First-look wedding photos are probably my favorite wedding trend that’s come up in the past several years! However, deciding whether or not to have a first-look is often a difficult decision for many couples. Follow tradition? Go the alternative route? Have that big “wow” moment down the aisle? Actually make it to cocktail hour? It’s a lot to decide and impacts the overall timeline of the day. So I’m sharing the pros and cons of doing a first-look on your wedding day so you know what to expect and can make the best decision for you!
Before we get to the pros and cons, you might be asking, “What is a first-look?” A first-look is when the couple sees one another for the first time before the ceremony. The couple and I arrange a time before the ceremony in the wedding day timeline and pick a location away from the eyes of family and friends to hold the first-look. The private moment between the couple starts with the groom getting into place while the bride is tucked away, somewhere close by, so she can’t be seen. The groom stands looking away – at the photographer – while the bride starts walking up towards him and taps him on the shoulder to which he will turn around and see his beautiful bride for the first time! The first-look is also an opportunity to be creative and can be done a hundred different ways! (More on that later}.
For practicality reasons (and from a photography perspective), first-looks save a lot of time by taking a bulk of the photos together before the ceremony. After the first-look, it’s easy to continue on by taking bride and groom photos, followed by wedding party and even family portraits, getting the three main portraits done before the ceremony. After the ceremony, with less photos to take, couples can get to their cocktail hour or reception sooner and for the photographer, there’s less of a need to rush.
Because the bridal party nor family is around, I’ve found that not only does it save time later in the day, but couples are more comfortable because they’re only with their photographer (and videographer) for their bride and groom portraits rather than in front of their bridal party and possibly family. This makes for less pressure to not cry or to react a certain way with all of your guests watching. Couples tend to emote more and and more authentically when they’re alone! The emotion and magic is through the roof!
The first-look means that when the groom first sees his bride, I (or me and a 2nd photographer) can capture the couple together, next to one another. Though walking down the aisle is still emotional and results in great photos, you’re separated by rows of chairs when the groom sees the bride and not together.
It allows couples a moment together before the chaos of the day really begins. Weddings are busy and because family and friends are there and everyone wants to celebrate with the bride and groom, often, couples find very few minutes to step away and really take in their day. First-looks provide that chance to connect and relish in the day before being surrounded.
It definitely doesn’t spoil the reveal at the altar! The wedding day is so exciting that you’ll both still be overwhelmed with emotion at the altar.
For many couples, the first-look is a chance to ease the nerves and jitters before making it official. You can hold one another as long as you want and you don’t have to recite any vows while you’re doing it. And if you’re worried about crying at the altar, you can get tears out of the way before!
If you’re having a winter wedding, because it gets dark early, first-looks guarantee you can get portraits taken during daylight.
You can be creative! I’ve had couples read letters to one another from opposite sides of a door before seeing one another. Another bride did a first-look with her father before the first-look with the groom. With others, we’ve played up the uniqueness in architecture or location for special photos.
The first con goes without saying: you lose out on the big reveal at the altar. If you’re superstitious or hard set on sticking to tradition, then the first-look may not be for you!
Because first-looks mean adding another event earlier in the day before the ceremony, you’ll have to get ready and be ready earlier. And if anything runs late before the first-look (hair and make-up takes longer than anticipated, the flowers are delayed, etc.) then the time for a first-look and bride and groom portraits could get shortened. Or the timeline may have to be shifted a bit.
Typically, first-looks are done in private which means your parents and wedding party won’t be a part of the first time you see one another. If you’re not sure how they feel about it, just ask them and then see if that will factor into your decision.
You won’t actually be legally married in your first portraits from the first-look. For some, that bothers them, for others, it doesn’t make a difference. Either way, it’s something to realize and consider.
It’s rare, but for a few couples, could make you more nervous. It’s not as private as it seams in a way since you’ll be with the photographers and videographers for such an intimate moment. But a good photographer will do their best to be as invisible as possible. Some couples also get nervous from the pressure they feel of having to react and emote on cue. And if that’s how you feel, or something about a first-look, just doesn’t sit right, then don’t feel you have to break tradition. A great photographer will create magical portraits after the ceremony, even if there’s more pressure for time.
I myself have never been married, and for a long time, I dreamed about that moment – the reaction – from my soon-to-be husband at the end of the aisle when he first saw me in my beautiful dress, made better by the anticipation built in not seeing one another at all before! But after photographing many weddings, with and without first-looks, that’s all changed. Though it’s the couple’s decision and both routes are wonderful for their own reasons, I’m always pro first-looks! They typically allow more time for photos throughout the day and give couples an intimate moment to themselves – a chance to slow down, be present and take it all in before the chaos from the rest of the day begins.
But if you’re not sure or you and your fiance can’t agree on whether or not the first-look is right for you, there are some compromises and other options!
You can do the first look without the veil or other accessories to not give away everything. Or, go a little wild and walk up in your pajamas with full hair and make-up! The tease of what you’ll look like in the dress will have your partner going crazy while still getting time to yourselves and easing some nerves before the ceremony.
If you don’t want to do a first-look but you want a semi-private moment before the ceremony, a first-read or first-hold may be the solution. Couples have exchanged letters while back to back or held hands from opposite sides of an open door without seeing one another. You could even coordinate a first-call! With a second shooter, we can easily coordinate a phone call and have both of your reactions documented! Maybe the sound of your partner’s voice is all you need to soothe the nerves and still get emotional photos of your reactions.
Have a first-look with your mom or dad, your little brother, or even with your bridesmaids and then stick to tradition when it comes to your partner.
Deciding whether or not to have a first-look can be a tough decision and may involve the wishes of many family members. Take into consideration your timeline, the daylight and how you feel about it all but know that, really, at the end of the day, you can always change your mind. Even on the day of! A good photographer will be able to help coordinate changes and work efficiently to gain some time when and wherever it might be.
For more on the first-look, download my free wedding guide (it’ll be your wedding photo planning bible), loaded with more info and wedding planning tips!