What time your photographer should arrive on the morning of your wedding will largely depend on how long you have booked them for.
If you have booked a fixed number of hours of coverage then the best thing to do is work backwards. Consider what time your first dance is if you are planning to have one and work out the best arrival time that way.
Considering your timeline and working backwards
For example, if you have booked 8 hours of coverage and your first dance is scheduled for 8pm, then you may want to ask your photographer to arrive around 12:30pm. This will give you coverage into the evening as well as the dance itself.
This will of course depend on the time of your ceremony. Arriving at 12:30pm would be no good for a 12pm ceremony. It also depends whether evening coverage is something you want, or wish to prioritise.
It’s all about prioritising. Some couples choose to forego prep coverage in favour of evening coverage. Some would like a bit of everything covered. Others aren’t bothered about the evening stuff. If you’d like a balance, generally speaking, the final hour of prep is when most things happen. Finishing touches, dress going on etc. Therefore you can probably realistically plan for your photographer to arrive around 90 minutes before your ceremony begins if need be. The rest of the day can then be scheduled accordingly. For a 2pm ceremony, this would mean your photographer arriving at 12:30pm. A first dance would then usually take place anything between 7:30pm and 8pm. Giving you half an hour of dancing in the evening too….before things get too messy!
When your photographer doesn’t work to a fixed number of hours
What if your photographer does not work to a fixed number of hours? In that case we would suggest planning times according to what arrangements you have in place for the morning already. Hair and make up for example, or what time you are planning to leave. If you are having hair at 9am and makeup at 11 am for example, then it would be best to have your photographer there to capture some of the make up application, so you could ask them to arrive in time for make up application.
Personally, we like to arrive with a bride around 3 hours before the wedding ceremony is due to begin. This gives us plenty of time to capture make up application PLUS the build up of excitement throughout the morning. It’s also allows enough time for everyone to get used to being around us. People get used to the idea of a photographer being around and being photographed. Even as a documentary style wedding photographer with a photojournalistic approach, it can be quite intense during the preparation stages, especially if there are lots of people all getting ready in just one hotel room.
What about arrival time with a Groom?
With the groom (or the bride if it is just finishing touches to be captured) we like to arrive around 1.5 hours before the ceremony begins. This is often plenty of time to capture suits going on, button holes being done and that kind of thing.
These timings are based on the assumption that both partners are getting ready at the venue they are getting married at, or very close by. If there is travel time to the ceremony involved too, this should also be factored in.