How Much Time to Allow for Wedding Photos

Bride in floral silk robe opens bottle of champaign while getting ready for her wedding. Bridesmaids in floras silk robes watch and smile. Jasna Polana wedding photographer. Spring new jersey wedding.

When is a good time to begin the wedding day photography?

15 minutes to one hour before you put your dress on.

The time when you’re getting ready with your mom and closest family and friends has a totally different atmosphere than the rest of your wedding day. It’s relaxed, light-hearted, and informal. These pictures are a lovely way to “open” the story of your wedding day in your album.

Ideally, we recommend that you begin wedding day photography about an hour before you step into your wedding dress. It’s also possible to start just 15 minutes before you put on your wedding dress, if you need to keep the photography within a certain limit.

However, some of our clients don’t want “getting ready” pictures at all. That’s fine, too! You can also start with “first look” pictures, or even just half an hour before the ceremony.

It’s really a matter of what is important to you, and what you want documented on your wedding day.

Bride and groom stand at end of dock overlooking a pond and treeline at Woodloch Pines in the Poconos, Castle Couture wedding gown, lace back wedding dress, navy groom's suit, outdoor wedding photographer, resort wedding.

How do you decide whether to do a “first look” or wait until the ceremony to see each other?

What’s more important to you, not missing the cocktail hour or him seeing you for the first time as you walk down the aisle?

We don’t personally prefer one or the other — they are equally valid choices and both beautiful for photography.

First of all, what is a “first look”? A “first look” is a mini portrait session held right after the bride has finished getting ready, when the groom sees her for the first time. Usually, couples decide to do a “first look” instead of waiting to see each other for the first time during the ceremony because of the schedule. If there isn’t a lot of time between the ceremony and reception for portraits, or if you don’t want to miss a single minute of the cocktail hour, it’s better to do a “first look” and have portraits taken before the ceremony.

It’s nice to choose a picturesque spot in advance for the first look, and possibly recruit some friends or members of the wedding party to help organize it logistically. Just talk to your photographer and he or she will help you with all the details and make sure it’s one of the most memorable moments of your wedding day.

However, for some couples, it’s extremely important to wait for the ceremony so that the groom sees the bride for the first time as she walks down the aisle. It is a powerful moment that usually generates a lot of emotion, both in the groom and in everybody watching the ceremony. If your wedding day schedule is more flexible and you have enough time for a portrait session after the ceremony, waiting to see each other at the ceremony is a wonderful choice.

Playful industrial wedding party portrait at Brooklyn Navy Yard

How long do family and wedding party portrait sessions take?

Small family portrait sessions: about 15-20 minutes
Big family portrait sessions: about 45 minutes
Small wedding party portrait sessions: about 10-15 minutes
Big wedding party portrait sessions: about 25-30 minutes

Kyo likes to photograph family portrait sessions fast, because that keeps people’s expressions more natural. It’s hard to be relaxed when you’re standing frozen with the same smile on your face for more than a few seconds… so it’s helpful to have a photographer who has a lot of experience wrangling families for portrait sessions, and who can keep the atmosphere light, fast-paced, and fun.

To give you a ballpark range on how long family portrait sessions take, let’s take the example of a bride and groom who each have two parents and two siblings, but no other immediate family members. This would usually take about 15 minutes, or 20 minutes at the most.

For brides and grooms with big families (maybe including grandparents, stepparents, and/or married siblings with children), the portrait session would usually take about 45 minutes.

A small wedding party portrait session — including the bride and groom and just one or two bridesmaids and groomsmen — would take about 10 minutes. A large wedding party portrait session — with 7 or 8 bridesmaids and groomsmen on each side, or even more — would take about 25 minutes. However, if portraits with your wedding party is a big deal to you, and you want to have a lot of fun with them, it’s possible to spend more time (and be more outrageous and silly!) on these portrait sessions.

Just tell your photographer what matters most to you and how many people are involved, and they will be able to help you estimate the exact amount of time the family and wedding party portraits will take.

Metropolitan Building wedding bridal party portrait by NYC wedding photographer Kyo Morishima?????????????????????

Is it important to have a shot list for the portrait session?

If the portrait session is very important to you, a shot list is helpful. If candids are more important to you, a shot list isn’t necessary.

It all depends on your taste, style, and personality. For some of our clients, the family and wedding party portraits are very important, and they prefer to keep things as organized as possible. We have a section on our client questionnaire where brides and grooms can give us a detailed shot list, with all the different portrait combinations that they want.

For other clients, the formal portraits are much less important, and they care much more about the candid photographs. Sometimes they don’t give us any shot list at all. This is also completely fine; Kyo still takes some formal-style portraits (it’s always nice to make Mom or Grandma happy), but he keeps them as quick and relaxed as possible.

If there are any personality conflicts in your family (or divorced parents who don’t get along, for example), it’s a good idea to think in advance how you will arrange the portraits and how to swap people in and out of the pictures without making anyone feel uncomfortable.

We recommend that you find a good friend or relative who can act as “portrait session traffic cop,” helping to direct people in and out of the pictures. That way you don’t have to do the job yourself, and you can be more relaxed knowing that you’ve put the process in good hands.

Dancing golf course wedding portrait at Mercer Oaks Country Club in West Windsor, NJ

How long do portraits of just the bride and groom take?

20-30 minutes per location, up to an hour or more total

The portrait session with just the two of you is such a special time — it’s the only time on your wedding day when you have a chance to be alone together. Some of the couples we work with schedule an entire hour or more just for bride and groom portraits, and they always end up telling us how glad they were that they took that time to be together, just enjoy each other’s company, and capture the moment.

The exact amount of time your portrait session will involve depends on the number of locations where you want to have your pictures taken, and the time and traffic required to travel from one location to the next.

We prefer if you can spend at least 20-30 minutes per location, so Kyo has enough time to help you relax, have fun together, and get beautiful, natural portraits of the two of you. As we just said, more time (an hour or more) is always better, if your schedule allows!

how much time does wedding receiving line take - candid photo from swiss alps wedding

How long does a receiving line take?

25-45 minutes

Letting your photographer know if there will be a receiving line after the ceremony is very important. This is because receiving lines usually take a long time — after all, every single person at your ceremony will be personally congratulating you!

Receiving lines generally take about 25 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the wedding. Since they are so time-intensive, make sure you budget enough time in your schedule if you decide to have a receiving line.

Bride and groom exit wedding reception as guests hold sparklers, photographed by Kyo Morishima

How long should your photographer stay at the reception?

If possible, until the very end!

We are big fans of candid photographs, and as your wedding reception loosens up, with people dancing, drinking, and having a grand ol’ time, there tend to be lots of fabulous candid shots. So for us, our first recommendation would be that you have your photographer stay until the very end of the reception (and even photograph the “send-off”, which can be an exhilarating and touching moment).

However, sometimes your budget requires that you make hard choices. If you can’t have your photographer stay until the end of the reception, you can have them photograph just the beginning with the first dance and toasts. You can also coordinate with your venue and caterer; they can help you plan the schedule so you cut the cake early and get fun pictures of that before your photographer leaves.