As a client looking to have professional photos done, this question is likely one of your top inquiries…
As a professional photographer on the other end of this question, there are two aspects of this question to consider.
- How long is the actual photo session?
- How long will it take to complete the photo session?
Meaning everything in between from shooting to finalizing the delivery of edited photos to your client.
There are many factors that affect the length of a photo shoot.
Let’s start by just discussing the photo shoot itself.
Photoshoot Session Length
In general, most professional photographers will have a full session or mini session available for most of their lifestyle or portrait session options.
For family photos or portrait photography, the average time for a full session is typically an hour. A mini session commonly means half a full session and in most cases is a 30-minute photography session.
The actual time spent is usually longer for the photographer than the clients though.
From the Photographer’s Perspective
The time spent can vary on the type of session that is planned.
For example, if it’s an outdoor location for a portrait photoshoot, from the photographer’s point, arriving with enough time to scout the location for posing or activity ideas, assess the natural lighting or plan for a specific shot discussed beforehand will take an additional 30 minutes at least.
For a wedding photographer, this can take even more time. Arriving an hour in advance is usually a good amount of time to prepare adequately in order to obtain the best results for the wedding day.
The first time you’re at a location you’ve never photographed at though takes some time to scout.
As a photographer, you need to walk around and see what spots will be ideal for your portrait photoshoot. Different factors that affect this are the time of day of the shoot, high traffic areas, and the look of the potential backgrounds.
For an outdoor location, a good time to schedule a shoot is typically golden hour. This ensures having the best natural lighting for your family portraits or any type of portrait photography.
But even this usually falls into the one-hour time duration as golden hour is commonly known as that one-hour span following sunrise or preceding sunset.
You can read more about the best time of day for photography here.
Other factors like peak season for certain types of photo sessions can also affect the duration of a shoot.
The peak season for anything like summer time for tourists visiting historical spots in town, weddings with the most popular month being October, and family sessions such as summer into fall can affect the amount of adequate shoot time actually obtained during a scheduled shoot.
For example, I’m writing this blog in the fall going into winter. Everyone and their mother is wanting and doing family Christmas photoshoots. I had a family schedule their shoot at one of the most popular sites in downtown San Antonio, during the weekend which is the busiest time for this area, let alone it being a peak season for foot traffic.
Let’s just say out of that 1-hour shoot scheduled, it was rough. The actual time in photos taken was probably half the time of the entire shoot that was paid for.
Whereas, I had a 30-minute photography session with a family of three. They actually rescheduled their shoot to a sunrise golden hour timeframe which was at 730 AM on a Saturday in this same fall into winter season.
Because it was a morning, early session, we had an amazing highly successful photoshoot even though we were at a popular park because it was early in the morning and hardly nobody was there.
For Potential Clients
So as potential clients, consider all these different factors and the different forms of those factors.
Consider the type of session you’re wanting to take and the times of day that would be the best time for those photos to be taken.
Consider how much time will actually be available to the photographer taking the shots versus preparation or accommodation during the shoot that eats up the actual shoot time.
For example, a lot of time can go towards moving out of the way of heavy foot traffic, or waiting for a specific spot to open up to take photos which takes away from the actual shoot of being in front of the camera itself.
These are things most clients don’t realize affect the length of a photoshoot. But if the first step of an initial client inquiry is taking these things into consideration, then the client and photographer can ensure the absolute maximum potential of a scheduled photoshoot for the best shots possible.
The Post-Editing Process
Many clients include the length of a photographer’s turnaround time as part of the consideration of booking a photoshoot.
And when it comes to considering a booked photoshoot as a whole, this does factor into the duration of a booked shoot.
The post-editing process is not as simple as most clients perceive.
I wish it was a matter of just shooting photos, doing a quick editing process and then sending them to the client.
But from a professional portrait photographer’s point, there are various steps that take time during this process.
The great thing is, a professional photographer most likely has a system for optimizing their editing work flow.
#1. First there is organizing the footage obtained during the shoot.
All the RAW digital images have to be moved off the memory cards onto a reliable hard drive. They have to be organized in a way where a copy is saved for future references and emergency back-ups.
#2. Then those images have to be imported into a photography editing software.
You may have heard of the Adobe Lightroom software. This is my weapon of choice when it comes to photo-editing and many consider the industry standard when it comes to editing photos.
#3. Once those images have been imported into the software, then it’s time to cull through those images. We’re talking more than dozens of photos, but hundreds, possibly even thousands when it comes to wedding photos.
The term cull or culling is simply sorting through the photos to select the ones you want to keep. It is a selection process that is necessary to perform before starting to edit if you want to be efficient in the editing process.
This can take a lot of time especially if a photographer is not using an AI (artificial intelligence) software to help them sort through the RAW footage quickly.
Personally, I do not use an AI software though this may change in the future. And from experience, I know that I cannot sort through hundreds of photos in one sitting. This may take me a few days to do in order to select the photo images to work on.
#4. Once the best photos have been selected, then the editing process begins.
Photo editing takes time as these cannot be done all in one sitting. Many factors come into play here such as the quantity of photos taken, the conditions in which the photos were taken (if a lot of editing needs to be done versus minimal editing), and if you’re creating your own presets, getting the colors and look just right.
There are ways to offset this to require less time but most photographers will take several weeks to finalize the finished product for an hour photoshoot versus months for something like a wedding that takes all day or even a few days.
#5. After the photos are completed, then it’s time to export these finished photos out of your editing software.
#6. After exporting and making sure these final images are saved, it is now the best time of the photoshoot process for the client. And that’s the delivery of final images.
Even this can take time since the photographer has to upload the photos into an online gallery or external USB, organize the footage for presentation and then deliver them to the clients.
Nowadays the most common method of delivery of the photoshoot final product are digital copies.
So how long does a photoshoot take?
The answer depends on how your perspective.
The actual time of taking photos may only be an hour, but the time to complete a booked photo session from start to finish can take weeks.
I hope our discussion of the main things of the photoshoot process that affect the duration of a shoot give you a better idea of your photographer’s perspective.
The takeaway point from all of this is to be patient.
It may seem very simple from your perspective as a client for your photographer to complete your photos. So why can’t your editing time be completed within a few weeks?
Well, if I may be kindly honest.
Besides all the factors above, remember, you are not their only client.
Photographers, especially those producing high-end quality portraits, have multiple clients and multiple projects they’re working on simultaneously. They’re adding your session to their already active on-going sessions in progress. Besides that, they’re likely working on maintaining their personal website, social media accounts for marketing purposes so they can continue taking photos for a living.
So keep this in mind at your next photoshoot session.
Trust your photographer to take the necessary time needed to process the absolute best images from your shoot as possible and delivery it in a reliable, professional manner. And photographer, trust your clients to be understanding of the process and don’t rush to deliver less than the best just for the sake of time.
It’s all worth it in the end. For everyone.