March 12, 2020

Bridal Basics: What if we don’t want a first look?

Last week on the blog, I shared four of my top reasons to consider a first look: you get to enjoy the surprise of seeing each other freely, you’re able to extend the amount of time you spend together on your wedding day, you can enjoy your cocktail hour, and it truly doesn’t ruin or downplay the ceremony experience at all!

However, there are plenty of reasons to NOT incorporate a first look into your day, too. In my earlier post, I mentioned that I often suggest sticking with a traditional timeline when my couples have an earlier ceremony. An earlier ceremony means more time before the reception, so we are able to catch most of the perks mentioned above without breaking from tradition. Of course, I still have couples that choose to do a first look even when their ceremony is right at noon! It’s completely and totally up to you!

Which brings me to the main reason I recommend against first looks: when my couples truly don’t want to do one!

I never want my brides and grooms to feel any pressure to do a first look when it’s not their preference*. However, I also don’t want them to make the decision without being educated on the topic, either.  So, for today’s Bridal Basics post, I thought I would share what I do when planning a wedding day photography timeline in response to couples who choose to not do a first look. Let’s get started!

Situation #1: No First Look with an early afternoon ceremony

When there is plenty of space between the ceremony and reception time, my couples often choose to opt out of a first look. In this case, we typically save all portraits for after the ceremony. Of course, I’ll still photograph candid getting-ready moments, as well as the bride getting into her dress and a few bridal portraits, too. However, it’s often easiest to save the rest for later on! This provides consistency throughout the day and helps de-stress an already rushed morning (thanks to an earlier ceremony time). Here’s an example of what a wedding day with this set-up might look like:

11:30am Getting Ready Candids / Detail photos

12:15pm Bride gets into dress

12:45pm Drive to church

1:00pm Bridal Party in hiding

2:00pm Ceremony

3:00pm Ceremony ends (bubble exit outside of church on steps)

3:30pm Family Formals (right outside church in courtyard)

3:45pm Drive to various locations for Bridal Party and Bride & groom photos on Wedding Trolley

4:30pm Cocktail hour begins (second shooter will arrive at 5:00pm to photograph candids)

5:15pm Bridal Party + Sami arrive at venue, Sami photographs reception space before guests enter

5:45pm Bridal Party Introductions; the reception begins!

Situation #2: No First Look with a late afternoon ceremony and reception in a different space

And of course, I have had several couples who choose to not do a first look even when they have a late afternoon ceremony! As long as they’re educated on their decision and not just choosing it because they feel like they have to, I am 100% fine with it! When this situation occurs, I always suggest we do the bridesmaid photos and groomsmen photos before the ceremony, so that we only have to worry about family formals, the whole bridal party, and then bride and groom portraits during cocktail hour. Having to drive from the ceremony to reception eats into time, too, so this situation only works well when both the church and reception venue have good spots for portraits. We wouldn’t have had enough time if we had had to drive to a separate portrait location, too!

1:30pm: Getting Ready candids / Detail photos

2:30pm Head to church

2:45 pm Bride gets into dress

3:00pm Bride + Bridesmaid Photos in church courtyard (Girls in hiding after)

3:35pm Groom + Groomsmen Photos in church courtyard

4:00pm Bridal Party in Hiding

4:30pm Ceremony

5:10pm Family Formals (right outside church in courtyard)

5:30pm Drive to venue

5:50pm Whole Bridal Party photos as soon as we arrive

6:05pm Bride & Groom Portraits around venue, Second shooter captures Cocktail Hour candids and reception images

6:45pm Bridal Party Introductions; the reception begins!

Situation #3: No First Look with a late afternoon ceremony and reception in the same space

When this situation occurs, I typically have no reservations about it at all. Without travel time eating up cocktail hour space, there is plenty of time to capture what we need given that we are able to do groomsmen and bridesmaid photos separately before the ceremony! You’ll still miss out on spending the majority of the day with your soon-to-be-husband, but if that’s your choice, it’s completely fine! (Spoiler alert: this is the option my husband and I chose, too!) This kind of wedding day also means you get to have a later start to your day, so it can make the morning run smoother.

1:30pm Getting Ready candids / Detail photos

2:45pm Bride gets into dress

3:15pm First look with Dad in Bridal Suite

3:30pm Bridesmaid Photos right outside venue

4:00pm Groomsmen Photos right outside venue

4:30pm Bridal Party in hiding

5:30pm Ceremony 

6:00pm Cocktail Hour

6:00pm Family Formal Photos at ceremony location

6:15pm Bridal Party Photos right outside venue, can go enjoy Cocktail Hour when done

6:30pm Bride & Groom photos right outside venue

7:15pm – Bridal Party Introductions; the reception begins!

*You may have noticed the asterisk above when I said I have absolutely no preference on whether or not my couples choose a first look. I included it because there actually is one scenario that would REQUIRE a first look if you want your images to look like those you see on the blog! That is when you are doing a late fall or winter wedding with a late afternoon ceremony. A lot of brides forget that the time change means sunset occurs so much earlier in the day! So, if you plan on a 5pm ceremony, it will already be dark! In this case, I always ask my couples to do a first look so we can take their portraits while it is still light outside. This is the only time I really push my couples to choose a first look!

For example, we took all of Natasha and Joe’s portraits from 1:30pm – 3:00pm. In the summer, this would have been less than ideal lighting wise, but for a cloudy December wedding, it was perfect!

So, what do you think? Between last weeks post and this week’s, I hope you feel more educated on how a first look impacts real wedding days and empowered to make the best decision for you and your fiance! Let me know if you have any other questions or thoughts about first looks by commenting below or sending me an email via the contact page. Thanks so much!



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Sami Orndorff is a Wedding Photographer & Lifestyle Newborn Photographer located in the greater Indianapolis area.