Take what you know about the first look and throw it out the window,
we are about to redefine this trend.
The first look. After photographing over a hundred weddings, our perception of this new(er) tradition has changed. Stick with me and I'll tell you what you need to know when considering a first look, the pros, how to ensure it happens perfectly, and also suggest a bunch of types of first looks that can seamlessly be included in your big day.
Before I dive into the good stuff, let's make sure we are on the same page. A first look is essentially the first time the soon to be married couple see each other, both all fancy and dressed in their wedding attire. When we talk about THE first look, we are referring to the couple seeing each other before the ceremony begins.
Even if you are 100% sure you are not going to include a first look in your wedding day, please keep reading. I want you to be informed and confident in the decisions you make for your big day.
The most impactful pros of the first look may not be what you would expect. When Sam and I got married, I REALLY wanted to walk down the aisle and experience seeing him see me for the first time. I wanted that rush of electric emotion followed by a deep intimate connection. This was before Pinterest and the endless information available, so I don't even recall doing any research on a first look. I made up my mind that he would see me for the first time walking down the aisle. (I can completely relate to all of you determined planners out there!)
What most couples want to preserve is the wow moment of seeing each other for the first time on their wedding day. Walking down the aisle promises to give that dramatic reveal, and with so many years of tradition on its side, it appears to be the easy choice. Reflecting on our own wedding, with the benefit of experiencing weddings as professionals, Sam and I realized that the desire for that reveal isn't only in preserving that wow moment. Most couples also crave an intimate connection with their partner in that moment as well...which makes complete sense! You have spent the morning - possibly into afternoon -distant from one another, likely having taken part in another tradition of separating the night (or days) before. Everything you are doing on your wedding day is in preparation for each other.
So, the first look can not only satisfy both of those desires, but I'm going to explain why we feel opting for a well crafted first look can exceed them. When it is done correctly (more on that further down), the electricity of the moment is almost palpable. The intimate eye contact between the very-soon-to-be newlyweds is intense in every way you would want it to be. Even we are drawn into their love story. It is THAT powerful. What I wish I had with Sam was the intimate connection. I first saw his face 20 feet down the aisle, not a breath away or a few feet away. I couldn't reach out and touch him. I couldn't tell him that I was ready to be his wife or how handsome he looked in his brown suit with his hair spiked up. He was denied the opportunity to say something naughty in my ear (he 100% would have).
The pre-ceremony first look between the couple gives an extremely private and intimate space for you to share. You can both drink in the irresistible hotness of the other, inches away. You can whisper "I love you" and pour on the complements. This is a space that no one else is allowed into (except the photographer and videographer, but you won't even know we are there).
Walking down the aisle, I vividly remember putting all my focus on keeping the smile on my face (for pictures, of course) and not letting myself cry (to keep my makeup intact). I looked at Sam, all the way down at the other end, and then glanced from face to smiling face as I walked arm in arm with my mom. It was special, of course, because that was our story. BUT if I could do it all over again, I would include a first look. I am so curious what would have happened between us without the pressure of all those eyes on me and with the time to talk, touch and just connect.
Since we have explored the emotional reasons for considering a first look, let's dive into the practical one - time. There never seems to be enough time on a wedding day, with so much thoughtfully crammed into roughly 16 hours. Someone runs late, hair and makeup take longer than allocated, the marriage license gets left behind...stuff happens! It is completely normal, and from our perspective, to be expected. Unwanted (and unneeded) stress comes when too many activities are packed into too little time.
Planning for a first look not only gives you space to be together, but it gives you space to breathe as well as the opportunity to gather your bridal parties and families for photos BEFORE the ceremony. We also advise (and absolutely love) scheduling in time for couples portraits directly after the first look, when no one else has joined you yet and you are still basking in your sweet intimate time together.
Then, busting out the full bridal party photos and bringing in close family for pictures, automatically creates time after the wedding! The result is a more relaxed flow for the rest of the day. Cocktail hour feels comfortable and no one needs to break a sweat searching for a wandering grandma because there is plenty of time for extended family photos. Plus, it ensures that we have multiple opportunities to co-create stunning portraiture with our couples.
To recap - experience has shown us that including a first look will not only preserve the wow moment of seeing each other for the first time, but allow for a protected space and a protected time that you can spend with one another. Whether you read personal vows, nibble on each other's ears or simply stare in awe at the person you are about to marry, this time is only yours, with no other expectations or demands. Then, flowing into your portraits, bridal party pictures and family photos, the remainder of your day is magically opened up and less rushed.
As you can imagine, simply adding in a first look doesn't automatically guarantee all those pros above will happen. The way the first look is designed is essential to getting the results you are looking for.
Here are a few key points to keep in mind when allocating a first look into your wedding day timeline:
- Don't rush. Schedule the time for your first look and resist the urge to "keep it moving". This is supposed to be a space to just be together.
- Your photographer team should help you and your fiancé move into position so one of you doesn't accidentally sneak a peak. You can also enlist the help of a family member or your bridal party as well to keep others away from the space you are going to be in.
- Consider a photography team. Two photographers can capture both of your reactions as you turn to face one another. Same goes for your ceremony.
- If you are including personal vows, a letter reading, exchanging gifts or another unique activity together, don't forget to allocate more time. We plan for 20 minutes (getting prepped, in place and the actual first look) for a base then add on additional 5-10 minute incriments for other activities happening. It is always better to give MORE time and not need it than less time and feel the pressure of needing to be done quickly.
- Use the expertise of your photographer to choose a location for your first look. We always arrive early and scout out the area, to ensure the backdrop is not distracting for photo/video. If you aren't sure if your photographer will do this, ASK. If they aren't planning on doing this, or don't know what to look for, then take it into your own hands. Preparation is the key here. You don't want to be wandering around your venue looking for a space the day of your wedding.
- If a guest sees you, it is okay (we promise). The goal is always to sneak you away so no one else gets a pre-ceremony peek, but sometimes the guests are in the wrong place at the wrong time or even purposefully nosey. They will see you soon anyway, so focus your attention on being with your love, because that's what is most important!
- Timeline planning should be a team effort. We strongly believe in being hands-on and available from the moment we first connect. Utilize your photographer's experience to structure your wedding day timeline overall and uncover when would be the best time to include your first look.
If you haven't heard, there are a ton of "first look" options that engage and include family and friends! These are particularly important because just like your first look together, they give you guaranteed time with the significant people in your life. Immortalizing the moment all on camera ensures you have memories of these loved ones forever. As always, pick and choose which ones are for you - this is your day!
Below are a list of first look options we have seen first hand + a bonus pro tip to make each even more special:
- First Look with Dad. Pro tip: make sure this is done in a location where your photographer has enough space to move around (especially if you have a single photographer). You will want dad's facial expressions and your own, so being able to circle around you gives them the ability to capture those.
- First Look with Bridesmaids. Pro tip: have a large mirror? Stand in front of it, with your bridesmaids positioned behind you (facing away from you or facing you with their eyes closed). This creates a dynamic photo with all of your faces included when they see you all done up for the first time.
- First Look with The Opposite Bridal Party. Pro Tip: if you want to be hyped up before going down the aisle, this is for you! Gather the groomsmen or bridesmaids in a room, facing away, and come in for the big reveal. Your photographer can get everyone into position so they are captured in frame and shout to "turn around!" for the hype moment.
- First Look with Grandparent. Pro Tip: for some grandparents (or parents) it can be challenging to maneuver in a small room. These first looks are usually more comfortable in a more open space or space where your family member can enter and get comfortable before you come in.
- First Look with a Significant Family Member or Friend. Pro Tip: these are extremely special for friends or family members that aren't able to be with you during getting ready due to health reasons or other obligations. Bringing them into your getting ready space to do a reveal is a special way of recognizing their role in your life and love story.
We are firm believers in providing expert guidance to ensure your wedding day is exactly what you want it to be. Whether or not you choose to incorporate a first look, the focus should always be on what brings you and your fiancé joy in the process AND on the day. And, don't forget - you are not meant to become a wedding planner overnight (or at all). We know you are juggling a bunch of responsibilities as you plan your dream wedding, while balancing a complex budget, work/school obligations, family and friends and simply finding the space to enjoy your engagement. Your wedding photographer team should be a massive resource and your biggest cheerleader as you construct the framework of your wedding and fill in the details.