One question I get from a lot of couples is “do you recommend a first look?” and often times- “do you require a first look?”. My answer is always a resounding “it’s TOTALLY up to you!”.
While it’s our job as vendors and experienced hands in the field to give you guidance, I would never absolutely require you to do anything that you weren’t super into on your wedding day! After all, this is a once in a lifetime experience and you should be living it exactly how you had envisioned.
In this blog post, I’ll list the reasons why a first look can be awesome, and why it also makes total sense to want to let things play out more traditionally in waiting to see each other until the ceremony.
Why do some couples opt for a “First Look”?
Some people/couples are more introverted, and the thought of having such an intimate experience in front of others gives them the heebie jeebies. If you’re the emotional type and the thought of crying (hard) in front of a crowd of people sounds like your worst nightmare, a first look can relieve those jitters and allow you to express yourself more vulnerably to the one you love in a much more private setting.
A first look isn’t always about nerves or not loving the idea of being so vulnerable in front of others, it’s about choosing to have a more one-on-one intimate experience with ones partner before walking down the aisle. A ceremony can go by in the blink of an eye, and with the knowledge that all eyes are on you- some people find they become a bit overwhelmed and don’t end up really remembering the moment as clearly as they would have liked.
A first look gives you the opportunity to really soak up that moment of seeing each other for the first time without the time limit imposed on you by the length of an aisle, and without the possible distraction of a crowd full of people witnessing it all. Typically a first look involves just the bride, groom, and the photographer. However some people opt to have their wedding party or close family on the perimeter sharing in the experience as well.
Pro tip: If a first look is something you’re leaning towards and would like to make it an even more meaningful experience, think about incorporating an intentional act into those first few moments together like exchanging pre-vow letters to read, or dancing to your favorite nostalgic song.
3. Timing (for Portraits)
A little less romantic, a little more practical.
Wedding days are always an exercise in time management. Depending on the flow of your day and the ceremony time- a first look can just make the most sense in order to achieve as many photos as possible before the ceremony.
This can be necessary for days in the late fall/winter when the sun sets much earlier than the spring/summer. If your ceremony won’t wrap up until 5pm and the sun sets at 5:30, a first look might be necessary in order to be able to achieve portraits while there is still light to work with.
Less pertinent but still important to many couples is being able to mingle with friends and family during cocktail hour. The less photos you have to take after the ceremony, the earlier you can begin to relax & party! This is super enticing to most after the stresses of the earlier part of the day, not to mention the months of planning you did to get you to that point.
The two major drawbacks of trying to achieve the majority of your portraits before the ceremony:
Stress. There are often so many things going on during the getting ready process that adding the stress of knowing your portraits are hanging in the balance can add undue anxiety before your “I do’s”. A lot of people are asking you questions, hair and make up can run behind (and it often does), a family member or wedding party member could be running late or running a last minute errand, etc. It’s worth it to consider how frazzled you get when stressors arise, and if you’re willing to risk that before your ceremony.
Light. As I stated above, if the light will be gone (or going) by the time your ceremony wraps up, this approach makes total sense. However, for weddings on the longer days of the year, trying to achieve the majority of your portraits mid-day isn’t always the best idea for light.
Mid-day light is often harsh (especially with all of the bluebird days we get in Colorado) and not typically the most flattering for portraits. The best time of day for light is what we photographers call “the golden hour”, which is the last hour before sunset or before the sun goes behind the mountains. A lot of times this is after the ceremony vs. before it.
If you’re not concerned about harshly lit portraits, I always strongly suggest taking 15 minutes or so around sunset for portraits of just the two of you in order to get at least a few photos with that dreamy lighting.
My recommendation for trying to break up the amount of time spent on portraits :
If a couple wants to minimize the time spent on portraits after the ceremony, I normally suggest they do a first look as well as portraits with the bridal party.
It’s often just easier to do family portraits when everyone is already in one place (directly after the ceremony). Then I suggest we do a couple more bridal party portraits in the softer light, and spend the rest of the time focusing on photos of just the two of you before making your entry for dinner.
The “Traditional” way, and why so many people still opt for it…
Though the “first look” is gaining more and more traction as couples start to defy/make new traditions for their wedding days, the truth (for me) is that out of the 23 weddings I shot last year, 15 still wanted to wait to see their partner until the ceremony!
Why do some like to wait?
Pure and simple. Some families/couples tend to just want to stick to the “rules”- which in the past have been to wait to see each other until that special moment when the doors swing open or the bride turns the corner to walk down the aisle. Some have said it’s even “bad luck” to see the bride before the ceremony, and “bad luck” + “marriage” are never words or concepts you want to think of simultaneously.
I do want to note that I personally don’t believe it’s bad or good look either way, it’s simply a matter of preference or what feels right for each couple.
I know that some couples feel that the anticipation leading up to the ceremony can be an exciting whirlwind of emotions. I would even go as far as to say that the most frequently requested photo on behalf of the bride is their partner’s reaction as she’s walking down the aisle.
Of course a “reaction” shot is definitely still achievable during a first look, but the build up of it happening in front of everyone just before you read your vows to one another tends to make it feel a little more exciting to some.
3. Sharing the Moment
Every couple has a different idea of how involved they want their family/friends to be in every aspect of their day. Some want to share everything from beginning to end- from lots of people piled into hotel rooms helping the bride & groom get ready, large group photos, open-mic toasts, and having everyone present to witness the reaction (and ultimately the realization) that you are actually doing this! You’re marrying the love of your life.
For my own wedding…
For those of you who don’t know, I am actually currently in the planning process myself and thinking about all of these things in a totally new light! It’s always easy to give advice, harder to take it. Isn’t that always the case?
I always thought that I would do things the traditional way and savor the anticipation of waiting to see each other until we were in the presence of all of our family & friends. Now though- upon reflecting on our relationship- I think we will do a first look.
Both of us moved away from our families, friends and our home state of Ohio to live in the mountains. Him to Colorado, and me to western North Carolina, and eventually to Colorado to be closer to Bobby. In that way we both acknowledge that our choices are very singular and motivated by our passions. Though we’ve had immeasurable help from the people in our lives who we care about/care about us, our partnership has very much revolved around an intentional decision to rely on each other for the majority of support we need here in Colorado. We’re also going through the very new, personal and trying experience of becoming first-time parents together without the support of family close by.
Because of these things, I think that having time to ourselves to really absorb the commitment we’re making on the wedding day will be in keeping with all of the other things we’ve done together as a couple. It would speak to the nature of how we’ve been living our lives together for the past couple years, and likely how we will continue doing so.
Our plan is to do a first look at our ceremony site, where it so happens we also had our first date AND got engaged! There we’ll exchange letters (not vows) and just share some time together before the ceremony begins.
I seriously can’t wait.
At the end of the day…
It really doesn’t matter how you choose to do the big reveal! Some couples are even choosing to wake up together and spend the entire in each others presence, helping each other get ready, etc. I think this also seems incredibly special and I can’t wait to document something like this as well!
No matter what you choose to do- the end result is always the same. Looking the one you love in the eyes and telling them you are committing your life to theirs is going to be a truly incredible experience, and that wont change based on when you choose to see them for the first time on your wedding day. <3
As always- if you have any questions at all please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop a line in the comment section! 🙂 I’m always glad to be a resource!