To have a first look or not to have a first look? If you’re a bride or groom with a wedding on the horizon, no doubt you’re aware of a first look, which is when couples see each other prior to the ceremony, typically for the purpose of having more time for photographs. I often talk to clients who are unsure of if they should have a first look, and today’s video and blog post go into more detail on the advantages and disadvantages, and if it’s something you may want to consider for your own wedding day.
First looks have become more popular over the past few years. That being said, this is a highly personal decision between a bride and groom. My job as a photographer is to talk about how a first look will impact a wedding day and leave the decision up to my clients. I absolutely never pressure a couple to have a first look and if seeing your spouse for the first time during the ceremony is something you have your heart set on, then you should go with your gut! Ultimately it’s your wedding day and you need to make the decisions with which you are most comfortable.
More Time For Portraits
Having more time for portraits is the single biggest advantage to having a first look. Here in the Temecula area, the majority of my weddings take place at the same venue, hosting both the ceremony and the reception. Without a first look, there is one block of time that can be used for portraits, which would be cocktail hour. In reality, this ends up being about 45 minutes in which I am shooting family formals, bridal party portraits, and bride and groom portraits. It absolutely CAN be done, and I’ve done it many times! However, there’s no doubt your time is limited and this simply means less portraits will be taken, and delivered to my clients. For couples that opt for a first look, this will typically take place 2-3 hours before the ceremony, depending on where they want the first look. After the first look, we’ll shoot family formals, bridal party, and bride and groom portraits. Post-ceremony, we’ll usually wrap up any portraits we couldn’t get to, and I like to get a few more images with the bride and groom if the location or lighting has changed. This is a shorter time period, though, which means couples can go off to cocktail hour, if they choose, while my second shooter and I shoot their reception area and guests at cocktail hour. Overall, couples of mine that choose a first look get about double the portraits, because we’re spending twice the time with them. If portraits are very important to you and a key reason you hired your chosen photographer, I think a first look is a great choice.
The time the sun will be setting may also influence whether or not you want a first look. Let’s take a look at a July wedding in Temecula, California. The sun sets in July around 8:00. In this case, if I’m working with a couple that’s opted not to have a first look, I’ll ask if I can take them outside for portraits about a half an hour before the sun sets. This means I’ll get an additional block of time with them, during the best light of the evening. On the flip side, if you’re getting married in December in Temecula, California, the sun sets about 4:45. If you’re having a wedding ceremony at 5:00 or later, this means there will be no daylight for your portraits, and most photographers will rely on flash for your images. If you’ve hired your photographer because you love their natural light portraits, this is a scenario where you’d want to have a first look, because no amount of flash is going to be able to duplicate the look of daylight. Otherwise, an experienced photographer should be able to use their equipment to capture your portraits, and you would definitely want to make sure your photographer has the right equipment and experience to ensure quality portraits with flash lighting.
Earlier Start Time For Photography
One consideration that may be a disadvantage is with a first look, everyone needs to be ready earlier, including your bridal party and family. This can take more planning, and of course you’d want to make sure everyone involved in portraits knows well in advance what time they need to be ready. A little pro tip is it’s a good idea to tell everyone they need to be ready 20-30 minutes before they actually do. In nearly every wedding I’ve photographed, someone or something runs behind, so this will help things to stay on track in that scenario!
The First Look Itself
For some couples, there is a sense of trepidation about the first look itself. It can feel “staged,” and like you have to have a certain emotional reaction so you don’t disappoint your significant other. First of all, I believe your reaction should be consistent with who you are as a person, and how you feel in the moment. I’ve seen all types of reactions – tears, excitement, happiness, you name it! I don’t feel anyone should pump up their reaction JUST for the camera – as long as what you are feeling is genuine, it’s always going to be beautiful! I also keep this moment as private as possible – no one else can hang out and watch, since that really tends to make couples feel on stage. Lastly, I tell my couples that this is THEIR moment, to ignore us, and take as long as they need with each other. For some couples, this is ten minutes, and for others, just one or two minutes! Again, there is no right or wrong here. Ultimately, however, if you do not feel comfortable about having a first look because you feel on display, then I wouldn’t recommend having one.
Almost ten (!!!) years ago, I was a bride, and my husband and I chose a first look, because we wanted as much time as possible for portraits. Even though we saw each other in advance of the ceremony, seeing him as I was walking down the aisle felt just as special. There’s a different emotional weight to that moment than a first look. For me, walking down the aisle with my dad, hearing the music, seeing everyone standing up, seeing my husband at the altar, it really hit me in that moment, “HOLY CRAP, WE’RE GETTING MARRIED!” Again, this is my personal experience, but I do share it as an anecdote that having a first look didn’t diminish the feeling of seeing my husband as I walked down the aisle.
Ultimately, this is a highly personal choice and you and your fiance should discuss what not only makes the most sense for you, but what feels right! There’s no “right” answer here. What’s most important is that you make the choice you feel is best for you. Hopefully this information helps you make a decision on a first look for your wedding day!
Below, I’ve also shown a few simplified timelines of what your wedding day might look like with and without a first look.
Wedding Timeline – With First Look and 5:00 Ceremony
3:00: First Look at ceremony site/bride and groom photos
3:30 – 4:30: Family photos/bridal party photos/bride and groom photos
6:00: Cocktail Hour / Additional Portraits
7:00: Grand entrance / reception events
Wedding Timeline – Without First Look and 5:00 Ceremony
3:30 – 4:30: Separate bridal party photos / any separate family photos
6:00: Cocktail Hour / Family photos + bridal party photos + bride and groom photos
7:00: Grand entrance / reception events
Lastly, here are some photos from one of my favorite first looks last year, with Alyssa and Andre! These two were such wonderful clients and it was a joy to capture their day, as well as these moments in their first look!
Follow me on social media!