How Long Does it Take to Get Your Family Photos Back?

Getting those perfect family photos back from your photographer can feel like it takes forever. You spent time picking out the perfect outfits, found the ideal location, and managed to wrangle the kids for an hour without any meltdowns. Now you’re excited to see the photos but it seems like it’s taking the photographer forever to get them back to you.

As a family photographer myself, I totally understand the anticipation and excitement around getting your images back. But there are some good reasons it takes photographers a while to deliver the final edited photos. In this article, I’ll walk through the typical timeline and process so you know what to expect.

The Photographer’s Workflow After Your Session

After your session wraps up, the photographer’s work is just beginning. Here are the key steps we go through:

Importing and Culling

The first step is to import all the images from your shoot onto our computers and external hard drives to back them up. This process can take several hours depending on how many total photos were taken.

Then we’ll do an initial culling session where we go through and delete any shots that are too blurry, have bad expressions, bad lighting, etc. For a typical family session that’s an hour long, your photographer may take anywhere from 200-600 photos. We’ll usually narrow that down to about 100-300 of the best images to move forward with.

Editing and Retouching

This is where the real magic happens! We’ll go through the selected images and edit them to perfection using professional software like Lightroom and Photoshop.

Editing includes color correction, exposure adjustments, cropping, straightening, and applying an overall style/look to the images.

Retouching is more detailed and includes removing temporary distractions like small skin blemishes, whitening teeth, removing any small stray hairs, etc.

This process can take 15-60 minutes per photo depending on the amount of editing needed. We want them to look natural but also flawless!

Backup and File Delivery

Before delivering your edited photos, smart photographers will back them up one last time for safety. Hard drive failures can happen and we would hate to have to tell you all your photos are gone!

Then we’ll export your edited photos from Lightroom and upload them to an online gallery for you, or export to a USB drive to deliver to you. This process takes a few hours as well depending on the number of high-resolution files.

Why Does it Take So Long?

As you can see, there are quite a few steps involved between your session wrap and getting your finished photos back! It takes time because we want to deliver the best possible results for your investment.

Rushing through and cutting corners might get them back to you quicker, but would sacrifice quality. We know you want to see them ASAP, but patience at this stage pays off down the road when you have beautifully edited family photos you’ll cherish for a lifetime.

We’re Perfectionists

Photographers tend to be perfectionists and creative types. We’re often harder on ourselves than even our clients are! When we’re editing, slight differences in color, tone and cropping that are imperceptible to clients can drive us nuts.

We’ll obsess over each edit, going back to re-work it multiple times until everything about the lighting, color and retouching meets our high standards. What takes you 2 minutes to glance over might take us 20 minutes to agonize over. But that attention to detail is what creates truly exceptional photos.

High Quality Takes Time

Your photographer wants to deliver images that look spectacular when printed in large wall portrait sizes. That means using high resolution cameras and keeping file sizes large, which slows down editing and file transfer times.

Unlike monthly Instagram photos from your phone, professional cameras produce RAW photo files ranging from 25-80 MB each. Multiply that by hundreds of photos, and you’re dealing with 10+ GB worth of data that all has to be processed.

Delivering low-res social media files would certainly be quicker, but your photographer doesn’t want to take shortcuts… these images need to stand the test of time even decades down the road when printed or viewed digitally.

We Juggle Multiple Clients

Photographers rarely work with just one client at a time. While yoursession and photos are extremely important to us, we’re likely also shooting and editing for multiple other clients simultaneously.

That means time spent editing each client’s photos gets a little broken up. Your photographer isn’t sitting down for 8 uninterrupted hours working solely on your gallery. Instead, we do it in chunks and batches, squeezing it in between other projects and obligations. This drawn out process means delivers take longer, but it allows us to devote the proper time and care to each client.

Life Happens!

Let’s not forget photographers have a life and family outside of work as well! In a perfect world we’d do nothing but edit photos 24/7, but in reality other responsibilities pop up.

We get sick and need days off, have appointments to attend, kids’ activities to drive them to, vacations, etc. Not to mention computer crashes and technology hiccups that can delay projects.

That all means timelines get drawn out longer than we’d like. But again, it’s in service of providing the time and attention your photos deserve, while still balancing real life.

How Long Should You Expect to Wait?

Now that you know what goes into our process, what’s the typical turnaround time you can expect from your photographer? Here are some general guidelines:

1-2 Weeks

For a smaller session of just an hour or two with 50-100 photos taken, most photographers aim to deliver the finished edited photos within 1-2 weeks. This assumes the photographer doesn’t have other shoots booked close together, and life cooperates without too many interruptions!

One week turnaround is ideal, but two weeks is still reasonable for small batches. If it goes longer than that, reach out to nicely inquire about an estimated delivery timeframe.

3-6 Weeks

For full sessions lasting multiple hours with several outfit changes and locations and 200+ photos taken, photographers usually require 3-6 weeks to deliver the full gallery.

As described above, the culling, editing and retouching process takes exponentially longer the more photos there are. If your photographer is also shooting back to back sessions daily, fitting in that much editing in quick bursts takes longer.

3-4 weeks is pretty standard for wedding photographers. If you booked a family photographer who also shoots weddings, your session may unfortunately fall lower on their priority list.

Tips for Getting Your Photos Faster

If your session has passed the typical turnaround window, don’t panic! Here are some tips for getting your hands on those pics sooner rather than later:

Have Realistic Expectations

The first couple days after your shoot, try to curb the temptation to excitedly reach out asking when you’ll get to see them. Trust that your photographer is working diligently through their process! Give them at least a week before checking in.

Remember this is their job, not a favor for a friend. They have procedures they need to follow, other clients’ projects to work on too, and artwork can’t be rushed.

Anticipate 3-6 weeks from the outset so you aren’t left disappointed. Think of the payout as receiving a beautiful gift that you look forward to instead of constantly checking the mailbox.

Be Flexible

Understand delays happen sometimes. Equipment fails, files get corrupted, life has surprises. Don’t take delays personally.

Your photographer wants you to have the photos as much as you want to see them! If you’re kind and flexible when issues come up, they’ll be very apologetic and go the extra mile for you.

Book at Less Busy Times

Avoid having your session right before major holidays or in peak wedding season if quick turnaround is important to you.

Fall is ideal as photographers are less slammed. Late spring and summer are busiest for family sessions and weddings, so builds in more delays.

Booking between major events gives your photographer more breathing room to dedicate to editing your collection.

Order Fewer Images Upfront

Need some instant gratification? Ask your photographer if they can deliver a handful of your favorite family portraits within a few days, then follow up with the rest of the gallery later. This gets you a sneak peek to tide you over until the full delivery.

However, limit your rush order to no more than 10 photos. Trying to hurry through editing hundreds still takes weeks. Pick your must-have shots and be patient with the rest.

Avoid Unnecessary Edits

Resist the urge to micromanage editing and send over long lists of tweak requests. This bogs down turnaround times further. Trust your photographer’s vision and style.

But if there are small fixes like color changes you know you’ll want, mention those upfront so they can batch edit based on your preferences from the beginning.

Back Up Your Raw Photos

Many photographers are happy to provide you with backup copies of your raw unedited session photos if requested upfront in your contract.

This allows you to have the memories backed up while giving the photographer full time to perfect the edited versions without rushing. Just be prepared for the files to look very different unedited!

Prepare to Pay Rush Fees

Some photographers may offer expedited turnaround for an additional rush fee, which guarantees your session gets prioritized over others and worked on first.

Often the rush fee is 50%-100% of your base session cost. This compensates them for dropping everything to work overtime just on your gallery.

Rush fees let you “cut in line” when you need photos quickly, but be prepared to pay extra for the privilege.

Should You Ask for a Discount if It Took Too Long?

Say you booked your family photos months ago for a vacation, birthday, or holiday card. You agreed on a 3 week turnaround. But now it’s been 6 weeks and you still don’t have them back. It’s past the date you needed them.

It’s understandable to feel frustrated and want to ask for a partial refund or discount on your session cost. Especially if the delay means the images lose value to you.

However, unless your contract included a clause about turnaround times, technically your photographer isn’t obliged to provide a refund or rush them for free. Here are a few things to consider before asking:

  • Did you communicate the importance of the deadline upfront? If not, they likely assumed you were flexible.
  • Can the images still be used for other purposes like gifts, wall art, albums? If so their value isn’t completely lost.
  • Is the delay due to the photographer falling ill or having a family emergency? In that case, patience and grace is best.
  • Have they proactively communicated about the delay and sincerely apologized? If so, they’re likely doing their honest best.
  • Is the work they deliver worth the wait? It may be an annoyance now, but you’ll be thrilled with the results for years to come. Beautiful images often can’t be rushed.

I always recommend polite, reasonable communication first before getting upset or asking for discounts.

If the delay was within their control and no extenuating circumstances led to it, kindly explain you had communicated the deadline was firm and the missed date negatively impacts you. Can they rush the remainder now, and provide a small discount on your next package as an apology?

This puts them on notice you had an agreement and felt let down. If handled graciously, most photographers will happily provide a token discount on your next session.

But avoiding aggressive complaints or demands helps preserve your relationship for future family photoshoots. Assuming the images do finally meet expectations, they’re still worth what you paid. Let your photographer make it up to you next time instead.

How to Speed Up Photo Delivery for Future Sessions

To avoid an overly long waiting period for your family photos in the future, discuss timing and set clear expectations with your photographer upfront:

  • Ask about their average turnaround time for sessions of your size before booking. Decline to book if it’s longer than you can accommodate.
  • Specify any must-have delivery deadlines in writing during contract signing. Be reasonable about holiday restrictions though.
  • Agree to rush fees or penalties if deadlines aren’t met so you have recourse.
  • Book your session during the photographer’s “off season” so they have lighter workload.
  • Limit your session length and variety so there are fewer images to edit. A simple 30 min family shoot translates to a much quicker turnaround.
  • Communicate which photos are your highest priority to edit first in case of delays.
  • See if they can deliver a small teaser batch in a few days to tide you over until the full gallery is ready.
  • Provide helpful feedback on your preferences during your shoot so they know what to deliver. Say if you want bright, cool toned images with minimal retouching for example.
  • Opt for simplified edits that require less processing time.

Setting expectations proactively makes for smooth sailing! The more details about deadlines, delivery preferences and editing style you provide upfront, the quicker your photographer can get your flawless photos delivered.


Waiting weeks for your treasured family photographs can feel like torture when you’re excited to see them! But there are good reasons professional photographers take so much time editing and perfecting your images before delivery.

Now that you know the detailed process and complexity involved, plan your shoot at an unbusy time of year for your photographer and discuss turnaround expectations in your contract.

Be patient, stay flexible if delays happen, and trust that it’s worth the wait to receive gorgeous heirloom-quality photos your family will enjoy for a lifetime. The memories captured are timeless.

With open communication and realistic timelines for the photography and editing process, you’ll get your photos back feeling thrilled with the results! Just remember to order some prints, albums and holiday cards from your photographer so you can proudly display your images once available.

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