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Episode 003. Everything You Need To Know About First Looks

January 11, 2022

Podcast

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Are you considering having a first look on your wedding day? Or confused about what a first look is even supposed to be? Are you feeling nervous about breaking traditions when it comes to seeing each other before the ceremony? Well then you will want to listen to this episode. I am going to share the history of a first look, alternatives to first looks, when you might want to consider a first look and more. Excited to dive into this topic with you! 

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Okay to start this episode off I wanted to define what I am referring to by a first look. A first look is the bride and groom seeing each other on their wedding day before their wedding ceremony. The alternative is to have the bride and groom wait to see each other until the bride walks down the aisle at the beginning of the ceremony.

So let’s talk about the history of a first look. I had heard that it is ‘bad luck for the groom to see the bride’ before the ceremony on their wedding day. And while I’m not sure how truthful this is I’ve been reading that this idea came from the day of arranged marriages. No one wanted the bride or groom to see each other until the marriage was finalized just in case they weren’t happy with what they saw and one of them wanted to call off the wedding. So traditionally in that time the bride and groom first saw each other at the ceremony of their wedding. Yikes. 

While arranged marriages aren’t as common these days I will say that opinions about first looks are everywhere! I bet if you asked your parents, grandparents, best friends and wedding vendors there are bound to be differing opinions about first looks. 

I am skipping to my answer first. I believe I am a photographer who holds a fairly unpopular opinion that there is no right or wrong way in the wedding day when it comes to a first look. However, having or not having a first look will effect your wedding day timeline. As a photographer I personally see the value in both moments, having a set aside time before or seeing each other at the start of the ceremony. Both can be beautiful and special!



First I think it is most important to understand what you and your fiancé want in regards to a first look. Here are some questions to ask yourself about first looks as you’re making your decision-

  1. Do you or your fiancé have a preference either way on the first look? And how important is that preference to each of you. There is a difference of ‘oh I just thought you always waited until the ceremony’ compared to ‘I have been dreaming of seeing my groom as I walk down the aisle since I was a little girl’
  1. What do I want my cocktail hour to look like? Am I okay with finishing up portraits for the majority of cocktail hour and then partying the night away with my guests, or would I rather spend the majority of that time with my guests. 

I always encourage couples to try to get on the same page about preferences with the first look. Then the next decision to make is about how a first look might affect your wedding plans and timeline.

Now here is how a first look affects a wedding day timeline-

-Having a first look will increase the time you will need to be ready before your ceremony. So in the case of the photographer it will add coverage time earlier in the day compared to not having a first look

-Having a first look allows the photographer to finish more of the portraits before the ceremony, your individual and couple’s portraits, and also your bridal party portraits too.

-Having a first look frees up your cocktail hour to enjoy with your guests

-Having a first look can help set aside time to take off site portraits during your wedding day instead of trying to leave for an off site location during the limited time of cocktail hour

When do I recommend having a first look-

There aren’t many scenarios where I push the idea of a first look to my clients, except for the following:

  1. The ceremony is at or after sunset. While having flash portraits is fun make sure that you’re prepared for all of your couple’s portraits to be taken after dark. If you would like portraits taken during the daylight or in natural light then I obviously strongly encourage a first look

2. If you have both a large bridal party and family portrait list. example below-

Here is a working example of what I mean- Let’s say couple “X” has 11 bridesmaids and 11 groomsmen, and they are also going to want pictures with each aunt, uncle and cousin along with their 5 siblings and parents in various combinations. 

Now this isn’t a bad problem to have. This couple X obviously knows what they want and they have a ton of friends there to celebrate with them. Also yes I have seen this situation several times before. I love making sure you get your portraits with everyone you want, but I will say that if this is the set up without having a first look couple X is looking at about 90 minutes of portraits to take all of these and fit in their formal couple portraits too. So they can either have a first look and we can get a lot of the portraits taken care of before the wedding ceremony, or they can choose to extend their cocktail hour to an hour and a half, it keeps your guests waiting a bit but also you are feeding them so it’s not actually the worst thing in the world.

What photos/portraits can you still get done before the ceremony if you don’t have a first look?

-getting ready (either way obviously)

-bridesmaid and bride portraits, bride’s individual portraits

-groomsmen and groom portraits, groom’s individual portraits

-you could technically add in some immediate family portraits without doing a first look, but then you will have to repeat those again after the ceremony with your spouse so it might be easier to keep those all together.

Now I’ve heard an argument about first looks and how they can make the moment of seeing each other less special.

Fun ideas I’ve seen that can help make the first look special-

  • reading letters to each other
  • reading personal vows that you don’t want to share during your ceremony

Now let me take a moment to jump on my soap box. As first looks have gained popularity it is common to see pictures of the groom cry tears of joy when he sees his bride during their first look. Or at the ceremony too. I’ve heard brides say ‘If he doesn’t cry I will be so mad’ or sayings along this line. And it makes me nervous! Haha so you might just know that your groom is going to straight up bawl when he sees you, and if that is your case then great. However there is a heck of a lot of pressure already going on during a wedding day, and I think that adding pressure to the groom to also feel x amount of emotion when he sees you can be a burden. I guess this is also coming from me where neither I or my husband cried once during our wedding, first look or otherwise. We just don’t show emotion publicly that often. So there was no way I could go in expecting Austin to cry when he saw me. In fact I think that would have been weird haha so please, brides, be kind to your groom and don’t put extra pressure on him about something that isn’t actually a make or break thing. Okay stepping off of soap box now.

Here are some alternatives to a first look-

  • a first touch, holding hands around a corner or doorway at your venue, I’ve seen couples pray together or just enjoy a moment together without seeing each other before the ceremony
  • Exchanging letters or a gift, a way to tell your person you love them and can’t wait to meet them at the ceremony!

Other first looks you can consider including on your wedding day-

-Brides, a first look with your dad, it might mean the world to him and you’d get great photos

-Grooms, a first look with your mom. Same story, I had a groom do this in the Fall and it was such a precious moment.

-Brides, a first look with your bridesmaids. Have your bridesmaids get dressed first, then send them out of the room while you get dressed. Then bring them back in, the reactions are almost always dramatic and fun! 

-A first look with your grandparents- can be very sweet if they’re okay being there early. I’ve seen this happen in the bride’s getting ready room before and it’s precious

-A first look with your child or children can be a special way to involve them.

-And there are many combinations- I’ve seen a bride do a first look with the groomsmen before ect. Just know that with each ‘first look’ you add the timeline will need to be adjusted to fit all of these in. You might need to add coverage time to the beginning of your day to make these work and hopefully your photographer can help you figure that out case by case. I know that’s what I do.

-Lastly I’ve seen some pretty funny fake first looks. Where you basically lie to the groom and tell him he is about to see the bride, then have someone else come surprise him instead. I’ve seen this be a groomsmen or brother who wears a thrift store wedding dress ect. I will mention on this one, try to think through how the groom will react and feel. Some people might think it’s funny, others might not take it so well.

So did this help you understand a little bit more about first looks and what that means for wedding days? I hope I’ve given you a lot to consider and most importantly remember that it is your day and I hope you have fun with it first look or not! 

xo,

Taylor Nicole

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