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.
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.