There are countless ways to schedule your wedding day. The options are endless. As a wedding photographer, I've seen plenty of different ways that people have organized their big days. It seems like there are a hundred moving parts at play and the goal is to elegantly and seamlessly arrange everything for the least stressful, smoothest flowing day possible. It's a pretty tall order. And on top of it, you probably want some stunning photos out of the day, and that's my job. But, having gone around this track once or twice, I've seen the more and less stressful ways of doing it.
One super easy way to make the day less stressful and to make sure you have the time to get those photos that (unlike the cake, the flowers, and the decor) will last a lifetime: schedule your day with a first look.
What's a first look? Well, the "traditional" way of doing things used to be that the bride was hidden away from her groom until she walks down the aisle. This meant that there would be no time to get wedding party or family portraits, or any shots of you two, until after the wedding. And depending on when the ceremony takes place, that could land you trying to get your photos done after the sun has already set, trying to wrangle family members who have dispersed to grab their cocktails for cocktail hour, and leave you with a pretty small window of time to get wedding party, bride + groom, and family photos before re-joining the festivities.
If you're still in the timeline planning process, here are some huge reasons to schedule your day with a first look:
1. Light light light
As I mentioned above, many wedding ceremonies are scheduled for the evening, around dinner time, and depending on what time of year it is or where your ceremony is taking place, you could be stuck trying to get your portraits done after dark. I'll tell you, it's absolutely possible to do that, but when you look at most photographers' portfolios, including mine, the photos you see are almost entirely shot in daylight or evening sunset light. Night photography will give you a totally different look, so if you're after the type of photos you're probably hiring your photographer to create (i.e. ones similar to what you see in their portfolio), you probably won't get that look. I love shooting portraits before the ceremony and then also grabbing you two for 10-ish minutes and dipping out of the reception for a quick sunset session.
2. Time is (not) on your side
Wedding days are kind of crazy. You're trying to fit in a bunch of stuff all on one day, and one of those things is photos. If you don't utilize time wisely, you might start to feel the time crunch, which is more stress, and we want less stress. Wedding days fly by. Like, as super sonic speed. It's insane. I remember getting to the hotel after my wedding and I felt like I'd just been through some crazy whirlwind. It'll probably feel that way no matter what, but you can create a schedule that avoids the stressful part of whirlwinds.
If you wait until after the ceremony to get all of your portraits done, you're essentially only utilizing 50% of the time available on the day. Take advantage of that first part of the day and get your photos done. It'll be one less (rather big) thing to stress about.
3. You want your family photos with both of you right?
Time is at a premium on a wedding day, and family photos are usually a must-have on the list of photos. Getting these done before the ceremony means two things: first, it's way easier to wrangle all your relatives before all the other guests arrive. Your super social, beer loving uncle will probably make a bee line for the bar and group of guests to entertain right after the ceremony, along with plenty of other family members who conveniently didn't hear the instructions to gather for family photos. That means scrambling to get everyone present for the photos you want. Second, family photos take a considerable amount of time. There are always multiple groupings, which can get even more complex when there are divorces, separations, and step families, and everyone has to wait around until all the photos are done, which means they're not enjoying the amazing party you've spent months or years planning and putting together.
The other option, when the time crunch is just too much, is trying to do family portraits before the ceremony with only one of each of you. You could do the bride and her family and then the groom and his family separately. But, then, one of the best parts of a wedding is the bringing together of two families through your guys' union, and not having both of you present kind of seems silly.
4. Tradition (HUH) what is it good for?
Okay, okay, I know some traditions are still meaningful, but a lot of the traditions surrounding weddings are antiquated holdovers from a time that no longer applies. To us. Sure some are fun (old, new, borrowed, blue), but some are kind of weird and awkward (garter toss?), and some just don't make sense any more.
5. A first look is way more intimate
If you've dreamed of the moment you walk down the aisle in your dress and see your love for the first time, by all means, go for it. But if you don't have a strong opinion on the seeing-the-groom-before-the-ceremony thing, a first look is actually a beautifully intimate moment to build into your wedding day. Oftentimes family or friends will want to be present so they can see you guys see each other or snap cell phone pics of the moment, but honestly, I'd recommend doing it away from the prying eyes of friends and family. The whole day you'll find yourself surrounded by other people, take this one special moment to be with just the one person who is most important to you, especially on this day. And if your friends are bummed that they won't get pics of that tear that rolls down his cheek when he sees you, don't worry, that's why I'm there!
6. Cocktail hour is to be enjoyed, not rushed.
A lot of brides and grooms use the cocktail hour to get all their photos: portraits, wedding party, family... but that also means no cocktail hour for you! Unless we've got time for all of the portraits, wedding party photos, and family pics before the ceremony, we usually will end up finishing up a few extended family photos right after the ceremony, but if you've gotten the bulk of your group shots done before the ceremony, you're free to, you know, actually enjoy the amazing party you've spent months planning!
7. Time crunches don't result in the best images.
Okay, I mean, I can do what I can, which is pretty great (if I do say so myself), but great portraits take time. Having the time to relax and be able to take as many photos as you want will result in much better images. Having had many photo shoots of myself over the years, I know for a fact that feeling relaxed and natural during the shoot makes for overwhelmingly better photos. Doing a first look and bride + groom photos before the ceremony gives you plenty of time to relax and take photos without the pressure of feeling like you need to get back to your guests.
8. Actually get to spend time with your (almost) spouse
One thing I hear from almost all brides + grooms, and experienced myself, is that the whole day goes by so fast, it's a blur. My husband and I waited to see each other until the moment I walked down the aisle, and really I don't remember having a moment to just be alone with him until we were in the car driving away from the reception. No moment to take the whole thing in, to look in each other's eyes and be like, "Holy cow! This is happening! We're getting married!!" No moment to really just be with one another on a day that is about us joining our lives. I wish we could've had that built into our day-of timeline. We got married in November, which meant the sun set early, so in order to have enough natural light for good photos we had an afternoon wedding and scheduled our bride + groom portraits for after the reception, after we'd already left, around sunset. It seemed like a good solution at the time, but holy cow were we exhausted. I wish we'd spent longer taking photos, but we were just so wiped out I think we both just wanted a nap! Doing a first look and bride + groom portraits at the beginning of the day means you still have energy, your hair and make up is fresh (and un-cried through... yet), and you get to have that time to be with your love on a day that can feel like a freight train once the ceremony starts.
9. You look so fresh and so clean, clean.
I just touched on it, but one great thing about doing a first look and getting the majority of photos done at the beginning of the day: you look amazing! Okay, not that you won't look amazing all day, but a first look is usually done right after you two are finished getting ready. Your hair is on point, make-up is fresh and crisp, your man hasn't sweat through his suit with anticipation yet, your dress hasn't had any excuse to get dirty. It's a great time to capture you guys looking your most amazing!
10. It's what you want.
At the end of the day, I can tell you what I've experienced as a bride and photographer, but your wedding day is your day. My job is to let you know what I've seen and how things usually go and give you any advice that you need for figuring out your timeline, but at the end of the day, I'm just there to capture what you want. If you've wanted to wait to see your groom until you turn the corner and see him from the end of the aisle, we can figure out a timeline that works with that dream. I've seen plenty of different wedding schedules and, so far, every one ends up with a married couple at the end of the day, which is the most important part! It comes down to your priorities. Wedding photos are one of the few things that will last as long as your marriage. Flowers will wilt, the food will get eaten, the decorations will get taken down, the dance floor will get vacated, the dress will get put in a closet. The photos you'll get to treasure for your lifetime.
You'll get to watch your kids flip through your wedding album, laughing at how retro you guys look in your 2016 styles, looking at the photos we took on that special day. As a photographer, I believe photos are important, not just because it's my job, but because I remember being that kid treasuring my parents' wedding photos. I wore my mom's wedding dress because after looking at their wedding photos and seeing how beautiful she was in that dress, I couldn't imagine wearing another dress. My grandparents got married in rural Alaska in the 50's and there are only 2 or 3 photos from their wedding, but I have them. I treasure them. These photos are important, your marriage is important. And I believe both have lasting value that matters.
So however you build your wedding day timeline, think about what is a priority for you, what you value and how you want your day to reflect that.