Weddings & Life Podcast with Taylor Nicole, a podcast by Colorado Wedding Photographer, Taylor Nicole Photography
As it comes to almost every area of a wedding day there are a wide range of opinions about what you as a bride or groom should or should not do when it comes to seeing each other on your wedding day. Or the classic ‘First Look’ as it’s commonly referred to now. Opinions you might hear about a first look can come from traditions, expectations, personal experiences or wedding vendor preferences. As a wedding photographer one of the first questions I ask my potential clients is if they would like to see each other before the ceremony. More often than not I hear ‘Well we hear that a first look is best for photography so we will do that’ or something like ‘Well he didn’t want to see me before the ceremony but other vendors have told us we need to have a first look to make the timeline flow well so we will do that anyways.’ On the other hand I also talk with a lot of couples who are most excited about their first look too. So in this podcast episode I want to address the elephant in the wedding planning room. That being- No one should tell you to have a first look, or to not have a first look. Not your vendors, not your photographer, not your planner, not your family. It is completely your decision. So that is actually my main point. If you wanted to skip the rest of this episode you would technically understand what I am going to explain. However if you do keep listening we will talk about the pros and cons of a first look or waiting to see each other until the ceremony and alternative portrait ideas that can help your timeline planning if you do choose to skip the first look. So I hope you keep listening and that you enjoy!
Inside the episode:
Welcome back to the podcast. I am only a handful of episodes back into this season two and I have already broken my ‘don’t miss a week’ goal. I had a loss in my family and I actually took the majority of two weeks off from working. I love this podcast and while my over achiever self has a goal of pre-recording enough episodes for the rest of the year, or at least wedding season I am not sure that I will achieve that during the last few weeks of my slow season. Weddings pick back up for me in late May this year but I have had a lot of engagement sessions to schedule and plan for this Spring so that along with the team training I am planning for my associate photography team is going to take up the majority of my time until things pick up.
So I think I will put this out as a soft warning that I might not be able to keep up with my every other week goal I set in January. And while I plan to try I also understand that it’s okay. I am going to try to put out some great episodes while I can so that can help tide you though any missed weeks on my end as I keep adjusting my work life balance.
What is a first look?
So let’s start again by defining what a first look is- it refers to the bride and groom taking a moment to see each other before their wedding ceremony.
Tradition would have it that the bride and groom would not see each other on the wedding day until the bride was walking down the aisle of the ceremony. I can’t speak for all of wedding history but since I have been working in the wedding industry, starting 13 years ago actually which is a little crazy to say out loud I promise I’m no that old! But since I’ve been working weddings that tradition has been exchanged for the majority of couples choosing to see each other before the ceremony. Commonly the photographer and videographer will go out and set up the groom, then walk the bride up behind him and capture the groom’s reaction when he turns around to see his soon to be wife.
Having a first look is your choice!
So to restate my point- No one should tell you to or not to have a first look. There is not a right or a wrong way to approach this and in my opinion you should honor each other’s opinion/preferences. As in honor your fiancé’s opinion here. You can take other opinions into consideration but this should be your choice.
Now when it comes to discussing the first look with your partner try to gage the level of how much you or they do or don’t want a first look. There’s a difference between just assuming that waiting to see each other until the ceremony is normal vs really wanting to wait for that aisle reaction or really wanting to see each other before. So talk together and see if you have any strong preferences in either direction.
It can be tricky to navigate if you both strongly feel differently about the possible first look. Then you can take in some of my first look facts I share below and try to come to a decision together.
The last thing I wanted to mention is a bit of a controversial topic among wedding vendors. A lot of photographers and planners will almost push a first look on wedding couples. As if that were the only way to go about a wedding day. I am about to explain some of the benefits a first look can provide for your wedding day but there is not a certain right way to go about it. There are actually only a small set of circumstances where I do strongly recommend or encourage my clients to consider a first look on their wedding day. Other than that I want to leave it up to them to decide. So while a first look might still be a slight industry standard there are a lot of alternative ways to go about your wedding timeline.
So here are some facts about a first look and the wedding day…
- Having a first look adds to the pre-ceremony portrait timeline of your wedding day (compared to not seeing each other until the ceremony and not taking any portraits before)
- If you have a first look you can finish a variety of portraits before the ceremony (couples, wedding party, even family if you wanted to go that far)
- If you can finish some portraits before the ceremony the cocktail hour will be less busy, it’s a fact. Which is definitely one reason photographers love it
- If you have a first look not all of your guests will see your reaction to seeing each other. Take that as good or bad for yourselves
- You can still have an efficient wedding day timeline without a first look before the ceremony
So let’s talk about the main objection to a first look- It won’t be as special if they see me before the ceremony.
This is hardly an objection anymore at this point as a lot of people expect to have a first look. So there are a few ways that can make a first look special in a similar or even more personal way to walking down the aisle of the ceremony.
- Read letters together, or personal vows. Now this might date myself but my husband and I exchanged letters while standing back to back and then read them to ourselves before we turned around to see each other. I don’t see couples wanting to do that often. I think the more normal alternative to that is after you see each other taking time to share personal written vows, maybe even vows that you don’t read during the actual ceremony to make it a special moment for just the two of you.
- You can actually still change your appearance slightly for the entrance to the ceremony. This isn’t for everyone but if the bride put on a veil just before the ceremony that is a different appearance that is almost like a reveal.
- More often than not there is a sense of reality that sets in as the groom waits up in front of everyone for the ceremony to begin and that is usually enough of a trigger to remind him of how real it is and sometimes they tear up again even after having a first look earlier in the day.
Pro tip- whether having a first look or waiting until you walk down the aisle don’t put the pressure on your partner to cry on your wedding day. I work in the wedding industry and I see a lot of things. I can confidently say that putting pressure on your partner to cry when they see you is my actually NUMBER ONE pet peeve. Number two are transition glasses. Yes I will have an episode discussing those later. There is a lot of pressure on the couple on the wedding day. Everyone reacts to stress differently so don’t try to control emotions. And if you’re one of my clients, no worries if you hope your partner cries, just don’t joke with me that you’re going to “walk back down the aisle” if they don’t cry. I never know how to respond to that joke and I can’t find it within myself to find it funny. And I work with the best clients in the world so I’m not really worried about that.
So here are a few circumstances that can help you decide if you want to have a first look or not-
- If you dream of spending as much time with your guests and at your cocktail hour as possible then it is probably a good idea to have a first look and finish up the majority of your portraits earlier in the day so you can relax when your guests are with you.
- If you don’t want to take any formal portraits before your ceremony and have time allowed between the ceremony and start of the reception then it is a good idea to avoid a first look.
- If you want to spend as much time with your partner as possible on your wedding day then it is a good idea to have a first look
Now here is my one circumstance when I change my tune on this topic and if my couple is in this scenario I basically beg them to have a first look. Ready for it? It’s rare.
If the couple is having a NYE wedding or any wedding where the ceremony is scheduled at or after sunset/dark. Can you guess why a first look would be important here? No worries if not. Basically if your ceremony is right at dusk there will be no remaining natural light for portraits of the couple together, their wedding party and family. While I am equipped to take portraits with flash, as most wedding photographers should be. At least for myself if you see my website or portfolio you are not going to see mainly flash portraits. You probably actually love the natural light style when it comes to wedding day portraits. So in this case I ask my couple what they prefer – portraits via flash in the dark or a first look and portraits in the daylight. In Colorado where I work the view from and around the venue is usually a big deal so my couples opt for a day time portrait and first look timing.
Why do photographers promote first looks?
So here are a few reasons we as photographers tend to LOVE first looks. Yes I am actually a photographer that loves them too I just actively choose to put my clients priorities first and I want whatever their preferences are. So here are a few reasons we love first looks
- It lets us as the artist be in control of a few things in the first look situation- the lighting, timing, location. We have complete freedom to capture this to the best of our ability and control how/when it happens. Not saying that the ceremony is wild and a surprise but we are usually spread out throughout the room to not block the view of your guests so it’s just a different feel.
- The couple has more time to actually react to seeing each other, which is a more relaxing moment for everyone including us as photographers
- After the first look we get to take time for portraits, time which the couple’s guests aren’t waiting on them to finish taking pictures. It’s our responsibility to finish the portraits in a timely manor but we can do it to the best of our ability instead of feeling the pressure of all the guests enjoying cocktail hour and the couple feeling like they are missing out.
- We can put some of our biggest responsibilities into one main section of the day. If we get to photograph the first look, couples formal portraits together and individually, as well as wedding party and maybe even some family- that gets a HUGE section of what we have to do /worry about accomplishing over with early in the day. Then we can be more mentally present to photograph the ceremony and the candid documentary moments during the cocktail hour instead of missing that time with the guests too. I can speak from experience on weddings where most of the formal portraits are finished before the ceremony there is a different level of relief going into the ceremony knowing that our biggest leading role is almost done and that we get to be the true fly on the wall and capture the cocktail hour and reception moments without taking control or stealing more of the couple’s time.
- Usually if I have a couple that does a first look I am much more likely to get them back outside for golden hour or sunset portraits later in the night. Vs. if we just spent the whole cocktail hour finishing up portraits and I ask them an hour or two hours later to come back out the level of ‘over it’ is likely much higher as they might want to just enjoy their party.
- Lastly, a first look earlier in the day gives us the most fresh version of the couple to photograph- suits are clean, hair/makeup is at its most fresh point before wind or heat gets to it later on.
What to do if you are not having a first look?
The very last thing I’d like to share is if you are NOT having a first look here are a few helpful things you can do with your wedding day timeline to set yourselves up well-
- If you have a wedding party split up and have the bride and bridesmaids photographed before and then separately the groom and groomsmen.
- This is a great way to get individual portraits finished, all of those small combinations like the bride with each bridesmaid and the whole group of brides side and grooms side finished early.
- If you finish individual portraits, and each side of the wedding party photos before the ceremony here is what your cocktail hour could look like-
- Ceremony ends. Whole group wedding party photos take about 5-10 minutes, then family portraits about 30 minutes, then a good 10-20 minutes of couple’s formal photos together then the couple can have a 10-15 minute stretch to enter their own cocktail hour and go see their guests before the reception starts
- So that’s not as much time as if you had finished almost all portraits before the ceremony but it’s pretty good for not having taken many before.
So there you have it all the facts about first looks. I hope this was helpful if you’re in the middle of deciding whether or not to have a first look before your ceremony. Thank you so much for listening to another episode and for sharing these episodes with your wedding planning friends. That is truly the best way for new listeners to find the podcast. If you had time to leave a five star review on any listening platform that would be a great help too! If you ever have podcast episode requests about specific topics or things you’d like answered in an episode I’d always love to hear from you. You can send me a message via Instagram dms. My profile is linked in the bio. See you in two weeks with another wedding episode!
Thanks for listening / reading!