Your wedding ceremony—the moment everyone’s been waiting for!

Imagine this: the music is playing and the guests have been seated.

The coordinator is lining up the bridesmaids (or bridesmen) while giving the musicians a five-minute warning.

You’re about to walk down the aisle and see the love of your life at the alter. You’ve probably dreamed about this moment for a long time.

Vows will be shared and promises will be made—this is what it’s all about!

Getting the most out of your ceremony

As a wedding photographer, my goal is to make each couple’s wedding look incredible in their pictures.

Throughout the day, I often give them tips and guidance to ensure variables like lighting, colors and posing look great.

The one part of the wedding day your photographer will have little creative control over, however, is your ceremony.

Since your wedding ceremony is more of a photojournalistic event (as in, your photographer will be documenting it as it’s happening, rather than giving you direction), to get the best photographs possible (and to just have a beautiful ceremony in general) proper preparation is a must.

Here are a few tips for creating a beautiful ceremony—and getting the best wedding photographs possible.

1. Find the right officiant

Finding the right officiant is so important to ensure you have a true-to-you wedding ceremony.

I recommend hiring an officiant you connect with who also has a sense of humor. A few jokes here and there can help you relax and really be present.

An added benefit of this are pictures where you and your guests look happy!

Although everyone may feel over the moon, without a few smiles and laughs here and there it can be hard to convey those emotions in your wedding pictures.

2. Great lighting is important

The way your ceremony is lit is one of the most important factors, especially if it’s going to be outdoors.

As a general rule, the lower the sun is in the sky, the more romantic the lighting.

For example, if you’re thinking about getting married outside at noon, the light will create harsh lines on your faces, and you’ll also be squinting!

Because of this, I’d try to plan the ceremony later in the day, if possible.

If that doesn’t work with your schedule, talk to your wedding planner (or day-of coordinator) to ensure the area is set up so the sun is behind you during the ceremony.

This is the best way to reduce the harsh lines and prevent you from squinting.

The best light

The ideal time to schedule your ceremony is about two hours before sunset (if you plan on seeing each other beforehand).

This gives you plenty of time for a beautiful ceremony—and to still enjoy the soft, romantic sunlight afterward (and possibly grab a few photographs with that gorgeous sunset light!).

If you don’t plan on doing a first look, I would recommend having your ceremony three hours before sunset (although, if you’re on the fence about a first look, I definitely recommend doing one—find out why here.

If the first time you see each other is during the ceremony, you’ll be taking most of your photographs after the ceremony, so you want to make sure you have plenty of time afterward (with a little bit of padded time in case the ceremony goes longer than expected). 


If you’re having an indoor ceremony, my number one tip is to avoid vibrant-colored uplighting—it’ll make your skin look unnatural.

Another thing to think about: If there are only two spotlights (on you and your fiancé) you two will be very bright and everyone else will be dark. 

Even though the focus of the day is on you, it’ll look so much better in your wedding pictures if the lighting is soft and evenly spread out.

3. Consider an unplugged ceremony

An unplugged wedding is when you kindly ask your guests to put away their phones, iPads, cameras and other devices for the duration of the ceremony.

I always recommend unplugged ceremonies, for a few reasons:

For one, your guests will be more present during the ceremony, rather than focused on taking pictures.

Guests holding their iPhones and sometimes even iPads (it happens more often than you’d think!) can be very distracting.

For example, imagine it’s your wedding day, and you’re beginning your walk down the aisle. What would you rather see—your guests beaming with happiness as they watch, or a bunch of phones and iPads blocking their faces?

Your photos will look better

Distractions aside, your ceremony photographs will look more professional without the clutter of electronic devices in the audience.

Though they mean well, eager guests might not realize the position of your photographer during the ceremony and might accidentally block them from getting the photo during key moments.

How to make it work

If an unplugged ceremony sounds like it’s for you, here’s how to make it work:

  • Tell your guests in advance
    Let your guests know ahead of time that you’ll be having an unplugged ceremony with a sign at the entrance or a message on your wedding website.
  • Have your officiant make an announcement
    Before your ceremony begins, have your officiant make a friendly announcement asking your guests to refrain from taking photos.
  • Plan a moment in your ceremony for guests to take photos
    Here’s one tip I’ve seen that’s a great compromise for your guests: Ask your officiant to take a moment during the ceremony to pause and have you both turn to face your guests. This can be any time during your ceremony, but I’ve found right after the bride walks down the aisle works best. During this time, guests can take pictures before putting their phones away for the rest of the ceremony.

4. Face the audience!

One of the easiest changes that has the biggest impact is facing your guests during your ceremony.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a ceremony mistake I see way too often.

Talk to your officiant and ask them to make sure you face the audience instead of the alter.

If you’re nervous about facing your guests for your entire ceremony (I understand, I would be too), your officiant can switch between having you face each other and face your guests (but never toward the officiant! You want to make sure your guests can see your lovely faces, and not just the back of your heads).

This also makes for better ceremony pictures, so it’s a win-win.

5. Consider hiring a wedding planner or day-of coordinator

If you want to enjoy planning your wedding as much as possible, yet you don’t want to get too caught up in the details or overwhelmed with decisions, a wedding planner makes total sense.

Having an expert there to take some of the pressure off of you and be a guide throughout your planning can totally change the vibe of the whole process.

They’ll help you stay organized and work with you to bring your unique wedding vision to life.

Taking pressure off of you

Without at least a day-of coordinator, there’s a really good chance the responsibility of solving any dilemmas will automatically fall on your maid of honor, your mom, the photographer or you!

When a photographer is in charge of all of the coordination, it tends to pull us away from our main focus of capturing your day.

Many of the most stressful wedding situations I’ve seen could have been avoided if there was a wedding planner or day-of coordinator present.

It’s your day and you deserve the space to be able to focus on your special love and commitment to each other, rather than worrying about details of the day!

Final thoughts

Proper planning before your wedding ceremony will ensure everything looks incredible and your guests are having a great time.

Here’s one final thought: In a world full of wedding blogs, Pinterest and bridal magazines, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and consumed by the “prettiness” of the event.

While details do matter and planning is necessary, it’s important to never lose sight of the real purpose of this amazing day—the connection and love you share with your partner!

P.S. I hope you enjoyed this article. Here are more free tips and resources on all things wedding planning, from whether to have a first look to how to create the perfect wedding timeline for you & more! 

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In one of the most exciting and emotionally charged days of your life, a wedding first look is a set time for you and your love to see each other before the day takes off. 

As photographers and business owners (and a newly engaged couple ourselves!), we’ve been photographing weddings for over six years and we’ve seen how a wedding first look can calm nerves, create much-needed space for feeling all the feels together and allow for alone time in a whirlwind of a day.

Often no one else is there with you for a first look (besides the photographer), which allows you both to express those built-up emotions and share this magically intimate moment without tons of people around. 

The photographer will find a beautiful location, build the suspense and, of course, capture that special moment when you see each other for the first time that day.

Here, five reasons (both practical and romantic) to do a wedding first look.

Two brides walking with NYC skyline in background.

Doing a Wedding First Look Will Calm the Nerves

If the idea of being the center of attention is a bit overwhelming, you’re not a fan of huge crowds or you get nervous pretty easily (hello, we’ve been there!), then this is a big reason to go for a first look.

It’s hard to know (until the day of) how nerve-wracking it can be and exactly how you’ll feel. Believe it or not, we find more often it’s the groom who feels the wedding day nerves the most. 

Either way, once you see each other, those nerves disappear.

Both of you will feel so much more relaxed and ready for the ceremony.

RGNY Wedding First Look

You’ll Get Precious Time to Interact & Feel the Feels Together

If the first time you see each other is during the ceremony, you can’t really embrace or chat.

You’ll have to wait until the ceremony is over for your partner to react and tell you how amazing you look, and after 30 minutes of the ceremony, the reaction isn’t the same as that initial first glance.

At the first look, you’ll be able to touch, interact, talk and feel all the emotions then and there while your photographer captures them.

It creates a truly unique and magical moment that you two will always remember. (And we promise, that second look walking down the aisle will still be just as emotional and moving.) 

Couple holds hands at Inns of Aurora in upstate New York

You’ll Have More Time With Family & Friends

Doing a first look means more time relaxing and enjoying your wedding day. Without a first look, the day begins when you walk down the aisle.

After the ceremony, normally you would rush through portraits so that you’re not late for the introductions, and then it’s reception time. 

With a first look, it’s like extending your time celebrating with loved ones by almost 3 hours!

Instead of being rushed for your bridal party portraits, you get to slow down and have fun hanging out with your best friends on your wedding day.

Since there’s more time to take pictures, (and to relax!) couples that opt for a first look often fill the first half of their wedding album with images just from this time together before the ceremony.

La Jolla wedding day first look

Doing a Wedding First Look Might Be Your Only Alone Time

Your wedding day will likely feel like a whirlwind, and having quiet moments just the two of you might be rare.

A first look ensures you’ll have time alone (besides the photographer, but don’t worry—you won’t know we’re there!). The energy of seeing each other and having that intimate time together puts you in the perfect mood for romantic portraits.

Without a first look, portraits are often rushed after the family pictures. It can be hard to get back into that euphoric frame of mind that you had when you first see each other—especially with family around!

Taking those romantic photographs right after your first look will guarantee you and your fiancé look and feel amazing. As photographers, we capture some of our favorite images of the day during those moments, which leads us to…

Intimate wedding hug between bride and groom.

With a Wedding First Look, You’ll Have More Images of the Two of You

The reality of a wedding day is that, even when it’s super well-planned, things tend to run behind and mishaps can happen (traffic, weather, Grandpa forgets his pants (yes that happened once).

Planning a first look is the best way to guarantee a solid amount of time for photographs with your fiancé, your family and your bridal party. (We’ve found that a first look means you’ll get about 50% more photos of the two of you!)

These images will become some of your favorites—and they’re likely the ones you’ll want to decorate your home with.

We may be a bit biased as wedding photographers, though we’ve seen firsthand the impact a first look can have—not just on the emotions of the couple, but on the timeline, the stress of the day and so on.

We hope this was helpful as you’re planning your big day!

–Tom & Heather

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The Crescent Beach Club is one of my favorite Long Island wedding venues. It truly feels like you’re getting married on a tropical island.

Nicole & Matt have a pretty awesome engagement story. Nicole thought the plan was to go on a short family vacation. At the airport, though, Matt surprised her with a trip to Paris—he even had a custom boarding pass made up for the occasion!

During their romantic getaway, Matt proposed under the Eiffel Tower.

A little over a year later, they celebrated their love surrounded by swaying palm trees, the calm waters of the Long Island Sound and their beloved family and friends at the Crescent Beach Club.

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Photographer: Tom Schelling Photography
Venue: The Crescent Beach Club
Videography: Project 8
Officiant: April Gismondi
Florals: Kara’s Creations

Cake: St. Honore

Bride’s Dress: Anne Barge

DJ: Hart to Hart
Makeup: Laura Mullahy
Transportation: Tran Star Executive
Bride’s Shoes: Sophia Webste
Rings: Jared / Blue Nile




Destination Wedding Photographer based in NYC & Southern California