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FAQ: Should I Do A First Look On My Wedding Day?

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Mark’s ecstatic reaction when he saw Mara for the first time in her gorgeous Vera Wang gown was enough to bring tears to my eyes.

I often get asked why so many of my couples are doing first looks these days.  While I always leave it up to the bride and groom to decide what is the best fit for them and their wedding day, around 85% of my couples this year opted for a “first look.”  For those of you who don’t know what it is, a first look is the moment when the bride and groom see each other for the first time in a private before the ceremony.   If you are wondering if a first look is right for you, this post outlines some of the benefits and the common objections I hear.   Best of all, I get to share a testimony from a bride of mine about her experience.  Hopefully this post will help you decide whether or not a first look is the best choice for your unique wedding day.

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Christina and Alex’s tearful first look in the snow was incredibly heart-warming.

 4  Reasons To Consider A First Look

1.  It’s an Emotional, Romantic Moment You’ll Always Remember

It really is.  It’s important to me as your photographer that your first look is a genuine, relaxed real moment together – not a cheesy, gimmicky photo-opp.  After setting you guys in place, we stand back , allow the bride to walk up to the groom on her own time and give you both some space to share the special moment without interruption (we use long lenses to achieve this).   Many of my brides have told me later that this was one of their favorite memories from their wedding day.

2.  Getting Your Nerves Out

A lot of my couples have shared with me how nervous and anxious they were about the wedding day until they were together. What a great reason to see each other sooner rather than later, so you can start having fun!  Some of my more private couples feel that seeing each other for the first time is a personal, emotional moment that they’d prefer not to have in front of  hundreds of their friends.   These brides and grooms  know that on the altar are they more likely to hold back their tears and emotion anyways because they are uncomfortable expressing how they are really feeling with so many eyes on them.  The privacy of a first look allows them to show their real emotions to each other and still have it captured in photos.  Rather than feeling restricted by the formality of the ceremony, they can embrace, talk about how the day has gone so far, and the bride wants to hear the grooms’ initial reaction to how she looks.   Although a lot of my couples who cry during the  first look still cry again during the ceremony, they are able to go into the ceremony feeling more excitement than nervousness.

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Jim anxiously anticipating seeing Adrianna for the first time on their wintery wedding day at the Bowery Hotel.

3.  More Time with Your Guests + More Time With Each Other = A More Relaxed Wedding Day

Choosing to do a first look is the easiest way to guarantee a more relaxed wedding day.   When my couples chose to do a first look, the day often goes like this: The bride and groom get ready early in separate rooms.  They meet for their first look about 2 1/2 hours before the ceremony (depending on if transportation time needs to be added in).   They have an hour for portraits which usually allows us to get a wide variety of photos at a relaxed pace.  Then we take 45 minutes to an hour for family photos and bridal party photos.  Having that much time for photos allows everyone to be much more relaxed because if something goes wrong (a family member is late to portraits,  a bridesmaid’s dress rips etc) there is plenty of buffer time built in so no one needs to worry or feel rushed.   After all the formal pictures are done, my couple has thirty to forty-five minutes to rest and relax before the ceremony.  Not once during the day do they have to feel guilty or stressed or rushed to get back to their guests during photos, because photos are all done by the time guests arrive!   After the ceremony,  the bride and groom are free from photo obligations and can enjoy the entire wedding day with their guests.  The cocktail hour, the dinner and maybe even steal away for a little alone time to take in together how big of a moment this is.

4. More Photos and Better Photos

Unless you have a scheduled break of a few hours between the ceremony and reception,  not doing a first look generally means less time for photos.   My couples who don’t do a first look, almost always have to do  all their photos during cocktail hour and that means we have less than hour to get all of your family, bridal party and bride and groom portraits.  This means bride and groom portraits often get cut to as short as 15-20 minutes which means we have to stay very close to the ceremony and reception site.   When we have more time, we have options like taking a golf cart down to the property’s beach, driving to a nearby forest reserve, or taking  time to walk around the venue’s property and make full use of everything that your gorgeous venue has to offer.   It keeps the pace of portraits relaxed, which means you look and feel more relaxed too!  (For more ideas on how to help your wedding photographer give you the best possible photos check out THIS post.)

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What I love about first looks is that the couple often feels more free to express their truest emotions when alone than they do at the altar in front of all their friends.   David could barely contain his elation at seeing Lauren for the first time on their wedding day.

 

But before you take my word for it on the benefits of doing a first look,  let’s hear from Suanne, a past bride of mine whose first look photos still get me misty-eyed:

“When Perry and I decided to do a first look, it was entirely for practical purposes. Knowing we had a very full day, we wanted to fit our portraits in when they would be the most convenient for our guests. We hated going to weddings that had long gaps between the ceremony and reception. (Really, what ARE you supposed to do with that time if you’re from out of town anyway?) We also did not want to rush our photos or look stressed out. If our portraits waited until later in the day, the chance of us being late or needing to rush would be higher.  So a first look made a ton of sense to our efficiency-driven selves.

Once we did the first look, I was so thankful for the time we got to spend with each other before the day spiraled into blurs of people and schedules.  Perry and I are both introverts – our big wedding was going to take a toll on us, as much as we love all our guests!  The first look was our private chance to savor the moment, take it all in, and remind each other that we were in this together – now and for forever.  We could fully relax, re-energize, and encourage each other.  Seeing Perry made me less nervous about all the things to come.   And Caroline and her second shooter were perfect at being observers without intruding on the moment.  To this day, my favorite photographs and memories are of our little moment under the willow tree.”

Check out their adorable first look under a willow tree:

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A Few Common Objections to Doing a First Look

1. Tradition/ It’s “Bad Luck”

It’s understandable that growing up with this tradition many brides and grooms would feel torn.  They don’t want to break tradition, but they feel limited as it doesn’t allow them enough time with their guests or to get all the beautiful  photos they want.  Some of my couples that have more traditional weddings, think that the tradition of not seeing each other before the wedding has spiritual significance behind it.  However, that’s not the case.  The tradition actually originates from the days of arranged marriages when two complete strangers were arranged to be married without meeting first, it came from a fear that the groom might be spooked by her appearance and call whole the thing off.  I guess that means it’s only bad luck to see the bride if you two have never seen each other before the wedding at all!

2. “I’m afraid a first look will lessen the emotion of the moment the groom sees the bride coming down the aisle”

This is the biggest objection I know – every bride dreams of walking down the aisle and seeing her normally self-controlled  husband, unable to contain his emotion and she’s concerned that seeing each other before will lessen the power of that moment.  I have never seen a couple be emotional during their first look, that then wasn’t during the ceremony.  In fact, most of the time my couples are even more emotional during the ceremony than they were during their first look.  What you have to take into consideration is, that moment between a bride and groom is emotional not because the groom is seeing his bride in her wedding dress for the first time but because of the incredible significance of what is happening: his future wife is walking towards him, about to pledge herself to him for the rest of her life and he’s about to make a commitment to do the same in front of all their closest family and friends.  It’s a powerful and moving moment regardless of whether or not he’s seen her in her wedding dress already.

Just to prove it to you, here are three emotive grooms who had already seen their brides earlier that day during the first look:

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Perry was trying to hold back tears as Suanne came towards him down the aisle.  It made no difference that they had seen each other just thirty minutes before.

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It’s not difficult to see the depths of emotion going through David’s mind as Lauren walked towards him down the aisle.

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Mark and Mara’s first look was full of laughter and tears and their ceremony was exactly the same!

 

I’ve had the privilege of witnessing so many other special first looks over the years – here are a few that came to mind and still make my heart melt:

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Jill can barely hold back tears as she sees James for the first time on their wedding day at Bryant Park Grill. . James face clearly says, “I can’t believe how lucky I am”

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N and T’s first look on the rooftop of the New York Palace Hotel looked straight out of an old-Hollywood movie. I love how T stood back to check her out.

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Adam and Barbara couldn’t contain their excitement upon seeing each other for the first time in this pretty little forest reserve near their New Jersey venue.

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Ryan was positively beaming at the sight of Jenny at their wedding day at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay.

 

 

Christine Han - September 10, 2014 - 9:58 pm

This is SO on point and well-written, Caroline!

Lily Belle - September 10, 2014 - 11:08 pm

LOVE this

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