Ever wondered why wedding photos take so long to get back from your photographer?
Wedding photo turnaround time is often a deal breaker or a deciding factor for brides looking for the right person to hire for their wedding day.
But sometimes it’s hard to know what to expect until it’s too late.
This article will walk you through reasonable expectations to have for getting your wedding photos back.
I’ll share some data on the average wait time from a variety of wedding photographers to give you a ballpark of what to look for.
In addition, I’ll walk you through what is involved in editing wedding photos (aka post-production) to help you understand why it takes so long.
Hopefully, the information in this article will help you make solid decisions in your wedding planning journey.
Table of Contents
How Long Does it Take to Get Wedding Photos Back in 2023?
4-8 weeks is the most common turnaround time for wedding photographers.
This was the most popular response in a poll we conducted in various Facebook groups of professional wedding photographers.
4-8 weeks is a reasonable expectation for newlyweds when you consider some of the timeline challenges that we’ll discuss later in this article.
Here are all of the results of the poll to discover the average turnaround time to deliver wedding photos:
3-7 days 2%
1-2 weeks 10%
3-4 weeks 21%
4-8 weeks 57%
8 weeks+ 10%
How Long Is It Reasonable to Wait for Wedding Photos?
In my personal opinion, waiting more than 3 months for your wedding photos feels a little unreasonable in this day and age.
A photographer might have a very busy couple of months during peak wedding season when they can’t stay on top of their editing.
But at a certain point, they should probably charge more, hire some help, or outsource something so you don’t have to wait till your anniversary to relive your big day.
After shooting weddings professionally for over a decade, we deliver wedding photos to our couples in 2 weeks, a decision we made early in our business when we heard horror stories of couples waiting forever to get their wedding photos back.
The wedding photography experience isn’t over until the images are delivered and we want our clients to get their wedding photos back in a timely manner so that they’ll continue to give us positive reviews and recommendations.
Two weeks is a pretty fast turnaround time that is a selling point for our business and I believe it has gotten us some work from brides who are concerned about turnaround time.
We’re able to hit the two-week turnaround time because there are two of us and we implement some very efficient workflow strategies.
In the next section, we’ll dive into the post-wedding workflow so that you can understand the process from clicking the shutter to having wedding photos in your hands.
Understanding a Typical Wedding Photographer’s Timeline
When you exit the dance floor and head to your honeymoon suite, your photographer’s job is far from over.
Your photographer might have to drive home, release the babysitter, and start importing photos and charging batteries for the next shoot.
We shoot dual card slots, which means that our couples’ photos are automatically in two locations in case one card is corrupted.
One of the cards stays in the camera and another goes into a card wallet that we carry around until we can import the photos onto our editing computer.
From there we also start the process of backing up the photos to a secondary location so that eventually we can format the cards for the next shoot.
This takes time simply because we come home with thousands of photos from each wedding on multiple cards and as fast as computers are it’s still not instant with large raw files.
From there, we have to organize the files into our folder system and start our editing process.
The next step is to cull the photos from the thousands we shot to the hundreds we deliver to the couple.
Culling can be very time-consuming because it’s making thousands of decisions in a row which can be very fatiguing.
Experienced wedding photographers get pretty good at recognizing the good photos from the bad, but certain conditions can still slow the process down.
Sometimes I need a break so that I can come back to the photos with fresh eyes.
After culling the photos they need to be edited.
Sometimes this happens in a different program and therefore they might need to be imported into the program or previews might have to be loaded.
Even if your photographer uses some of the newer AI tools to expedite the process, the images have to be submitted to the service and reviewed upon return which takes time.
Then, every wedding photographer has a different editing style and some are more time-consuming than others.
The images might then be reordered and renamed.
From there they are prepared for delivery which might be uploading to an online viewing gallery and organizing into the gallery.
There are a lot of time-saving tools but certain things still take time such as waiting for images to upload.
What Factors Influence the Turnaround Time for Wedding Photo Delivery?
One of the main factors that influences the turnaround time for wedding photo delivery is how busy the wedding photographer is.
In certain states, we live in Colorado, wedding season is very compressed causing us to work a lot from about May to October.
In busy months we might be processing tens of thousands of photos, not to mention spending numerous days shooting.
The busier we are, the bigger our backlog of photos gets.
If your wedding date is mid-summer or peak fall colors, you might not get your wedding photos early.
Personally, I like to stay on top of my workflow time and get my couples their edited wedding photos as quickly as possible.
But even with our two-person team, 2 weeks is an ambitious goal that gets hard to meet in peak wedding season.
Let’s explore some other factors that might influence the typical turnaround time for a wedding photographer.
Your wedding photographer might have another job that reduces the amount of time they have to edit photos.
How many photos a photographer delivers will impact how long editing takes.
The editing style and workflow that your photographer implements will also influence how long wedding photographers spend editing photos.
What are Some Potential Causes for Delays?
Potential causes for delays might include any technical difficulties with cameras, cards, computers, or internet services.
A busy wedding season, family emergency, or vacation might cause a delay in editing images from your wedding day.
If you know your expected delivery date and it’s passed, don’t be afraid to ask in a kind way when you can expect your photos.
Most photographers want to get your wedding photos to you so give them the benefit of doubt unless you have reason not to.
How Long Do Wedding Photos Take to Edit?
Let’s talk through the editing process to see how long wedding photos take to edit.
After they have been imported, backed up, and culled down, it’s time to make them presentable.
Most wedding photographers shoot in a RAW file type also known as digital negative.
A RAW file captures uncompressed data from your camera sensor making it lossless.
The advantage of RAW files is that the photos can be edited more elaborately but the process is slower.
As I previously mentioned, the RAW files are larger than JPEG files which is part of what slows down the importing process.
However, RAW files have a lot of information to work with in the post-processing phase.
With the high image quality, there is a lot that can be done with all that data in the editing programs to make photos look their best.
For example, RAW photos have a large dynamic range which means a large ability to recover, enhance, and balance shadows and highlights.
RAW files also need to be color-corrected.
Much of the process can be done or assisted by AI or editing tools which are getting better all the time but are not perfect.
Wedding photography specifically is tricky because there are variable lighting conditions that the photographer is dealing with throughout the day.
Likely, the more experienced photographers can spend less time editing their photos because they probably have a more consistent shooting style which is easier to batch edit or create presets or profiles for.
However, then the editing style comes into play. Some wedding photographers are known for meticulous editing, which can take days to complete.
After adjusting the exposure and doing some color correcting, many photographers will spend additional time fine-tuning other aspects of the photos.
Some wedding photographers will crop each photo, remove distracting elements, or do some dodging and burning to bring your focus to the subject.
In our case, we spend the most time on the best photos. This means that we will take the top photos that we think might end up the the wedding album and spend a little extra time making them better.
What to do if you don’t get your wedding photos back
If you don’t get your wedding photos back, it’s time to get proactive.
First, you need to look through your communications with the photographer or the information on their website to see what promises are made and when you can expect to get your photos back.
From there, you should ask the photographer when your images will be ready or what the delay is.
Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and talk rather than just e-mail, it can be more effective to get to the bottom of difficult situations.
Once you have a handle on what’s going on, you can decide your next steps.
The average wedding photography contract will discuss some sort of limited liability wherein you get a refund if something unforeseen and uncontrollable happens to the images.
If the wedding photographer is simply unresponsive you might need to pressure them and get some legal advice for forcing them to get your images to you.
If your wedding photographer is taking forever and blaming it on not having time to edit the photos, you can always demand the RAW files and a release to allow you to have them edited elsewhere.
How long do you have to wait to get a wedding album?
Many wedding photographers provide a wedding album full of the best images from your wedding day.
The wedding album tells the story of your special day and is a tangible final product.
I highly recommend getting a wedding album to keep on your bookshelf or coffee table and look at on anniversaries.
Otherwise, you spend thousands of dollars with nothing physical to show for it. It’s not the same as just looking at images on a computer.
But I digress, let’s talk about getting your wedding album.
Wedding album expected turnaround time depends on the photographer, their workflow, your involvement, the album printing company, and shipping.
We deliver a wedding album proof when we deliver the image gallery with instructions on how to request edits.
The proofing software allows our couples to make comments requesting changes which we can then make for their approval.
If our clients are quick at making their selections it’s then just down to the print lab and shipping which might take 2-4 weeks total.
Some photographers might just design the album for you without your input which would be faster.
Other photographers might ask you for your favorite images before designing the album which might be slower.
What can couples do to help the wedding photographer speed up the process?
My main two tips for helping speed up the process of getting your wedding photos back are as follows.
Be a great client and actually read e-mails from your photographer.
If you work hard for your photographer, your photographer will work hard for you.
What that means is that we don’t get those epic sunset shots unless you follow us outside for the photo and we can’t get your wedding album to you quickly if you don’t respond to our request for your image selections.
Additionally, saying thank you and expressing gratitude throughout the experience can go a long way to how hard your photographer works to serve you.
Sometimes we’re just simply swamped with work and can’t go any faster but we always push ourselves to serve couples who we know really value and appreciate our work.
However, the best thing you can do is to choose your photographer wisely.
Make sure you read reviews and find out about the photographers turnaround time.
If you’re looking for a professional photographer, make sure they seem to act like a professional.
They don’t have to have the fasted delivery but do they at least meet the average photo delivery time?
What if I’m too excited to wait or I want to share photos with someone who couldn’t make the wedding?
If you know that you have a reception back in your hometown or some other reason that you need a few images sooner than your photographer’s delivery date, I suggest asking ahead of time for a sneak peek.
If I know ahead of time that three days after a wedding date my couple has another reception with family members that couldn’t make it, I’ll do a quick edit on a few photos for them.
Sneak peeks are fairly common so it’s worth asking your photographer if they do that.
Delivering full galleries requires a lot of steps but a little preview is fairly quick.
Some wedding photographers might not want to deliver anything other than perfectly finished images so you might be stuck waiting but it doesn’t hurt to ask as long as you ask nicely.
Your wedding day is important and I hope you’re crying happy tears looking at your wedding photos rather than angry ones as you wait six months.