How long does a photo session take? How much of your day do you need to dedicate to this investment? It depends on what kind of images we’re taking, where we’re taking them, and more. In this post, I’ll walk through the average session lengths for some of the different types and some factors that could shorten or lengthen them.
Average Photo Session Durations & Types
The average family photo session is 45 minutes to 90 minutes long. I hope it’s evident that the timing depends tremendously on the kids’ age and moods. When the munchkins are young, the sessions are either super short or very long. The short end is if the kids say they’re done and are no longer cooperative. On the other hand, you can take a few breaks during the session to help the kiddos stay engaged, which can push the overall duration of the session.
Senior portrait sessions are incredibly diverse and complex because there are often several outfits and locations. If it’s a studio only senior portrait session, then I’d say the average session duration is 45 to 90 minutes long. If a non-studio location is used, the average senior portrait session lasts about one to two hours.
Branding portrait sessions are necessary for influencers, solo entrepreneurs, and freelancers to create content to populate social media feeds, websites, and marking materials. Brand portrait sessions can last 45 minutes for a “refresh” or a specific campaign or take 4 or 8 hours if the subject is starting from the ground up and creating all their content in one day.
The catch-all for sessions that aren’t headshots, family, branding, or seniors – these sessions can include beauty, glamour, boudoir, maternity, sport, or general creative portraits. Similar to seniors, a portrait session can take 45 to 90 minutes if in a studio and one hour to 2 hours if done on location. I like offering up to 3 hours for my portrait sessions to ensure we have plenty of time, there’s no feeling of a time crunch, and we can squeeze in some extra looks if we’re getting fantastic images.
A mini-session is a reduced photography session designed to last only 15 to 20 minutes. Typically, a photographer will offer a day to knock out 10 or 15 mini-sessions at a single location. Mini-sessions are popular for holiday cards where you need a quick in-and-out session for a handful of poses with one outfit.
Average Headshot Session Duration & Types
Actor headshots depend highly on the number of characters/roles or “looks” they wish to capture. The different looks typically mean a different outfit and lighting style. A single look can take 15 to 30 minutes to capture, depending on the actor’s and photographer’s respective skill levels. Most actor headshot sessions capture two to three looks, with an average session length of 45 to 90 minutes.
Professional headshots are usually very quick. Most professional types need one headshot, maybe two. Experienced headshot photographers can take longer to set up the lighting than to take the actual headshot. The average professional headshot session takes 20 to 45 minutes.
Corporate Group Headshots
Often, a company will hire a photographer to take headshots of their staff to ensure their website has a cohesive look on the “Meet the Team” web page. The overall session duration will vary depending on the number of people to photograph. However, because the lighting and location won’t change between people, the time for each headshot is pretty quick, with an average duration of 5 to 15 minutes per team member.
Factors That Influence Photo Session Duration
Travel & Location
Most sessions are typically faster when taken at a studio than on location. At a studio, there’s no walking between spots or finding areas with the right background and lighting because the photographer is creating those. If walking between locations, the session may take an extra 15 to 30 minutes. If you have to drive between locations, plan an additional 30 to 45 minutes to account for travel, parking, and finding your photographer again at the new location. Most photographers consider travel time between locations part of the overall session time, so keep that in mind when planning your session! You can assume you’ll need to pay for an extra hour of session time for two or more locations if they require driving between them.
Props & Set Up
If you have one simple prop like a book or a laptop, this doesn’t apply. For sessions with complex and detailed backgrounds and prop setups, you can add anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to a session just for one arrangement. Luckily, most portrait sessions requiring something so intricate are based around that one setting, but you’ll need to account for that time in your portrait session.
Number of outfits
Assuming you’re staying in one spot for your session, you can usually get two to three different outfits per hour of shooting. Some outfits only take 5 minutes to change into, and others may take 15 minutes, depending on the complexity and accessories. Portrait sessions will take more time per outfit compared to headshots due to the variety of potential poses.
Hair & Make-Up
Most of my portrait sessions include hair and make-up, which adds anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour before we start taking any images. Additionally, if we have multiple outfits and lighting styles, each with a different hair and make-up style, that will add another 5 to 30 minutes per “look.” Portrait sessions with simpler hair and make-up styles sessions can usually get two to three looks in during a two-hour portrait session.
Time To Build Trust
I tell all of my first-time clients to bring one additional outfit as an “I don’t care if we get good pictures” to start their sessions. The reason is that we haven’t built trust yet. Typically, the first portion of a portrait session is spent getting relaxed and comfortable. I hate wasting a fantastic outfit on “meh” images because we weren’t in the flow of things yet. Hopefully, through the initial inquiry call and possibly a planning session, you’ve developed some semblance of trust and rapport with your photographer before they pick up a camera. Even with that, don’t count out those first 15 to 30 minutes to simply settle in and start having fun during your portrait session.
Some photographers may include a sales session as part of their overall process. In this meeting, your photographer will show you the proof images from your portrait or headshot session to determine which ones you want to buy and in what format (digital images, wall art, albums, or other printed product). For my headshot sessions, this happens immediately after we finish taking your images and can take 15 to 30 minutes. For my portrait clients, this occurs a few days to a week after the session date and usually takes one to two hours. This meeting is typically separate from your photo session time, but it’s something to keep in mind for your overall time commitment.
Every photography session has nuances and differences. When talking with a photographer about a potential session, communicate your goals and expectations upfront and clearly. They’ll walk you through the estimated duration, associated pricing, and other details to make that happen. Then, you’ll be able to work together to develop a plan for how to get the images you want, and have a great time doing so!