It's a question that will determine a large portion of your timeline for your wedding day: will you and your partner see each other before the ceremony?
Most couples chose one of three options: 1. To get ready together, 2. To get ready separately and then do a first look before the ceremony, or 3. To wait and not see one another until the processional. Here I'll break down the options and the benefits to each choice.
1. Getting Ready Together
I love this option. This is especially perfect when couples don't want to spend a large chunk of their wedding day apart, when they have a very small or no wedding party, or they are hosting an intimate wedding.
If you chose to get ready together on your wedding day you will have even more special time and memories with your soon-to-be spouse, plus it can help keep nervous energy/stress to a minimum. There's no build-up to a big reveal, and you can help one another with the final touches: adjusting the tie, zipping a dress, etc. With this option you can easily get your portraits and your formal photographs out of the way before the ceremony, leaving more time after for the party.
If you chose this option, one thing to consider is having enough space in the prep room for anyone who will also be getting ready with you both, including any vendors (photographer, hair and make-up artists, etc.). It won't feel quite as lovely and intimate if you've got 8 members of the wedding party, 2 parents, plus 4 vendors shoved into a tiny hotel room with you as you attempt to pull on those suit pants.
2. A First Look
A first look is when you and your partner get ready in different rooms but then have a set time scheduled into your wedding day timeline to see one another for the very first time in your wedding attire.
As a wedding photographer I typically help coordinate the first look: often placing one partner in an area (with great light or a lovely view if we can!) and then bringing the other partner in for the reveal. I recommend giving about 15 minutes in your timeline for the first look.
Doing a first look gives you the build-up and energy of the surprise, while giving you the space to have this intimate moment away from the eyes of all of your wedding guests. Typically I recommend couples doing this in a location away from any family, friends, or wedding party so they can have these moments to themselves, but sometimes couples request to have their loved ones be a part of the first look as well.
I think the best reason to do a first look is because it means you can do all of your portraits and family formal pictures BEFORE your ceremony, meaning you actually get to enjoy your cocktail hour with your loved ones! It also reduces the stress of the wedding day by giving more flexibility to your timeline, giving you more time with your partner on your wedding day (i.e. if you don't do a first look and your ceremony doesn't start until 6, you've spent most of your wedding day separate from your soon-to-be spouse), and giving you a quiet space to be together before the rush of the ceremony and reception gets started.
I've had so many clients tell me how grateful they are that they did the first look because they still felt emotional walking down the aisle, but they were less nervous and could actually enjoy their processional. Plus, they loved taking part in their cocktail hour. Sometimes if you haven't seen one another yet before the ceremony you are so nervous that you forget to actually look at one another, or you get distracted by all of your loved ones watching you walk down the aisle. A first look can truly give you the best of both worlds.
If you decide to do a first look be sure to think of a location where this can take place. Often this will take place where the couple is getting ready, at the ceremony venue, or at the first portrait location.
3. Waiting Until the Ceremony
For some couples the tradition of waiting to see one another until the processional is incredibly important. And if that's you, that's totally ok! This is your wedding day after all, and it should be built around what is important to you and your fiancé.
If you decide to wait until the ceremony and see each other for the first time as one of you walks down the aisle you just want to ensure that there is sufficient time to get all of your portraits after the ceremony before you need to be in the reception. You may want to extend your cocktail hour a bit, especially if you have a long list of portrait needs. Typically it will take some time to get everyone organized and focused immediately after the ceremony before photos can begin (you did just say, 'I do!' after all and everyone is excited to hug and celebrate with you!). As a photographer I can discuss with you how much time we will need for each set of photos based on your shot list (wedding party, family formals, and photos of the newly married couple :) ).
One other thing to consider about waiting to see one another until the ceremony: will you be upset if your partner does not have an over-the-top emotional reaction to seeing you for the first time? Some people do not outwardly emote, especially in front of large groups of people. Others get nervous and distracted by all that is going on or they are so overwhelmed with emotion that they don't react out of a bit of shock. If you are forgoing a first look just for the 'big emotional reaction' you hope to get it may be a good idea to prepare yourself that this may not happen, no matter how excited, full of love, and amazed by you your partner happens to be.
No matter what you decide to do:
be sure to communicate the decision with your photographer, planner, venue, and any other vendors who will be working with you based on your timeline (such as your hair and make-up artists--this will affect what time you should be ready before the ceremony). Check with each to ensure that there is sufficient time built in for your needs and their needs to pull off your requests. And if you have any additional questions on any of this please don't hesitate to reach out!