For those who follow my blog posts, you’ve probably seen me mention First Looks a lot. I point them out in my wedding posts because they’re always hands-down my favorite part of a wedding day. I know I’m just the photographer, but I feel the excitement and butterflies that my brides feel as I set them up to see their groom for the first time. Sometimes I even get fidgety like the grooms who are standing there anxiously awaiting their gorgeous bride. And then I always melt once the two first turn to see each other for the first time. These moments are the ones that make my heart skip a beat, that have me grinning from ear-to-ear behind my camera, holding back tears (and sometimes failing at it). The emotions and facial expressions that my couples display are enough to make me weak at the knees, and that’s just what I can see/feel from a distance. I make sure that I’m not in earshot of my couples because I want their words in this moment to be completely private. And if what I’m experiencing from behind a zoom lens in the distance is that powerful, I can only imagine being in the moment itself.
I absolutely adore First Looks because they’re the BOMB. But still, a lot of brides who contact me about wedding photography start by saying “No, we’re not doing a First Look.” It’s written off immediately because it’s not traditional, there’s superstition around it, and it’s often completely misunderstood. That’s why I’m writing this post. I’m often hesitant to share my opinions on “hot topics” like this, but after photographing over 75 weddings (I actually stopped counting recently), I want to share WHY I love First Looks so much and why it might be the BEST decision you make for your wedding day.
So for those who don’t have any clue what I’m talking about… A First Look is when a bride and groom see each other… before the ceremony. That’s when people immediately point their finger and say, “But that breaks tradition!” First, I want to point out that there are many “traditions” on wedding days. It’s important to look into where these traditions come from and whether they hold any merit on your special day. The tradition of the bride and groom not seeing each other before the ceremony comes from a time when marriages were arranged and the fear was that seeing each other beforehand gave you a chance to change your mind. If you’re worried about that happening on your wedding day, we have more important things to talk about. :) “First Looks” have actually been happening for a longer time than people realize; The wedding industry just never named them until recently. My parents had a First Look 30 years ago on their wedding day, as did many of their other friends.
Before I dive into the benefits of doing a First Look, I need to include this disclaimer: Please know that while I absolutely adore First Looks and encourage my couples to consider doing one, it is completely okay if they still decide not to. This is a very personal decision, and I respect whichever decision is made and will work my hardest to create gorgeous images no matter what!
The Benefits of a First Look:
1. His Reaction
Unlike walking down the aisle, a First Look is an intimate moment without all eyes watching – A moment when you can hug, share your feelings, and remark on how amazing the other looks – a moment free from trying to remember to hand your bouquet to your Maid of Honor and where you’re supposed to stand and what to do with your hands. There aren’t 75-300 people watching your every move. There aren’t distractions or expectations or steps to follow… Just raw emotions with the love of your life. Without doing a First Look, you have to wait 30+ minutes until the ceremony is over for your groom to finally be able to speak, hold you tight, and tell you how beautiful you look… and after 30 minutes, it’s not quite the same reaction.
2. Romantic Time Together
You get one-on-one intimate time with your soon-to-be husband. Unless you share a private meal during the reception, a First Look is the ONLY time during a wedding day that you will be truly alone with your man. This is the time when you can laugh, cry, and hug without all eyes watching and having to worry about what is coming “next.” This intimate time together also puts you in the perfect mood for cuddly, romantic portraits. As soon as the ceremony ends, the timeline of a wedding day speeds up. Now family & guests are there expecting your time, and your DJ or venue coordinator is trying to follow the strict timeline they’ve been given for your reception grand entrance. Needless to say, portraits after the ceremony are almost always rushed, and it’s more difficult to slow down and feel lovey dovey for those gorgeous romantic portraits that every couple wants. I often hear how wedding days become a “blur” when looking back; It goes by so quickly, so why don’t you slow it down a bit?
3. Extended Timeline
As the wedding photographer, it is often my job to keep couples “separate” on the wedding day if they’ve chosen not to do a First Look. Personally, if there’s any day I want to spend with the love of my life, it’s our wedding day. When you do a First Look, you get to spend so much more time with your partner, holding hands, taking photos, and soaking in how freaking awesome that it is that you’re getting married. Wedding days are LONG days, and couples who don’t do a First Look often only get to spend the last several hours together, and even then you’re paying much of your attention to your guests. Doing a First Look extends your wedding day timeline and your time TOGETHER. You also get to spend more time with your bridal party laughing and having FUN while creating joyful, relaxed images with your best friends.
Your nerves go away! The #1 thing I hear from my couples who have done First Looks are that this moment together eased their nerves and allowed them to fully soak in the rest of the day. From my experience, it’s normally the groom that is originally opposed to a First Look. But without having experienced a wedding day before, they don’t realize how much the tension and anticipation builds throughout the day as they wait to see their bride. I have numerous testimonials from grooms who changed their mind and did a First Look and are SO glad they did. They say that it allowed them to finally relax and fully enjoy the rest of the day (making for MUCH better photos!).
5. Your Investment
I’ll be the first to say: Your wedding is NOT about pretty photos. But that being said, I love me some pretty photos! :) And I love knowing that these photos are what will last the longest out of everything you’ve planned for your big day; They are the only purchase that will actually increase in value over time as you relive a day that you cannot get back. These photos will be cherished and passed down for generations, forever preserving this special milestone in history. Doing a First Look guarantees that your photo time will be longer than if you didn’t do one, meaning you’re getting much more bang for your buck. Romantic portraits of the two of you together are what will decorate your walls in your home, and doing a First Look will greatly increase the amount and quality of these portraits that you’ve invested good money in.
6. Experience it Twice
“But I want that emotional moment when he sees me walking down the aisle.” This is the #1 reason brides give me for not wanting to do a First Look. As I’ve stated above, some of the most emotional moments I’ve ever witnessed during wedding days have been during First Looks. There’s something to say for having that moment of intimacy and privacy and getting to share raw emotions with the love of your life without an audience… it’s powerful. But what I also love is that whether or not you’ve had a First Look doesn’t change the feeling or emotions you experience when walking down the aisle. I’ve had brides say that doing a First Look really just allowed them to experience that epic feeling TWICE. :) Thanks to the music, the faces of people you love, the slow-walk you do while gazing into the eyes of your soon-to-be-husband, and everything else that plays into that glorious moment… it’s no less amazing. If anything, it’s better. Because now your groom has relaxed and can enjoy the moment to the fullest rather than buckling to the pressure and expectations as all faces & cameras turn toward him.
I’ve already talked about how doing a First Look helps create more emotional and romantic bride & groom portraits. Getting “warmed up” during this time will also provide for more relaxed and natural emotions in photos the rest of the day. Another perk of slowing down your timeline with a First Look is that you give your photographer time to think creatively and experiment with new ideas. Some of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken are during engagement sessions, because there is enough time to try new things and experiment with new creative ideas rather than rushing through the standard “must have” shots because we’re pressed for time. How would a master chef feel if he/she were given 20 minutes to cook their best dish? Okay, maybe that’s a bad example, but you know what I’m saying.
8. Happy Guests
If you don’t do a First Look, your time between the ceremony and reception will include: Family photos, bride’s portraits, groom’s portraits, bride & groom romantic portraits, combined bridal party photos, bustling your dress, and sometimes a private meal. WOW that’s a lot! So another benefit of a First Look is… Happier guests! Let’s face it: You could have gotten married at a Courthouse or eloped to somewhere exotic with your fiancé and a witness… But you didn’t. Instead you chose to invite your family and friends to celebrate the joyous occasion with you. So celebrate! Doing a First Look guarantees that you’ll enter your reception quicker after the ceremony. For people that don’t do a First Look, some sort of “cocktail hour” or “appetizers” or “yard games” or maybe all three are necessary to keep your guests entertained. And even then, I’ve heard friends complain about attending weddings where the bride and groom were gone for “over an hour!” before entering the reception, which is actually a very reasonable amount of time if you don’t do a First Look. Your guests saved the date on their calendar and probably traveled to celebrate with you, and doing a First Look allows you to start celebrating with them as soon as possible.
9. Look Your Best
Doing a First Look means you will look your absolute BEST for photos. I’ve seen brides’ hair lose its curl during a hot & humid outdoor ceremony. I’ve seen a bride’s bouquet actually stain her white dress. And of course I’ve seen lots of sweat after standing outside or under an indoor spotlight for an hour during the ceremony + family photos. Getting the images out of the way soon after getting ready will ensure that you look your absolute best, and you’ll have time built in to “freshen up” before the ceremony as well.
10. Room For Risk
The peace of mind going into your ceremony knowing that you already have gorgeous images is HUGE. It’s one gigantic thing that you can cross off your list, allowing you to devote your time and attention to your family and guests afterward. Choosing to save all of your photos until after the ceremony does create more room for risk. From the wardrobe / hair mishaps that I mentioned above to the chance of an evening thunderstorm passing through during your one chance for photos… you never know what will happen on a wedding day. Attempting to get photos out of the way earlier rather than later increases your chance of getting beautiful photos and thus provides peace of mind.
What time is your ceremony?
My final “benefit” of a First Look is actually more of a logistical concern, and it is the reason why it’s so important that I sit down with my brides and grooms and discuss their plans for their specific wedding days. What season are they getting married in? What time is their ceremony? Does the venue have high terrain or tall tree coverage? All of these factors hugely impact your photos. For example, if you’re getting married at 5:30 in the summer, your ceremony will end and you’ll still have plenty of daylight left for naturally-lit photos. If you get married at 5:30 in the winter, it is dark by the time your ceremony ends, and all family shots & couples’ portraits after the ceremony will have to be lit by flash. Don’t get me wrong – flash is great! I love night shots! However, flash-based photos will be your only option if you don’t do a First Look. Therefore, if you hired a photographer because you liked their “bright/sunny photos” or their “natural light style” and want something similar to what you see on their website, take that into consideration when planning your timeline + First Look decision. By doing a First Look, you can get bright naturally-lit photos, golden hour photos (assuming the sun is out), AND some awesome night shots for the final pages of your wedding album (again really maximizing your investment!).
The most important thing is to talk to your photographer about this decision. Explain how you feel, discuss the logistics of your wedding day, and describe your photo desires. While the tradition of not seeing each other before the ceremony is quickly dying, and doing a First Look is quickly becoming the new norm (about 80% of my wedding couples do a First Look), you need to do what feels right in your heart. If staying separated before the ceremony is what you’ve always dreamed of and what you want to do, there are definitely things you can take into account when planning that will help achieve great photos (ask your photographer and/or planner!), and your wedding day will be no less amazing. I hope this post has given you a lot to think about and has sparked a discussion with your partner & your photographer. And I hope you’ve enjoyed these photos from past First Looks, but know that yours will be unique to you, and it’s not about the photos – It’s about the moment!
Take it from a Groom:
“We are so thankful that we took Claire’s suggestion to do a first look on our wedding day. We not only came out of it with some of our favorite pictures, but we were able to get so many wonderful pictures that we simply would not have if we had waited to do pictures until after the ceremony. While we know that each person’s ceremony and day is different, we would strongly encourage other couples to consider doing a first look. It was an amazing experience for us and it gave Claire the time she needed to do what she does best!” – Joel Sievert