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The Pros and Cons of a First Look at Your Wedding

Tips and Advice

If you’re planning a wedding, the first question you may have for your photographer is to explain the pros and cons of a “First Look”. It’s always the first question I’m asked: “Should we do a first look?”

I probably go over this topic with every couple that books with me, and every time I’m all, “I should write a blog about the Pros and Cons of a First Look, because I have lots of thoughts”

SO HERE WE ARE.

Groom seeing his bride for the first time pros and cons of a first look
Awesome reaction photo captured by my second photographer and friend, Jodi.
 

My answer? DO WHATEVER YOU WANT.

I know there are millions of blogs on the internet suggesting couples do a first look, but I’m hoping this blog post gives you a little more insight – so let’s break down the pros and cons:

First, what even is a first look?

A “first look” is when the couple sees each other for the first time in a (sometimes staged) moment before the ceremony. Many couples use the time immediately following the first look for their portraits, and sometimes their wedding party photos and family formals as well.

“BUT WAIT SONJ. My mom says it’s tradition for the couple not to see each other until that walk down the aisle!”
I get it! It was also tradition to offer 3 goats and spices for her hand in marriage. Some traditions are meant to be broken!

Did you know it’s also believed that the tradition of the bridal bouquet was to cover the bride’s odor? See – traditions are weird.

Groom in awe of his bride pros and cons of a first look

Let’s break down the PROS and CONS of first looks:

THE PROS:

Fresh makeup! If you’re a crier, and your eyes get puffy and red afterwards, you might want to consider a first look so your makeup is fresh for portraits.

More time for portraits and a few moments with your love in private, letting you soak it all in before the nerves of the ceremony set in.

You get to join your family and friends in cocktail hour. Or, you can spend a little time in private with your own plate of snacks before the reception without a camera in your face.

Reaction photos are easier to photograph because I’m not fighting a hundred standing guests with their cell phones and iPads.

This reaction from the groom is GOLD, and such a special moment for just the two of them.

THE CONS:

First looks can be a sweet, private moment between the couple, however, they can also feel incredibly staged, inauthentic, and kinda awkward. For example, I’ve photographed some sweet first looks only to have the videography team ask them to slow down or even REPEAT the moment for video. Buzzkill! (For the record, I’ve also worked with lots of lovely video teams that keep the moment authentic)

The Light

If your ceremony is earlier in the afternoon, that may put your first look and portraits on the schedule when the sun is high-in-the-sky NOON. I’m not saying I won’t photograph you at noon, I am saying the light may look different than you imagined, and you might want to consider setting some time for those sweet backlit golden-hour photos you’ve been daydreaming about.

My groom’s nervous smile at me right before his bride taps him on the shoulder KILLS ME – how cute is this?!

We usually photograph the first look, portraits, wedding party, then family formals if there’s time all before the ceremony. This may mean making sure hair and makeup starts earlier, or that family is coordinated to arrive a little earlier than the “invite time” to allow for formals. Sometimes that can be hard to schedule.

Sometimes the bouquets, boutonnières, etc might be delivered to the ceremony location, while the first look happens at another location. While I can absolutely photograph portraits and wedding party without florals, it can be a little awkward. And then you’ll just want portraits again once you have your personals…. which totally negates the benefits of a first look 😉

And of course, the unsolicited advice from family about “tradition”. Sigh.

THE ADVICE

It’s your wedding day – you do you! If you are planning on a first look, make sure the makeup and hair artists know that you should be done first, and they can touch up the wedding party (and moms!) while you’re doing portraits.

Don’t listen to people who tell you that doing a first look “ruins” the emotion of the ceremony. I’ve photographed plenty of ceremonies where my clients cried their eyes out during the processional after a first look. The music, your friends and family looking at you, the first time you see your ceremony set-up… the moment is still VERY special and VERY emotional.

Pro Tip:

If you don’t want to do a first look, see if you can extend your cocktail hour another 30 minutes, OR have a second photographer added to your coverage so the lead photographer (das me!) can photograph all the important family groupings, portraits, wedding party photos AND your reception room before guests are invited inside. Especially if there’s travel involved with multiple locations.

THE ALTERNATIVE

Consider a “first touch” if you want to calm the nerves a little before the ceremony, but don’t want to see each other. A first touch is a nice alternative that can take maybe 10 minutes for a quick hand squeeze and prayer. I’ve also seen couples exchange love letters right before the ceremony.

Pros and Cons of a First Look With Your Parents or Wedding Party

To break tradition even more, couples might consider doing a First Look with their parents or the entire wedding party! If you plan to do a First Look with parents, include this in the wedding timeline. Give yourself 15-20 minutes for photos and makeup touch-ups, which will probably be needed.

Choose a location that is intimate, private, and away from the chaos of guests gathering for the ceremony. Lastly, do not forget to alert your photographer that you’d like to do a First Look with the parents. Your photographer will want a few minutes to prepare the space for the best light and camera angles. Check out the pros and cons of a first look with your wedding party and family!

Father-Daughter First Look

A father-daughter First Look can capture sentimental moments as the dad prepares himself to give his daughter away in marriage. Many brides have a very special, significant relationship with their dads, and this bond shines through in First Look photos. Although there is the traditional father-daughter dance during the reception, brides may involve their dads even more by planning a First Look time before the ceremony. But after getting her hair, makeup, and dress ready for the ceremony. 

The First Look between a father and his daughter is a special, sentimental time. He’ll be able to see his baby girl all grown up and ready to start her own life. These private, special minutes before the ceremony can help celebrate a father’s bond with his daughter. Additionally, they can help alleviate some of the nerves before he prepares to walk her down the aisle during the ceremony. These photos are often full of tears and love!

Pros and Cons of a First Look

Mom’s First Look

The wedding day is often a massive deal for moms, who often have as big (if not bigger) of a role in the wedding planning process as the couple. A mother-daughter or mother-son First Look can be a meaningful way to honor and celebrate a mother’s devotion to her child. During a mother-daughter First Look, she might give her daughter a particular piece of jewelry or family heirloom to carry with her down the aisle. She might pin the boutonniere on her son’s suit during a mother-son first look.

A mother seeing her daughter before the ceremony might evoke memories of her wedding day long ago, giving the duo a sweet moment to bond over. A mother who greets her son before the ceremony for a First Look might cherish that special moment with her little boy. That boy has grown up and is about to embark on the next chapter of his life.  

Bridesmaids

And how about the wedding party? Don’t forget about your bridesmaids and groomsmen! Get the entire wedding party in on the excitement of a First Look, and capture these fun, candid moments on camera before the formal ceremony. 

To conduct the perfect bridesmaid’s First Look, the bride will get ready in a separate room from the rest of her girls. Then pick a spot to meet up and debut her stunning wedding day look to her bridal party. A First Look with the bride and bridesmaids creates lots of laughs, smiles, and even some (happy) tears. 

Tips for a Bridesmaids First Look

Some extra planning is required when doing a bridesmaid’s First Look. The bride needs to ensure that the venue has enough space for her to get ready in a completely separate area from the rest of the bridesmaids. The ideal situation would be a separate room or living space where the bridesmaids can hang out and relax while waiting for the bride’s big reveal. Next, the bride will want to include the bridesmaid’s First Look in the overall wedding timeline, allowing for about 10-20 minutes for pictures. 

The bride will also want to make sure all her bridesmaids are dressed and ready to go by the time she’s prepared for her grand entrance and First Look (Or, a shot in their PJs can be just as cute!) Lastly, alert your photographer that you’ll include this unique photo opportunity in the overall game plan for the day! The photographer can strategically place people and objects around the room to create the optimal environment for photos. 

Groomsmen

The groom can also do a First Look with his groomsmen, although it will probably be a lot more fun and silly than emotional and tear-filled! As the groomsmen get dressed up for the ceremony, the groom can put on his suit or tuxedo in a separate space. Then, he can surprise his groomsmen with his final look. This moment is an excellent opportunity for the groom to hang out with his closest friends or family in a relaxed setting before the big event. This is the perfect moment to share drinks, have some laughs, and reflect on the exciting events planned for the day. 

Pros and Cons of a First Look

The Cons: 

All fun aside, there are some reasons why First Looks with parents or the wedding party might not be the best idea for your wedding celebration:

  1. If your wedding venue doesn’t have ample dressing room areas available, it will be nearly impossible, or uncomfortable, for the bride and groom to get ready away from the rest of the wedding party.
  2. Are you feeling limited on time already? In that case, it’s probably best not to include these extra photography sessions as part of the day’s timeline of events.

The Pros:

So, why should you do a First Look with parents, bridesmaids, or groomsmen? These amazing reveals can allow couples to have more intimate, special moments with their closest family and friends before the big ceremony. It can enable everyone to get some wedding-day jitters out before everyone gathers for the formal ceremony. Honor and celebrate your relationships with your parents and wedding parties by spending a little bit of extra time showing off your wedding day looks.

Pros and Cons of a First Look

Hope that clears up some of the questions you may have had about first looks. If after reading this you’re STILL debating the topic, feel free to reach out! I’m happy to walk you through your timeline and give my professional advice. Just remember – it’s YOUR day.

Looking for more helpful tips and advice for your wedding day? Click through for more! Help Me, Sonj.