In order to determine how long your wedding photography coverage needs to be, and to get the best and most cost effective wedding photography coverage, I suggest you break your wedding planning timeline down into four phases:
First, we've got the wedding ceremony itself, and the very important events leading up to it. If you don’t plan to do the formal wedding portraits of the bride and groom with the wedding party and with families prior to the ceremony, then I like to arrive 30 minutes (at least) before the ceremony -- more if it's a big ceremony with lots of attendants -- to capture some posed and candid images of the Bride and her bridesmaids getting ready, and of the Groom and his groomsmen.
Then it's on with the wedding! An average wedding ceremony lasts from 15-30 minutes unless it's a nuptial mass, which can last an hour. I'm busy documenting the events as they occur, assuming the venue (and you) allow me to photograph during the ceremony. It’s very important that you obtain guidelines from the officiate well in advance of the wedding date as to what we can do during the ceremony, so we can plan for alternatives if we’re not permitted to photograph, with flash or at all, during the ceremony, or if we’re not able to gain access to the church for the formal wedding group portraits if you plan them before the ceremony.
Second, we've got the posed formal groups of wedding party, family, etc. These can be done before the ceremony if time and your personal preferences permit, or immediately following the ceremony. They take from 30-60 minutes depending on the size of both families and the number of different family and wedding party poses you want, but we may be delayed in starting that phase if you have a planned (or unplanned!) receiving line after the ceremony, or if someone is late for these pictures. One “lost” family member or bridal party member can delay us for precious minutes you’d rather be spending with your friends and guests at the reception! So be sure and let your wedding party and families know where to be — and when to be there — for those critical formal group poses.
Third, I always like to allow 15-30 minutes some time during the wedding coverage for some Romantic Moments images of just the two of you, away from the crowd, preferably in some beautiful outdoor setting with palm trees, or a dock, or something that will create a lifetime memory of the beautiful place you were married in. I strongly recommend that you reserve this special time solely for you and your groom. (And you two can get a little break from the hustle and bustle of the event, too!)
Fourth, of course, is the reception coverage. I can do posed or candid images here, or a mix of both, and stay as long as you want me to. There are lots of activities going on at the reception you will want documented, from the grand entry of the wedding party to the first dance, the best man’s toast, the cake cutting, the bouquet and garter toss, and the traditional leaving in a shower of rice or birdseed. You're the only one who can decide how much photography time to allocate to the reception phase.
Add all or any of those "phases" together and you'll have a good timeline for your wedding photography — long enough to document the events so you'll have a lifetime of memories but short enough that you'll also have time to enjoy your wedding!
I’ve been photographing weddings for many years, so I’ll be most happy to assist you in planning your wedding photography timeline in any way I can.