5 Simple Steps to Calculate Wedding Coverage

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Welcome to the White Quill Blog—your one stop shop for wedding planning tips + inspiration. Because, as a 6w5 with over 100 weddings under my belt, my number one goal is to make sure you're prepared in advance so you can live your wedding day to its fullest.

Hey, I’m Chelsea

Wedding party going in for group hug

While researching wedding photographer packages, you’ve probably noticed how they all revolve around one thing: coverage. Whether it’s an hourly package or an unlimited one (also known as a full-day package), knowing how much wedding photography coverage you need is the key to booking your coverage.

But, in the early stages of wedding planning when everything seems up in the air, that can be a bit overwhelming to figure out.

To make things a little easier, here are the 5 steps I use during discovery calls to decide how much photography coverage a couple needs.

1. Start with what you know

The ceremony start time is one of the first decisions you’ll make. It’s also the one event your entire wedding timeline centers around.

So write down what time your ceremony starts—like *really* starts, not the time you’ll tell your always-late family members.

Then, subtract 30 minutes. This is when I recommend couples are completely done with photos and tucked away at the ceremony site.

This gives you time to freshen up while guests arrive and gives your photo/video team time to set up for the ceremony. Even if you don’t care about guests seeing you before the ceremony, it keeps mingling to a minimum so everything starts on time.

Example: If your ceremony starts at 5 PM, you should be at the venue by 4:30 PM.

2. Decide on a first look

Now that we know what time you have to be at the ceremony site, we have to figure out what you want to do before the ceremony.

The biggest determining factor is whether or not you want to have a first look.

Not sure if a first look is for you? Check out why I recommend it.

This will decide when wedding photos happen and will determine when everyone needs to be dressed.

Team First Look

If you’re having a first look, I recommend 2 hours of photo time.

Don’t panic—this isn’t 2 straight hours of smiling at the camera. That sounds horrible (even to a wedding photographer). These two hours factor in the first look and traveling between photo locations.

So, going off that earlier ceremony start time of 5 PM, we’d do the first look at 2:30 PM—2 hours before you arrive at the ceremony site.

Team No First Look

If you want to save the first look for the aisle, I strongly recommend taking separate wedding party photos before the ceremony. This means the bride will take photos with her side of the wedding party while the groom takes photos with his side. This helps cut down on photo time after the ceremony—you only need to take a few big group photos—and gives you a chance to have photos at a few locations.

Going off the earlier ceremony start time of 5 PM, I’d have both sides do simultaneous group photos at 3:30 PM.

3. Kick the day off right

Getting ready photos are often overlooked, and I get it. Guys don’t want to get ready until the last minute and girls don’t need photos of their hair half-done.

And, because of this, couples think they can cram 2 hours’ worth of moments into 30 minutes. But the last thing you want is to start the day off feeling rushed.

Make sure to pad in plenty of time so candid moments can unfold and you get the kind of detail photos you’ve been collecting on Pinterest.

Candids

By your wedding day, you’ll be a pro in front of the camera. Between engagement sessions and meetings, we’ll be old friends. But your parents and wedding party? They haven’t had that warm-up period—and it shows on camera.

If I had a dollar for every time a parent or bridesmaid has apologized for being “in my way”.

Getting ready is a chance for me to chat with your loved ones and make them feel at ease. It’s how they stop hiding in the corners of the room and aren’t afraid to be themselves in front of the camera.

So if you want photos of your mom wiping away tears without embarrassment or your best friends twerking with you in the makeup chair to your favorite song, make sure to have enough getting ready coverage so they get comfortable.

Detail Photos

If you’re incorporating personalized details into your wedding—like custom invitations, personalized cufflinks, and heirloom jewelry—you may want stylized photos. If this is the case, make sure to set aside enough time for your photographer to do the details justice.

Remember our hypothetical timeline?

If you are doing your first look at 2:30 PM, plan on starting coverage no later than 1 PM. Or, if you’re opting for no first look but are taking photos at 3:30 PM, plan to start coverage by 2 PM

That breaks down to 30 minutes details, 30 minutes candids, and then 30 minutes for getting dressed and exchanging letters.

If candids and detail photos are equally important to you, I’d consider having coverage start closer to 2-2.5 hours beforehand. But you can always add on this extra time closer to the date when things are less hypothetical.

4. Don’t rush dinner

Now that we’ve figured out the start time, let’s skip back to the reception to figure out the end time.

After your ceremony ends, events are pretty straightforward. You’ve got your cocktail hour, which will be filled with any leftover photos + cocktails, and then dinner.

A lot happens during dinner, and my main advice is just to soak up as much as possible. Make sure you have time to mingle with guests, listen to toasts, and (most importantly) eat.

Say your 5 PM ceremony is 30 minutes long. That would put your cocktail hour from 5:30 PM – 6:30 PM, with dinner starting at either 6:30 PM or 7:00 PM (depending on how quickly your guest count can move from the cocktail hour area to their seats).

Dinner will last about 1.5 hours (assuming everyone giving their toasts keeps it under 10 minutes), meaning formal dances will start at either 8:00 PM or 8:30 PM.

TL;DR plan for dinner lasting roughly 1.5 hours—this includes introductions, toasts, and cake cutting.

5. Dance the night away

When it comes to wrapping up coverage, I recommend doing so at least one hour after your formal dances, like parent dances, are scheduled. That way you get plenty of dance floor photos, but you also have built-in padding just in case things run late.

So, if your dance floor opens at 8:00 PM, I recommend ending coverage no earlier than 9:00 PM.

If you’re the kinda couple that loves to party and are most excited for the reception, brainstorm any important moments and traditions happening and decide if you want them on camera—I’m more than happy to stay ’til midnight if it means photographing your college friends rocking colorful wigs or interpretive dancing to “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”.

TL;DR plan for at least 1 hour of dance floor coverage but consider looking into “full-day” or “unlimited” coverage if to capture every moment of the party. Sometimes, it’s a more cost-effective option if you want to remember everything from your morning prep to the last dance.

Now add it all up

Take note of your start time (Step 3) and your end time (Step 5).

In this hypothetical case, a wedding with a 5 PM ceremony and a first look, I’d recommend at least 8 hours of coverage (from 1 PM–9 PM).


More of a visual learner?

If you’re still blanking on how to piece together your perfect timeline, download my free timeline guide below. Not only does it go over these 5 steps one more time (because they’re *that* important), but it gives you some sample timelines so you don’t have to start completely from scratch.

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Hey, I’m Chelsea

Growing up, I had big dreams of being a writer—but one screenwriting seminar over mac and cheese pizza changed everything. Now, with a film degree and over 100 weddings under my belt, I get to tell your real-life stories (and, trust me, they put my made-up ones to shame). 

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