When I was planning my wedding 9 years ago, photos were the most important thing to me. I wanted to have a lot of photos and I wanted them to be taken during the very best light. I asked James if he would mind doing a first look. He didn’t know what that was, so I explained to him that we would see each other before the ceremony to take photos. He said that was fine & that it didn’t really matter to him. So, I planned our timeline based on that.
Well, fast forward to our wedding day. Things are rolling along as planned, we are ready and about to do the first look. My phone rings and it’s James. He says “they’re telling me that I’m about to see you right now?!” And I said, “yes, for the first look remember?” He did not remember and he said that he absolutely did not want to see me until I walked down the aisle.
Literally all I could do was laugh. We threw out the timeline and were a little late to our reception, but it was totally fine. We got amazing photos and James got the aisle reveal that he wanted.
I know that a lot of wedding pros will try to convince couples to do a first look and for good reason! First looks are amazing. They’re full of sweet, tender moments and you have so much more time for photos. It can also help you calm your nerves before walking down the aisle (more on first looks below!)
But there is no shame in not wanting to do a first look. If you want to have that moment walking down the aisle, seeing each other for the first time, then do it. If you decide at the last minute that you don’t want to do a first look, follow your gut. It is your wedding and my job is to take great photos regardless of the light or the time or if you have a first look or not. I got your back.
Here are some things to consider when you forgo a first look:
- Time of your ceremony.
If you don’t do a first look, all of your bride and groom photos will be done after the ceremony. Talk with your photographer about when sunset is and make sure you plan your ceremony early enough so that it will still be light outside. I recommend starting your ceremony two hours before sunset. That gives us an hour and a half before it’s dark to get all the necessary photos with plenty of natural light.
- Do not skip your engagement session.
I have a tried and true posing flow and working through that with my couples at their engagement session helps so much. You’ll be familiar with the poses and with how I work and it will go so much faster on your wedding day to help us maximize our time to get the most photos.
- Communicate with your wedding party and family.
I have a specific order I follow after the ceremony that helps us get all the essential shots. Communicating this with family and the wedding party before the wedding day about where they need to be and when they need to be there helps move it along and helps us be as efficient as possible.
- Extended cocktail hour.
Some couples decide they want to build in extra time for their cocktail hour to allow for more time for photos. This is such a good option if you don’t want to do a first look, but you don’t want to rush your photos either!
- Set realistic expectations.
Sometimes brides don’t want to do a first look because they want a big reaction out of their groom when they walk down the aisle. I have seen a lot of grooms cry, but I’ve also seen a lot of grooms smile really big and not cry at all. If your groom doesn’t cry, that’s not at all an indicator of how much he loves you. Some grooms cry and some don’t. Some grooms cry even if they have had a first look. Every person and every wedding is different. So just be yourself, stay true to your vision and let what the rest unfold naturally.
Now, on to the benefits of doing a first look (because there are A LOT):
You get so many more bride & groom photos!
When I shoot weddings with no first look, I typically get around 20 minutes for bride and groom portraits. That’s because during the hour between the ceremony and reception, in addition to bride and groom photos, we also have to take wedding party photos and family photos. When I shoot weddings where a couple decides to have a first look, I typically allot 45 minutes for their portraits. That’s a little more than double the amount of time, which means double or more the number of photos.
First looks are a very sweet, private moment.
A lot of people think that if they have a first look, the moment walking down the aisle won’t be as special, but that is definitely not true! I have seen many grooms still shed tears when they see their bride walk down the aisle even though they had a first look. The first look can also be a really sweet, emotional private moment for the two of you. Couples who decide to have a first look often enjoy having that quiet moment to themselves. While I am there to capture it, I always stand at a distance (with a long lens) to give privacy. Some couples choose to pray together, some read their vows to each other—it’s a very sweet, tender time. Or you could decide to do a “prank” first look… Courtney dressed up their dog, Vato, as a bride to surprise Bobby. He thought he was turning around to see Courtney, but instead it was their sweet pup! It was funny and different and really showed their personalities.
First looks lay the foundation for a laid back & flexible wedding day timeline.
When you don’t do a first look, you have a lot of essential photos to cram in an hour. It’s totally doable if that is what you have your heart set on (I have a method to make sure we get it all done!!). However, if you want your day to be more laid back and less rushed (and if you want to get to spend time with your groom on your wedding day!!), then definitely do a first look. There will be more buffer time in the event that things run behind and more flexibility to change the order of photos if needed. If it happens to rain, we can plan photos around rain showers since we won’t be restricted by the bride and groom not being able to see each other. Talk with your photographer about a game plan for what you will do if you don’t do a first look and it happens to rain during the one hour you have to take photos. I tell my brides that if the rain isn’t hurricane force wind level, I am comfortable shooting in the rain. If shooting in the rain isn’t possible, I am also comfortable shooting with flash indoors, but that will have a different look than the outdoor, natural light photographs.
All of your photos are done (or mostly done) after the ceremony!
When you do a first look, you have several options for that hour between the ceremony and reception. Your wedding party photos will be complete, so your wedding party will be free to join cocktail hour. You could use that time to do all your family formals, or you could do you family formals before the ceremony and be completely finished with photos after your ceremony. Some couples like to join their guests at cocktail hour and some like to spend a few moments by themselves. When you do a first look, you can choose how you want to spend that hour. I always recommend taking a quick 5-10 minutes to get bride and groom golden hour portraits. Even if you got a bunch of photos earlier—these are so special because you will be wearing your wedding bands!
The most important thing, though, is to do what’s best for you. I encourage couples to discuss it and think over all the pros and cons, but at the end of the day, what’s most important is being true to your vision! Doing a first look is definitely what’s best for wedding photos, BUT a wedding isn’t about the photos—it’s about you!