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To First Look or Not to First Look

May 13, 2020

Tips for Planning Your Wedding

To first look or not to first look. THAT is the question.

“First look” is a term that many in the wedding industry use to describe the moment when a bride and groom see each other on their wedding day before their ceremony. Many couples struggle with the decision of whether or not to have a first look. If you’re planning your wedding, this is a personal decision that you need to make together! But I always try to make sure that my potential clients are as prepared and educated with their options as possible. I often start out the conversation by asking my clients if they have their hearts set on NOT seeing each other until the ceremony. If that describes how you feel, let me share a little background on this tradition:

In the past, the groom waited to see his bride on the wedding day until she walked down the aisle. This tradition originated with arranged marriages. When a couple was chosen for one another they were not allowed to see each other until the ceremony so that they wouldn’t have the chance to back out once they saw what each other looked like. Eek! Not the most romantic origin! Even though today couples marry for love, some still like to uphold this tradition. In about 10% of the weddings I shoot, the bride and groom decide to wait until the ceremony to see one other. But more and more couples decide to spend more time together on their wedding day … which means seeing each other before the ceremony. I truly believe having a first look is the best option for a number of reasons. Here are just a few:

1. You get to connect with one another before the madness of the day takes over.

If you don’t see your fiancé before the ceremony, you could easily spend your whole wedding day without getting a chance to talk with the most important person in your life. You’ll see each other during the ceremony, of course, but then you’ll be swept away by the schedule of the day and by the joy and love of your family and friends. On the other hand, if you have a first look BEFORE the ceremony, the two of you can share a personal moment — a chance to see each other for the first time alone, and to connect in a meaningful way away from the bustle of the day. You’ll see one another for the first time privately, instead of while you’re standing on display in front of everyone you know. This frees you to react to one another verbally and much more openly. I absolutely LOVE the part of the day when couples first see each other before the ceremony. As a photographer, I am able to capture such amazing emotions as the couple sees each other for the first time. Then we walk around the venue taking portraits of the two of them.

Here are some examples of some of the emotions that can be captured when you take this route:

2. Your stress and anxiety are relieved before the ceremony.

I’ve observed more than 150 couples on their wedding days, and for the most part they ALL have experienced some type of anxiety as they get ready. All of the months of planning have led up to this most important day. The couples who see each other before the ceremony are anxious like all of the others, but as soon as they see their best friend — get a chance to hug and talk and connect — any stress that they were experiencing completely dissolves. From that point forward, they can be completely themselves and at ease as they experience their wedding day. This is something I’ve seen time and time again, and I want this freedom and joy for each of my couples.

3. Portraits will be as quick and painless as possible.

If you see one other before your ceremony, we have the opportunity to get all of your formal portraits out of the way before the ceremony. So after the ceremony, you are free to do what you and all your guests really want to do — celebrate and enjoy your cocktail hour and reception! Consider these two options:

Portrait schedule if you see each other before your ceremony:

2.5 hours before ceremony: First look and Bride & Groom portraits alone together
1.5 hours before ceremony: Portraits with bridal party
1 hour before ceremony: Portraits with families
1/2 hour before ceremony: Completely done with portraits as your guests begin to arrive — giving you time to go inside & freshen up.

Portrait schedule if you don’t see each other before your ceremony:

1.5 hours before ceremony: Portraits of Bride with bridesmaids
1 hour before ceremony: Portraits of Groom with groomsmen
1/2 hour before ceremony: Temporarily done with portraits as your guests begin to arrive — giving you time to go inside & freshen up.
Immediately after ceremony: Portraits of Bride & Groom alone
30 min. after ceremony: Portraits with families
1 hour after ceremony: Portraits of bridal party
1.5 hours after ceremony: Completely done with portraits

As you can see, portraits can be taken care of before the ceremony in 2 hours. If you don’t see each other before the ceremony, portrait time will take up 2.5 hours of your day. In addition to the quantity of time being extended, the stress is also heightened when portraits are delayed until after the ceremony. Gathering people before the ceremony is easily done through good communication before the wedding day, and there are no additional guests present to work around. But after the ceremony, all of your guests will just want to love on you and congratulate you … and get to the bar. These distractions make gathering family for portraits SO much more difficult. So many times during portraits after the ceremony, no one can find uncle Bob. Time is wasted gathering people, and the photographer has a hard time keeping everyone’s attention on the task at hand. It’s just more stressful on everyone. And notice that in the sample timeline with a first look that the bride and groom get to actually enjoy the cocktail hour WITH their guests.

4. You can plan your wedding near sunset.

So many brides and grooms want a sunset wedding. But natural light is vital for the best quality portraits. If you take care of all of the portraits before the ceremony, you have the flexibility to plan your wedding near sunset without compromising on portrait quality. No natural light is needed after the ceremony. If you still want to wait to see each other, you’ll need to plan your wedding earlier in the day so that there is at least 2 hours of daylight post-ceremony for your portraits.

These are some of the ways in which the decision of whether to have a first look or not can greatly affect your photography. But photography aside, I honestly believe that these factors also affect your stress level and general enjoyment of the day. When I talk with brides and grooms about the options, it’s always of utmost importance to me to keep their best interests in mind. If you’re planning your wedding, I hope I’ve shed a little light on the subject and helped you to decide whether or not a first look is for you!