First Look

If you are new to weddings and doing some research, you’ve probably come across the term “first look” thrown around.

But, what is the first look?

Instead of the first moment, which is when your partner sees you when you are walking down the aisle, a first look has that first sight of you be before the ceremony in an oftentimes more intimate setting. A lot of the time, that first look moment is just the bride and the groom or the bride, groom and their wedding party who sneak in to see the sweet moment. I, personally, do not let the couple kiss at this moment.

Whether or not to do the first look is totally up to you as a couple, but here are my list of pros and cons to help with the decision.

Pros:

  • Keep that first sight intimate
  • Can do all the photos before the ceremony
  • Can ease nerves on the wedding day

My husband and I did a first look before our wedding solely because I’m pretty private about things and I wanted to be able to see him without it being in front of everyone. I also knew that he wanted to wash my feet before the ceremony, and that provided the best timing for it. We still did all of our family photos after the ceremony, so it didn’t save us any time.

What I learned later, was that that moment completely calmed all of his anxiety about the day. He let his mind wander the morning before our wedding about all the bad possibilities of a wedding and the moment he saw me, he released those possibilities and felt secure again in our future and me showing up (I literally have no idea why that was a question, haha). For me, that moment was a chance to be hugged by the least frazzled person in attendance.

Bride and groom doing their first look at the Clemson Outdoor Lab in Pendleton, SC.
Bride and groom doing their first look at the Clemson Outdoor Lab in Pendleton, SC.

Palmer and me on our wedding day back in 2015.

Cons

  • Miss out on that big reveal as you walk down the aisle
  • You can’t always control how intimate the first look ends up being
  • The getting ready process will need to start earlier

The first con I mentioned is pretty self-explanatory, but I do want to dive a little deeper into cons two and three.

In theory, a first look is just you and your partner but in reality, it is the couple, the photographer (who might get close), the videographer (who will get close), and possibly the wedding party. If you have a wedding party that is super patient then they will abide by the “don’t watch us” rule, but a lot don’t. It sounds rude to put it so bluntly that they don’t listen to your wishes, but you have to understand…these are the people that have been fully invested in your relationship since the beginning. They are some of your best friends, they heard about him/her when they first started flirting with you, they heard all the details about your first dates, and they were probably there to document the proposal. They don’t want to miss out on any special moments because they honestly feel like they have been there for all the others. As for the photographers and the videographer, well, we were hired to be storytellers and that intimate moment is part of the story that we don’t want you to miss out on recounting later in life.

Groom kissing his future bride's forward during their first look at a wedding in Belton, South Carolina.

Connor and Emma during their first look.

Lastly, timing is a big issue when it comes to doing a first look. I do both the bridal party and groomsmen photos before the first look, then follow up the first look with at least the wedding party photos. That process alone often ends up being about an hour and a half. I also like to have the bride hidden in her room at least 45 minutes before the ceremony, so no guests come across her. All that together means that you have to be ready around 2.5 hours before the wedding, just for wedding party photos. For this reason, I suggest that you be realistic about how long it will take you to get ready before you commit to a first look.

Groom walking up to bride to do the first look before the ceremony.
Groom crumpling into his bride after seeing her for the first time in her wedding dress during first look.

Graham and Stephanie during their first look.

Things to note:

  • Lighting can be an issue.
    • If you are having a late spring or summer wedding and are doing a first look, you are probably going to be doing those shots when the sun is at its highest (early afternoon). High sun makes harsher shadows, so expect a photographer to move you to shaded areas and we will probably ask you to do more photos around sunset.
    • If you are doing a late fall or winter wedding and are not doing a first look, know that the light might be completely gone when your ceremony ends. Winter time sun goes away quickly and often comes with weather that makes the sky darker throughout the day. This time of year is the only time that I recommend a first look, just because you help out your photographer and videographer with being able to deliver you a variety of images of you as a couple in the daylight and the dark.
  • Have realistic expectations about your partner’s reaction.
    • Not all grooms or brides have a reaction of happy crying and hollering when they see you. You know you your partner and the reality of how they might act, so don’t get disappointed if it’s not like what you’ve been drooling over on Pinterest. Some people cry and laugh, like my husband, and then some smile and just need a hug, like myself.
  • You can also do a first something else.
    • Some couples choose to not see each other before the wedding but still do a “first” something by choosing a corner or a doorway where they can hear each other’s voice and maybe even touch. This also allows your photographer or videographer the ability to capture both of you in the frame for you to look back on later.

Bride and groom sharing their wedding gifts.

Bo and Kelly exchanging “first” gifts.

Hope these tidbits help you in deciding what works best for you and your family on your big day! Whatever you choose, know that it will be magical because it fits who you are as a couple.

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