Ahh, the first look. For many brides, a point of stress. For most photographers, a solution. But for me, the first look is something I absolutely do not make a big deal about. I never, ever try to convince couples to do one if they’re not open to it right off the bat, except in one very specific circumstance (more later). That’s an unpopular opinion among wedding photographers, but one I felt like addressing because I see posts alllll the time from photographers taking the stance that every couple should do one, no matter what. And I just don’t believe that’s the case! But first things first.
What’s a first look, and why do photographers push for one?
A first look happens when the bride and groom see each other before the ceremony. There’s usually an element of suspense or surprise, with the groom closing his eyes until he’s told to turn around and he sees his gorgeous bride for the first time. Don’t get me wrong - it’s emotional! The reactions are wonderful. It allows for couples, especially those who are nervous about being in front of a crowd, to feel some of those emotions privately and spend a few really intimate moments with just each other.
Lily + Matt wanted to do a first look to get some of their nerves out before standing in front of their guests. Their reactions were pure bliss. And he still got emotional as she came down the aisle!
Logistically, doing a first look is an ideal choice for most photographers because it allows a lot of pictures to be taken care of before the ceremony. If the couple chooses not to see each other until the ceremony, that means any photos that include both the bride and groom have to wait until afterward. With a first look, portraits of the entire bridal party and lots of family photos can be completed beforehand, which means the couple gets to their reception faster, they may get to enjoy cocktail hour with everyone, and guests don’t have to wait as long.
I’ve seen firsthand that the groom still gets emotional when his bride walks down the aisle, even if they’ve already seen each other. Huge smiles, emotional tears - they all still happen even with a first look. So I get that it makes sense to do one. It does! But I still don’t push couples to do a first look unless they want to.
Kayla and Gabe chose not to do a first look, but they did want to hold hands and pray together before the ceremony. Some of the sweetest moments I’ve ever witnessed.
Why I don’t push the first look
Bottom line - I just don’t find they make that big of a logistical difference. Like I mentioned, there’s an exception to this that I’ll cover below, but for the most part, I’ve never found that doing a first look saved a significant amount of time enough to warrant pushing a couple to do something they’re not comfortable with. I can rock through formal group portraits pretty dang quickly (especially with a second shooter), so I just don’t worry about having to do several more of them after the ceremony. Your guests will not mind waiting a little longer for you to finish group photos - that’s what cocktail hour is for. Should you take two hours to finish photos after the ceremony and keep your guests waiting forever for dinner? No. But finishing photos after the ceremony instead of before truly does not make that much of a difference on time. On average, I’d say it saves half an hour. Also, in full disclosure, I’d really rather do most photos after the ceremony when the sun is lower, as opposed to beforehand when it’s higher in the sky.
You don’t get that moment back
Mostly, though, I simply would never want a couple to regret not going the traditional route if that’s what they’d always had in mind. The coming-down-the-aisle reaction is extremely important to many couples (often more-so to grooms than brides!) and while I don’t think anyone ever regrets doing a first look, I would never want anyone to second guess themselves later on because their photographer pushed for it. You don’t get that moment back - the very second a groom sees his bride in that white dress and it all becomes real - and if you want to be on opposite ends of the aisle when that happens, I 100% respect that. That’s what I chose for my own wedding and I would not change a thing.
Why a first look may make more sense for your day
I told y’all I had an exception to all of this, and that is for couples with winter weddings - December and January, especially. When it gets dark outside by 5:30pm, that extra half hour of time you save getting photos out of the way before the ceremony actually can make a difference. A winter day can average 3 or 4 fewer hours of daylight than a summer day, so if you’re wanting photos outside in natural light, it’s important that you account for that in your timeline by moving up your getting ready time (start hair and makeup way earlier), moving up the ceremony time, or saving some post-ceremony time by doing a first look.
How to adjust your timeline if you don’t want a first look
I work with all of my couples to create a custom timeline that allows us to get all of the pictures they are wanting, in natural light, without being rushed. If you don’t want to do a first look, just be open to moving things around a little bit - occasionally I’ll recommend moving the ceremony time slightly earlier, which means moving up everything that happens before that, as well. Just talk with your photographer (before sending out invitations with an official ceremony time on them) to make sure you’ll have enough time and light to take care of all the photos you’re wanting. Make sure your planner or coordinator is in the loop, too, so vendors will know the right time to arrive.
The types of first looks I always recommend
I completely understand not wanting to do a first look with your future spouse. However - brides - I can’t recommend enough that you do one with your bridesmaids and/or your dad. I have zero qualms about pushing these types of first looks and they always turn out SO FUN! And sometimes so emotional. Or both. But either way, amazing.
Bety’s dad was moved to tears as soon as he saw her and they immediately began praying together. Be still my heart.
A first look should be the couple’s choice
After a couple books with me, I send them a questionnaire to help me start their timeline planning process. These are the options for the dreaded first look question, and I promise them there’s no wrong answer. Knowing their preference just helps me build a timeline that works for everyone.
Let's do it! Get the nerves out and get some awesome, emotional shots of just us two.
I'd rather not do one. The traditional coming-down-the-aisle reaction is important to me.
If it makes the most sense with our wedding day timeline, I'm open to the idea.
What's a first look?
I’d say 5% choose the first option, 10% choose the third, and the VAST majority choose the second. And I honor that, 100% of the time.
I believe doing or not doing a first look should be completely up to you. If it truly makes the most sense to do one because of other factors (usually lack of ample daylight), I’ll advise my couples to either consider seeing each other before the ceremony, or we’ll simply move other things around - whatever they’re most comfortable with. Brides, don’t let your photographer or planner pressure you into doing something you don’t feel good about. Stick to your gut. Your wedding day will be wonderful with or without one!