Should we do a First Look? First Hand advice from real brides on why they decided to keep or break tradition

I feel like this topic is something many of my couples struggle with when figuring out their wedding day timeline. It may not seem like a big deal, but in my opinion, the First Look is actually the most important moment of the day besides the actual vows.

Why?

Because even though there isn't really a "surprise" (most couples this day in age have seen each other before their wedding day), it IS the first "Oh shit, this is actually happening" moment of the day. Whether that moment happens when the the bride arrives at the end of the aisle and sees her soon-to-be spouse at the other end, or if it happens just before the ceremony away from prying eyes is the ultimate decision.

If you asked any wedding photographer, I guarantee that 9 times out of 10 their answer will be to always do your First Look photos before the ceremony. There are many reasons I like to do them:

  • It gets formal portraits out of the way before the day really begins
  • It gives my couples a moment alone together (something they probably won't get after the ceremony)
  • It allows the couple to get some of the nerves (and tears!) out of the way
  • It gives the timeline an opening for the newlyweds to join cocktail hour and get straight to the partying, without needing to be swept away for an hour's worth of portraits

But even knowing all the benefits of having a first look, there is still something that feels so wrong about breaking the tradition of seeing your spouse for the first time as they are walking down the aisle. Also, there is this superstition that it's "bad luck" to see the bride before the ceremony.

So, I thought, instead of taking it from a photographer's perspective (which is almost always the same, and what do we know anyway, right?), why not interview my past brides on their first-hand First Look experience? 

Here are their experiences:

Rae, married october 2016 in Sunapee, nh

Did you choose to do a first look (yes/no)? Yes

Why/why not? A first look was one of the first things after the venue that we decided on. From both an emotional standpoint and a timeline practicality, it just made sense. You always hear that the day goes so fast (and it does), and we thought a first look would be the best way to guarantee a special moment just the two of us. Because we saw eachother before the ceremony, it also allowed us to take all family and wedding party photos before hand, so we did our receiving line during cocktail hour and had the rest of the night to enjoy. 

Were you happy with your decision? Very; it was honestly my favorite part of the day. It was literally the only time we had to just be the two of us without being pulled in multiple directions. It was raining, and very, very cold, but when I saw Mikal none of that mattered anymore. We were both completely in the moment and it was just us. Afterwards, we met the wedding party and immediate family, and were able to get all photos in before the ceremony started, which made everything much more relaxed and allowed us to join the festivities sooner (and have better light for photos!) 


Any advice for couples still trying to decide? Some skeptics said to us it was "bad luck" to see one another before we got married, but you and your husband make your own luck in your marriage through the time, effort, and love you put in. Not everyone was happy with our decision and were very vocal about it, but we made the call based on our needs as a couple. Whether you opt for a first look or not, make sure you steal at least 15 minutes of time for you and your partner to be alone - the day is about the two of you and your bond and that should be celebrated! 

Beeta, married July 2016 in Palos Verdes, CA:

Did you choose to do a first look (yes/no)? nope 

Why/why not? before our own wedding, I found a lot of the staged photography to be cheesy. I really wanted a photographer (hi Casey!) who could capture all that emotion in real time without having to remove ourselves from everything that was going on. i also wanted to keep my dress a surprise until the ceremony. and if you go through our wedding photos, you can tell which photos were staged-- not because of the poses, but because my energy level in them is at an absolute zero!!! 

Were you happy with your decision? yes. also -- it wasn't my intention to make my partner cry or anything!! But I don't think the emotional impact would have been there if he saw me for the first time outside of the ceremony. and yeah he teared up when he saw me. 

Any advice for couples still trying to decide? honestly, trying to remember details about the wedding is such a blur. prioritize what you want to remember, and have that photographed/filmed -- for us, the ceremony ranked #1. 

Lena, married in August 2016 in Big Bear, CA:

Did you choose to do a first look (yes/no)? Yes and no. We decided to do a non traditional first look.

Why/why not? We already had a small church wedding, but we didn't want to lose the opportunity to take a different type of couple photo besides just portraits. We chose to read letters that we wrote to each other with a faux first look. Even better was that our wedding venue had just the perfect place to do it, which was chosen by Casey of course.

Were you happy with your decision? It was an easy decision for us to choose to do it. It was worth it even though we had done it regardless of already seeing each other in our full attire, etc. We got to capture an intimate moment of sharing our written thoughts to each other. The super bonus was that the photos from that mini-shoot were definitely some of our top faves.

Any advice for couples still trying to decide? I believe the decision should be made based on what you want as a couple. It is most definitely not required. The first look is an opportunity to capture an intimate moment away from the hustle and bustle of the wedding, just the two of you experiencing each other for the first time before you start the journey of marriage. This does sound corny, but hey you guys are in love right? It is just a great emotional moment to capture. But remember, you could always tailor the experience to what you want, which is exactly what we did. 

 

Nasim, married December 2016 in Los Angeles, CA

Did you choose to do a first look (yes/no)? Yes! 

Why/why not? In the case of my wedding, it was a two-fold decision: First, I felt like seeing Juaquin in a more privatized moment before the ceremony in front of our family and friends would make for a more authentic, raw reaction. We'd each be more relaxed to whisper those sweet nothings, get to hug and hold each other and know that it was something just for us (and the invisible cameras) -- and that it would ease the nerves when we saw each other at the ceremony soon after. Incidentally, our "first look" ended up being one of the best parts of my wedding video because it felt like us in our natural state. Unabashed, sappy and genuine. The second part of the choice to do a first-look was simply logistics. It meant we could have more pre-ceremony time to take photos with each other (now that we've seen each other, it's free game!) and our wedding parties before we lost the light (our wedding was during the winter so it got dark by 5 o'clock) -- and photography was a huge priority for us (for me, who am I kidding?)

Were you happy with your decision? VERY. Like I had mentioned, our first-look was tear-filled, giggly and I got to drop an "Oh, shit" bomb which I knew I had to hold back on during the ceremony. Some of my favorite photos came from Juaquin's reaction and our expressions when we first saw each other. It was awesome. I still get choked up thinking about it.

Any advice for couples still trying to decide? My best advice would be to make the decision based on what the emotional value of a first-look is to you and your mate. Ask yourself how present you think you will be when you're walking out in front of all your friends and family. Will you remember the look on his / her face waiting for you at the end of the aisle? Do you want to cry but feel shy in front of a crowd? Do you want to stun and awe? Is there a religious or traditional implication before the first-look that you want to preserve? There are so many ways to go about it so as cliche as it may sound, make sure you're doing it for yourselves and not to please a traditional grandma or opinionated maid of honor. In that moment, the whole world should feel shut out - whether you're peeking out from behind a gold wall for a first-look or stopping and taking in the moment as you step out as a bride at your wedding ceremony. Close your eyes and envision the moment you want to remember forever.

Karen, married May 2015 in Culver City, CA

Did you choose to do a first look (yes/no)? yes

Why/why not? We did first look photos and I'm so glad we did for a few reasons: 

- It calmed my nerves to see David (the groom) before we walked down the aisle and vice versa. We had a few precious moments just for us. I really treasured that time. 

- Doing first look photos gave us an opportunity to spend more time together and take additional photos, which cut down on time we needed to take photos throughout the night. First look photos allowed us to spend more time with our guests during the reception. 

- We got to take photos in different locations, which was awesome! Exploring the venue and the surrounding area was so much fun. 

Any advice for couples still trying to decide? First look photos didn't by any means reduce the joy on David's face when I was walking down the aisle. Some brides might think that first look photos "ruin" the moment when the groom sees the bride walking down the aisle, but nothing can take away the joy on your groom's face when you're walking toward him to spend the rest of your life together.

 

So, as you can see, everyone is different. Some couples do nothing traditional but want this ONE moment to be the tradition they keep, because it can be the most emotional moment of the day. Some want to forego that tradition in favor of enjoying the party they paid so much for. Some just want to get the formal photos out of the way before the ceremony altogether! But no matter what, the consensus is you will not regret whatever you choose.

Ultimately, the ceremony doesn't end up being any less special whether or not you choose to do a first look.

There is no right answer. Do what you feel works best for you and your day. Don't let tradition or "what you are supposed to do" dictate how your day goes. 

*drops mic*

CB out

The Best Wedding Movies Of All Time

In celebration of finally bringing my wedding dress home this week (after almost a year after I bought it!) here's a list of my all-time favorite wedding movies that I'm going to force my fiancé to watch with me while we count down the days to our wedding (June 24th). 

Plus, of course, links to watch them online! Because I know ya wanna binge.*

A movie you can grow old with.

This is the only instance where I like a movie MORE than the book

In which we all definitively learn that Jello can never be crème brulée.

4. The Wedding Planner (<-- Netflix Link)

The only thing I learned from this movie was that no one should hire Jennifer Lopez to plan their wedding.

Because this is worth watching again just for the grandma.

Kristen Wiig is my sprit animal in this.

I'm so glad my bachelorette party didn't end this way... but it certainly felt like it.

I was seriously obsessed with this movie as a kid. What is more romantic than a story about kidnapping women out of their beds in the middle of the night and taking them prisoner for 8 months? But kidnapping aside, it's a fun musical and the guy that plays Benjamin is HOT.

Because who wouldn't want to see Kevin Kline and Tom Selleck smooch?

11. Wet Hot American Summer (<-- Netflix Link)

OK, this is kind of a stretch, but for a movie (and now TV show) that has to do with summer camp, there are are a lot of references to weddings in it. Plus, it's my favorite movie of all time, and this is my blog, so I'll include this movie on EVERY list I make if I damn well please. McKinley and Ben... this is for you.

12. Sabrina (<-- Hulu Link)

The original, starring Audrey Hepburn. Because a classic love triangle between brothers is what every girl dreams about when finding her soulmate.

13. Melancholia (<-- Netlfix Link)

I thought this movie was really boring the first time I saw it, but I just rewatched it because it takes place the night of a wedding and holy wow what a gorgeous piece of art this movie is. I want to frame every scene on a wall in my house. Watch it for Kirsten Dunst's dress and the end of humanity. 

One glaringly missing option is Father of the Bride, which for some reason is only available for streaming if you live in Australia. But for those of you hardcore fans, here are the TV listings when you can see it next!

I know there are SO many more, so would love to hear what your favorites are!

Happy binging,

Casey

 

*Unless noted, all links go to Amazon Streaming Video. 

A letter to myself, 10 years ago

Yo bro,

2007, huh? Right about now Britney Spears is shaving her head and you, my friend, are twenty years old, a college junior.

You think you see where you will be in 10 years. I'm here to break some news: It's not going to go according to your plan.

You see, you think you want to work in magazines, but you don't. Carrie Bradshaw may be your hero at this point, but now that I'm her age I can tell you she's an immature idiot. And I know it looked good when Anne Hathaway was busting her butt in last summer's blockbuster The Devil Wears Prada, but it's not as glamorous as it appears.

You're also pretty positive that you're no Annie Leibovitz, so you're convinced you'll never be a photographer at all.

In fact, you're going to hate photography in general come 2008. You're going to regret going to art school for it.

But I know: right now you're getting opportunities to intern for amazing places like MTV and Cosmopolitan Magazine. You will show up to your internships every day and slap a smile on your face even though your job is to look through stock images for 8 hours a day.

But you'll still want to do it for a living. Because Anne Hathaway.

20 year old Casey. Some things will never change.

20 year old Casey. Some things will never change.

You are about to go through a lot of tough lessons, girlfriend, and I want you to listen to me:

Sometimes you'll want to give up. You will think you are untalented and worthless. There will be points when you just want to run back home and stay in your comfort zone.

But you won't. You'll keep trying.

Don't worry, all this won't come for another year or so. Over this next year you'll think you have it all figured out. You're in your last year of college, you're about to be able to drink legally. After graduation, you'll be a shoe-in for a job in the Hearst building. The "Real World" has been scripted into simple steps in your head for you to follow, and you have checked off all the things you think your resume needs to succeed.

You'll sob when you watch your best friends, one by one, move to places you don't think you'll ever want to live: Minneapolis. Nashville. Los Angeles.

There's no way I'd ever move to Los Angeles, you'll say. You've never been, of course, but you know you're a New Yorker. The east coast is in your blood, after all.

Me, after I moved to Los Angeles in 2009

Me, after I moved to Los Angeles in 2009

But, Case, after these internships end, it is going to be rough. I don't envy you. You're going to have to say goodbye to all your friends all at once after you graduate and you're going to move somewhere where you know no one but your Mom. You're going to have to wait tables in Connecticut while you commute an hour and a half to New York to go to interviews. Company after company will turn you down. Those entry-level magazine jobs that you thought would be in the bag are going to go to people who have a year or two more experience under their belts. You're going to laugh at this idea of experience, because you have it. Or at least you thought you did. 

You're going to feel like a complete and utter failure.

Some shit is also going to go down with the housing market right when you graduate. Said shit makes it close to impossible to get a job in the magazine industry, because no one wants to buy magazines anymore.

You're going to write about how shitty it is to search for a job as a college graduate during a recession.

This was taken after one of 5000 interviews in NYC. You aren't going to get the job.

This was taken after one of 5000 interviews in NYC. You aren't going to get the job.

You'll realize pretty quickly after both personal and professional heartache that New York City isn't the right place for you, not right now at least. The day your story publishes in the New York Post is the day you decide to move to Los Angeles.

You see, you finally visit LA and end up extending your trip an extra week. Because you don't have a "real job." And then you're going to ugly cry the entire flight home like a child leaving Disneyworld for the first time. You're going to feel with your entire being that Los Angeles is the place you are supposed to be.

You find a job and decide to move to Los Angeles two weeks later. The job is in the magazine industry... ish. You accept the offer and move into a shared house with 3 other roommates.

You'll meet your future husband. You'll get a puppy.

This path won't be straight and simple, either. You'll slowly grow to hate the industry you thought you loved. You'll watch as print media slowly starts to die and you'll lose focus of what makes you happy. You'll show up and collect your paychecks but you won't be able to muster the smile you once had when you were a bright-eyed intern. 

You'll lose your sense of direction. You'll think being miserable at a dead-end job is how it's supposed to be. You won't pick up your camera for at least 4 years.

Then one day, your friend tells you she's getting married. You decide to dust off your camera and bring it to her wedding. She ends up using one of your photos as her profile photo on Facebook, even though you weren't the hired photographer. It feels pretty good. 

When you get back to LA after that wedding, your partner will tell you that you should just be a wedding photographer. You think he is insane.

My first *extremely underexposed* wedding photo from my friend's wedding that started it all.

My first *extremely underexposed* wedding photo from my friend's wedding that started it all.

Even though the prospect doesn't seem easy, and you have no idea how to BE a wedding photographer, your interest will be piqued in the same way Anne Hathaway once made being forced up Meryl Streep's butt into slavery look enticing. You'll start taking photos again. You'll have to reteach yourself how to use your camera, even though you got your degree in Photography. 

And then you'll lose your magazine-ish job.

You'll start to collect unemployment and feel like a total loser again. 

But, Casey. This job loss is actually just a blessing in disguise. Because less than a month later, you meet Joy.

You'll start over at a part time job with this cute blogger you once read about. You vaguely remember her talking about cupcakes or getting paid to eat cupcakes, and that's just about enough validation for you to accept a job with her. She trusts you to take some photos for her blog. She's the smartest businesswoman you have ever met, and you'll be determined to learn everything you possibly can from her.

You will become her assistant and start to take pictures every day. You won't lose sight of your side hustle, though, and you will soon start to get paid to take pictures. You will learn to love photography again.

I won't give it all away, but it's going to be ok. I mean, I know you, and I know you're one headstrong woman with the willpower to get through all this.

And I know right now you feel like you know everything, but keep an open mind. Don't stop believing in yourself.

You are definitely good enough.

Keep it real,

Your older self, 2017

 

 

to have or not to have an "Unplugged" Wedding?

I'm almost afraid to admit this. But I don't encourage my wedding clients to have "unplugged" weddings. It just isn't really a subject that gets brought up or talked about during meetings. But like I mentioned earlier, I have a lot of opinions about them.

So here goes.

An "unplugged" wedding is when guests are not allowed to take photos during the ceremony and sometimes during portraits and family photos. That means all cell phones, iPads, and cameras are restricted with the exception of the hired photographer and videographer. 

Think of me like the Smokey the Bear of wedding photography. "Only YOU can prevent a wildfire of Instagram Storying."

(And I'm talking to both the people in front of and behind the camera.)

Ultimately, the decision to make a wedding unplugged is the decision for only the bride and groom to make. (Let's respect that everyone is different lest we wake the Bridezilla). It's as personal as deciding on whether you should serve salmon or chicken as your alternate dish, or choosing between roses or dahlias in your bouquet.

Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't. Ya know?

But I'm here to help you make your decision based on the pros and cons of making a wedding unplugged.

I present to you Exhibit A: an extreme example of what can happen during the ceremony of your wedding if it isn't "unplugged":

Unplugged Pro: What happens above probably won't happen if you ask your guests to be "unplugged" and present. Most of you will be convinced at this point and stop reading. Bye!

For those of you still on the fence,

Unplugged Con: Your photographer may not get everything. Most brides don't realize how much they missed until they see their wedding photos. The day is such a blur, looking through photos is like reliving the day.

Photographers may seem magical with their witchcraft and Photoshop, but I somehow have not mastered the ability to be two places at once. If you haven't hired a 2nd shooter, you may not get all the shots you didn't know you wanted.

It also can take a long-ass time to get your photos back. This is important to note:

on average, it takes about 5 times the amount of time to edit a wedding as it does actually photographing the wedding.

It's normal for me to turn around a wedding gallery in 8 weeks. That's two months before you get to see your first kiss photos, or the photos of your husband tearing up during his vows.

Your wedding day is much more important for you and your guests than it is for your photographer. A guest that has known you since you pooped in diapers is going to be more invested and have a more emotional connection to you and your wedding day than anyone you are paying to be there. And quite frankly, anyone who has wiped your butt at any point in your life at the very least has earned the right to take a photo of you coming down the aisle.

Plugged Pro: Every wedding I go to has at least ONE person who is also a photographer, whether they are a hobbyist or a professional. I'm in the minority of photographers who think this is awesome for the bride and groom. They basically get an extra shooter for free! And I'm all for someone taking photos that I may be missing while I'm off taking portraits of the bride and groom.

You heard me right: I LOVE when guests take photos. I want the bride and groom to have so many wedding photos that they get sick of looking at wedding photos.

But there's a fine line of me loving this before it crosses over to a very big  Plugged Con:

problems only arise when guests start to compete for the same shots as the hired professionals.

I see you, sneaky.

I see you, sneaky.

It doesn't matter whether a wedding is unplugged or not; at some point, someone is bound to stand right next to me and take a photo of the same exact same thing I'm shooting. I've had iPads held directly over my head while taking family photos. I've had people jump in front of me to take a first kiss photo with their camera, I'm constantly checking my immediate surroundings because I'm bound to step on someone at some point.

Why is this a problem?

In most cases, it's a matter of eyeballs. If someone is taking a photo next to me during family photos, there is bound to be at least one person in the photo who looks at their camera. And if someone isn't looking at the camera in family portraits, it's noticeable. That person may as well have their eyes closed, and it causes me to feel the need to either delete the image or photoshop someone's eyes.

Ain't no one got time for that, honey.

Enjoy this commercial interruption from SLFWeddings.com

At the end of the day, I truly believe we as hired professionals are usually prepared and ready for this to happen, and are quick enough on their feet to compensate for Aunt Kathy getting trigger happy in the front row. 

I can count multiple weddings where I have had a lot more obstructions aside from cameras and iPads. I've dodged plants, cacti, trees, columns, stairs, the sun. It's common for officiants to forget to tell the guests to take their seats once the bride gets to the end of the aisle (I'm not even short but I don't have many places I can take photos if there are 10 rows of heads in front of me). I've had to climb on things and duck and dodge at every wedding no matter what.

At the end of the day, your photographer will do their damnedest to get the shots needed.

But I think it's important to make your photographer and videographer's job easier, not more difficult.

Here are three simple ways to ensure you get those Pinterest-worthy ceremony photos no matter what:

1. Hire a second shooter whether you are planning on having an unplugged wedding or not.

2. Ask your officiant to make an announcement before the ceremony to remind guests to stay seated and keep all limbs and body parts clear of the center aisle.

3. If you allow guests to take photos, request all flashes be turned off.

(Flashes usually emit what I can only describe as a red laser beam before they flash. Do you want laser beams in your wedding photos? Didn't think so.)

I hope this helps!

xo

Casey

 

 

I am bridezilla, hear me roar.

 

Spewing flames that scorch the earth!

A monster of mass destruction!

Civilization crumbles as its death rays blast a city of 6 million from the face of the earth!

It's coming this way... BRIDEZILLA!

how i imagine people think of me.

how i imagine people think of me.

The number one thing I get asked when people find out I photograph weddings is, "What's it like dealing with all the Bridezillas?"

When I try to honestly tell them that I don't really have any horror stories, they seem so surprised. Trust me, if my clients were like those reality show bridezillas I probably would've quit this business a long time ago.

I think when someone hears "wedding" they automatically think the bride is crazy. And that's just not fair. I never thought the word "Bridezilla" would be directed at me (me? I'm so not going to flip a table over napkin colors). That is, I didn't think the word applied to me until I had that ring on my finger, and I started being accused of 'zilla-ing* just because I was saying "no" to suggestions and other people's vision that differed from what I knew I wanted.

(*Zilla-ing: A new dance move like dabbing, but with more fire and fury).

I have been in the wedding industry for several years now. I have seen just about every type of wedding with every type of bride. Do you know how many Bridezillas I have actually encountered? One. ONE. 

You know what monster is way more common at weddings than a bridezilla? The mom-zilla. The sister-zilla. The random-guest-you-didn't-invite-zilla. There are even vendor-zillas out there.

There is a 'Zilla at every wedding, and most times it isn't the bride.

I have never in my life had so many people give me unsolicited advice than I have while planning my wedding, or tell me something I NEEDED to do, or questioned my thought process or choices I made.

Allow me to kindly suggest where you can stick this bouquet of flowers if you tell me one more thing I "need" to do.

Allow me to kindly suggest where you can stick this bouquet of flowers if you tell me one more thing I "need" to do.

Everyone is an expert at wedding planning, apparently, and I never knew it until I got engaged.

Bridezillas are created when a bride-to-be is forced to put their foot down after a sea of opinions, inane comments, and such gems as:

"My wedding was perfect, so you should do it like that, too."

"What do you mean you don't have wedding colors? What will your guests take away from the day?"

"You're not having a priest marry you? Will it even be legal?"

"Why aren't you getting a spray tan?"

"Why can't your sister wear white? Don't you want her to feel special?"

"You're having food trucks? Well, your guests are going to hate that."

Not to mention the countless brides who I know experience people (strangers, even!) who comment on their weight, diet, etc because "You have a dress to fit into!" (I mean, does being engaged come with a "Please be rude to me!" sign around our necks?)

Let's be real: planning a wedding is STRESSFUL. There are so many decisions that go into wedding planning. Most of us are doing this for the first time ever (and hopefully the last time ever!). Many brides (like me) are already doing most of the decision making and planning work alone. I know this because I'm in several wedding planning groups on Facebook and all the complaints go to the same place:

"My bridesmaids are unreliable."

"My fiancé doesn't care about anything but the food."

"My future mother in law invited 45 guests we don't know."

Now, combine that stress with everyone (and I mean everyone you interact with who knows you are getting married) with a favorite ice-breaker anyone who hasn't seen you in the past week asks, "How's the planning going?" 

Ask me again how the planning is going.

Ask me again how the planning is going.

How does one answer this question, exactly? What would you like to hear? I genuinely want to know. I could be honest and say, "It's stressful as hell, and everyone hates my ideas!" or I could smile and lie and say, "I love planning weddings and I wish I could do this again and again!" (God bless wedding planners).

So, next time you encounter a soon-to-be bride, please be considerate. Don't talk about her weight or her diet (a good rule of thumb is it's ALWAYS rude to ask anyone about their weight), don't try and give her your opinion unless she asks for it, and don't offer to help her and then not help when she takes you up on it. 

Don't add to the stress she already is experiencing. Otherwise,

if you wake the Bridezilla, it's probably your fault.

love and kisses,

Bridezilla Brodley