I wanted to share my views on wedding day timelines because I get asked about timelines on a daily basis.
Producing a wedding is like producing a well orchestrated gala. Having shot weddings for over 20 years, I have seen timelines change year after year. When I first started out, many of the ceremonies were captured at churches, synagogues and places of worship. This meant that I would first start at the hotel then proceed to the church for the ceremony. After the ceremony there usually was a few hours in between to go to a different location to capture the portraits. Then, the last location was the venue for the reception. It was common for me to show up at 11am for hair and makeup and getting ready shots, 1 pm ceremony time , 2:30 pm portrait time with the reception to start at 5pm to go until about 10pm. That was a typical wedding day!
I got married in 1996 and my timeline was very similar to the one above.
Now fast forward to today. The wedding industry has made getting married very easy and streamlined. Most of the beautiful venues that I shoot at offer the ceremony to be held at the reception site. This is a wonderful transition and change from the past. Now you can even get ready, have your ceremony and reception all at one place. There is no need to hire a fleet of limos carting you around town from place to place, although there is a drawback to this. The timelines are so streamlined to a point that there is very little downtime. I see timelines now that look like this - 3pm getting ready 4pm ceremony 430-530 pm cocktail hour 530- 1030 reception. This typically takes place all in one location at the venue.
My suggestion to combat the current tight timelines is the following. If you have the opportunity to have a first look, do it. If you don't want to see each other before the ceremony, you will be taking precious time away from enjoying the cocktail hour and guests to take the portraits.
On the other hand, if you do a first look, we always stage it to your liking. Sometimes the couples want their parents and families to witness it, sometimes they want it private but the choice is yours. So, with the above timeline, I would alter it this way. 1pm getting ready 2pm first look 2:15 formal portraits 3:30 in hiding 4pm ceremony etc.
In addition to the point above, I have seen when I photograph the portraits during the cocktail hour that the families and the wedding party are sooo not into it. They all want to be at the party but when we do a first look and portraits before the ceremony, families and the wedding party are happy to be there! Its kind of like a private party before the guest arrive. There is nothing pulling their attention away and it is a more enjoyable time for everyone.
I will always give the pros and cons to first looks but let my clients make the final decision. Although, since the streamlined timelines , I feel more strongly about the benefits of a first look. I just think back to my wedding day. I had my wedding dress on for 12 hours and it felt like it was over in a second. Keep that gown on longer, extend the day and have fun!