laughing at the best man's speech | Rose Dedman Photography | Bath Wedding Photographer

How Many Hours Do I Need a Documentary Photographer at My Wedding?

A common question during a discovery call with a potential wedding photography client is “How many hours do I need a documentary wedding photographer at my wedding?”. This is great to think about because it will affect the flow of your day, the types of moments captured, and ultimately, the story told through your wedding photos. Let’s delve into what you should consider, to decide the number of hours your would like your photographer to be present on your special day.

1. Understanding Documentary Wedding Photography

So you’ve come across this phrase, “documentary wedding photography” – but what does it actually mean? Documentary wedding photography is all about capturing the real, candid moments as they unfold. Rather than trying to capture posed portraits, a your wedding photographer will be looking out for the raw, genuine emotions of the day, so that when you look through your wedding album it will take you back to how it felt to be there on the day. The aim of the photographer is to blend in, observing and photographing the real interactions and emotions, creating a visual narrative that’s uniquely yours. This means that the amount of time that you have a photographer there with you documenting your day really depends on what elements of your day are most important to you to look back on, or whether you would really like a complete wedding story from start to finish.

2. Starting with the Basics: Pre-Ceremony Preparations

Getting Ready: 2-3 Hours

The magic begins long before you walk down the aisle. The excitement, anticipation, and heartfelt interactions during the preparation phase are are a beautiful way to start your wedding story. From the bride’s quiet moments with her mother to the groom’s last-minute jokes with his best man, these are memories worth documenting. A wedding photographer will usually recommend starting 2-3 hours before the ceremony to capture these precious moments in a documentary style. This time would consist of: 1 – 1.5 hours with the bride, then you need to allow travel time to the ceremony venue (if the day is not all in one place) and then 45 – 60 minutes at the ceremony venue before the start of the ceremony, capturing arrival of the guests, last minute preparations of the groom and groomsmen and a quick chat with the registrar or vicar to check their requirements.

3. The Heart of the Day: The Ceremony

Ceremony: 30 minutes – 1 Hour

The ceremony is the heart of your wedding day. Depending on the length and format, 30 minutes – 1hour (perhaps a little longer for a church service) is usually enough to capture the procession, vows, ring exchange, first kiss, and the emotional reactions of your guests. For a documentary photographer, the focus is on the candid moments – the tearful eyes, the joyful smiles, and the intimate glances that make your ceremony uniquely yours.

4. Capturing the Joy: Post-Ceremony Celebrations & Group Shots

Post-Ceremony: 1-2 Hours

Immediately following the ceremony, there’s often a period of congratulations, confetti throwing, family photos, and sometimes a cocktail hour. This is a golden time for capturing a small handful of family group shots (of desired), spontaneous interactions between guests and those stolen moments of newlywed bliss. Allowing 1-2 hours here ensures these moments are well-documented without feeling rushed. And for the group photos, when choosing how many you would like, bear in mind that it’s best to set aside around 5 – 10 minutes per shot, to allow for finding anyone who has disappeared off to the toilet, or gone to get a drink at the bar. This time can soon mount up and feel like an age, especially if it’s a hot day, so it’s ideal to keep the number of group shots low. 

5. The Festivities: Reception Coverage

Reception: 3-5 Hours

Receptions are where the energy truly picks up. For a 3 course meal this usually takes around 2 hours and then from heartfelt speeches to cake cutting, the first dance and lively dance floor moments, there’s a lot to document. For a comprehensive story, the ideal amount of time is then at least 3-5 hours of coverage. This range allows me to capture the key events, as well as the candid moments of laughter and joy throughout the celebration.

6. The Grand Exit: Closing Moments

Send-Off: 30 Minutes to 1 Hour

If you’re planning a grand exit – think sparklers, confetti, or a classic car send-off – consider adding an extra 30 minutes to an hour of coverage. These final moments can be as memorable as the vows and deserve a place in your wedding album. You may decide to leave at 10pm before you look too bedraggled, book coaches at midnight or even party well into the small hours. It’s worth checking with your desired photographer if they have a cut-off time for how late they are prepared to work. 

7. Tailoring to Your Needs

Every wedding is unique, and so are your photography needs. Here are a few scenarios to help tailor your coverage:

  • Intimate Weddings: For smaller, more intimate weddings, 6-8 hours may suffice, covering the essential parts of the day without feeling intrusive.
  • Large Celebrations: For grander affairs, 10-12 hours of coverage ensures no moment is missed, from the early morning preparations to the late-night dance floor antics.
  • Destination Weddings: If you’re having a destination wedding, consider extending coverage to multiple days to capture the full experience, including welcome parties and farewell brunches.

8. Package Lengths Offered

Different photographers will offer packages of varying lengths and they may also be able to customise packages to your needs and ideas for your day. This is something to consider when researching your wedding photographer. A really short package could simply be from the ceremony to the group shots just after the ceremony. Longer coverage could include the bridal prep until the speeches before or after the wedding breakfast. Often the standard amount of time for a photographer to stay is from bridal prep until just after the first dance but then you may also want coverage well into the evening celebrations until you make grand exit at midnight.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the number of hours you would like a photographer to be present at your wedding is about considering your budget and then choosing what is most important to you on the day. Balancing the key events with the spontaneous, unscripted moments that define documentary wedding photography. Perhaps the preparations are important to you, to capture the mother-daughter / father-son relationships, the ceremony is obviously the key part of the day and then the remainder depends on your budget and how much of the celebrations you would like to capture. By understanding your wedding timeline and your priorities, a photographer can work with you to create a plan that perfectly encapsulates your special day.

Remember, the goal is to tell your story authentically, capturing the essence of your wedding through the lens of a documentary photographer and the eyes of a guest. Whether it’s 6, 9, or 12 hours, what matters most is the moments captured and the memories created together.

If you’re still unsure or need personalised advice, feel free to reach out to Rose Dedman Photography, to help you craft a coverage plan that fits your vision and ensures your wedding day is beautifully documented.

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