First Look or No First Look?

Wedding Planning

What is a "first look," you may ask? Well, it's that moment where people see each other for the first time on the wedding day after they're all dressed and made up. It can be between a bride and father, groom and mother, bride and bridesmaids, or a bride or groom and their children, siblings, grandparents or the like. It's a special moment where the photographers and videographers are ready to capture those emotional first reactions. During the ceremony, it's that moment the groom and the guests see the bride walking down the aisle. But, in many cases nowadays, the groom sees the bride before the ceremony - and that's what we wedding vendors call a "couple's first look".

Often, the way it works is, the groom is placed into position, and the bride either walks up behind him and he turns around, or, the couple might hold hands around a tree or a door. Sometimes the first look involves the couple reading vows to each other or exchanging gifts. This can be done with their backs to each other, before turning around to see each other. Or, sometimes, notes are exchanged and/or read, but the couple never actually sees each other (but they do hold hands and hear each others' voices for an intimate moment). You can check out Pinterest for plenty of sample "couple's first look" ideas. (Here's 490 first look ideas by Style Me Pretty.)

Out of the three weddings I photographed in 2017, after starting my business that October, none of the 3 couples whose weddings I captured opted for a first look. But in 2018, 12 of my 37 couples (32%) had the couple's first look before the ceremony. In 2019, 15 of my 39 couples (38%) did. In 2020, 10 of my 23 couples (43%) did, and in 2021, (when Mark joined the team), 20 of our 42 couples (48%) had the couple's first look.

And, just to mention it, 9 couples over the past 4 years (out of 153 total couples) actually got ready together (including me and Mark when we eloped)! Not as popular, but definitely an option!

Below are some reasons that couples chose to go one way or the other, based on what we've experienced.

Reasons to Have a First Look

  1. It's an opportunity to capture more portraits earlier in the day - candid and posed couple's photos, wedding party photos and immediate family photos - after the first look.
  2. It's early in the day right after getting ready, so everyone is looking their best.
  3. It's usually an intimate moment with just the couple (and the photographers / videographers), allowing the couple to have a special time together.
  4. It gives the couple more time overall with the love of their life on their special day.
  5. It's a chance to get all of those emotions out so the couple is more calm during the ceremony.
  6. At a winter wedding, where the sun sets extra early, it provides the opportunity to be sure to get good portraits in natural light.
  7. Because an hour is usually the amount of time needed for first looks and portraits, having that extra hour before the ceremony built into the timeline can be helpful if the "getting ready" time runs over.
  8. It allows for more family photos after the ceremony (family portraits take 2 to 3 minutes per small group or 3 to 5 minutes per large group). For very large weddings with lots of extended family, where the couple wants portraits with all of them, this can be essential.
  9. The couple can join cocktail hour after the ceremony, if desired, and skip doing any additional wedding party photos and/or couples photos at that time, spending more time with their guests. Or, the couple can do more couple's photos and family photos (but the wedding party photos are done - leaving the wedding party to just, well, party).
  10. Since the couple can join cocktail hour for a bit, it reduces the stress of having their guests wait for them (which stresses some couples out).
  11. Or, the couple can skip doing cocktail hour entirely and just get right into dinner and all the reception events after the ceremony. And in this case, the photographers can capture more dancing!

Reasons to Not Have a First Look

  1. Couples will save money by not adding the extra hour of photography coverage which is often necessary for the first look and portraits.
  2. It saves all of those emotions for the ceremony.
  3. First looks can feel staged.
  4. If a couple doesn't like posing for photos, doing that many posed photos (before the ceremony after getting ready, then after the first look, then after the ceremony again) can make it feel like they're posing all day.
  5. If couple's don't have a first look, then they can still take photos during a "sunset sneak-away session" during the reception (in addition to the couple's photos after the ceremony), because they're less likely to be tired of taking photos by that time.
  6. Except for during Winter, lighting conditions in late morning or early afternoon, when first looks typically occur, aren't as ideal for portraits as are the golden hour / blue hour portraits later in the day.

Contact Us

Lots to think about! Whether or not to have a couple's first look can be a tough decision to make. If you'd like to chat about it with us more, please feel free to reach out and schedule a call with us. We're here to help you and guide you all along the way. The more you enjoy your wedding day, the better your photos will be - and that's a fact!