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Should I do a first look?

Updated: Mar 12

groom picking up his bride as she wraps her arms around him

Want to start an argument? Simply post up somewhere on social media about whether or not you should have a first look at your wedding and just wait (it won’t take too long). I saw a post pop up on a local wedding vendor FB group and that was the question. A bride was debating whether or not to have a first look on her big day! With nearly 2000 members, you’re bound to get a lot of great feedback and a lot of pros and cons for both options. One being to do a first look, and the other being to wait until your fiance walks down the aisle to be the first time they see you. Decisions decisions. Of course I had to jump in on the post and give my two cents, but it got me thinking, “Should we do a first look or not?” is a pretty common question amongst our wedding clientele so we thought it would be helpful for those of you currently in the planning stages to consider some of these reasons why you may or may not want to do a first look. Full disclosure, almost every time we are in favor of the first look, so if you were hoping to find/read a blog in agreeance with not having one, this one probably isn’t for you. However, if you are at all on the fence about having a first look definitely read on and consider a few of the following reasons from the perspective of a wedding photographer!

What is a first look?

A first look is when you opt to have your fiance see you before the the wedding ceremony and capture their reaction. We also see brides do first looks with their dads quite often, and on a rare occasion, the groom doing a first look with their mom. It can be done for a host of reasons, some of which you may or may not have considered, but we will touch on those shortly!

bride approaching the groom from behind for their first look

Why do a first look?

Again, there are a handful of reasons you may want to do one, but the two most common reasons we see couples opting for a first look are:


At certain times of the year like late November and early December, the sun sets around a quarter after 5pm. We’ve noticed over the years that a common time for ceremonies is around 4 or 4:30. So if you’re having a fairly traditional ceremony at 4:30pm that will last approximately 20-30 minutes, you may only be left with 15-20 minutes of light to capture couples photos later in the evening, likely less as no one just leaves the ceremony straight to couples photos without first swimming through a sea of hugs from friends and family, so more like 5-10 minutes now. We say couples photos because in our experience when we ask most couples “If you were to put in order of which photos are most important to you, what would be number 1?” most usually answer golden hour couples photos. So one consideration to have a first look is timing. If you’re having a later in the evening ceremony and you’re going to be cutting it close with that sunset, you may want to consider a first look to get at least some couples photos beforehand. Even if in the above scenario that couple decided to have a 4pm ceremony that only last 20 minutes, in almost every wedding we’re a part of, family photos and bridal party photos are done right after the ceremony if there is no first look. Thus it would’ve likely eaten up that chunk of time and still left you with minimal time to capture couples portraits during that golden hour lighting window. Now if couples portraits aren’t that important to you, and you only want literally one or two traditional photos afterwards, you would probably be fine in the above scenario.

bride covering the groom's eyes during the first look


Another popular reason to have a first look amongst many of the awesome couples we have worked with throughout the years is nerves! Some people dislike being the center of attention so when they start thinking about the emotion of seeing each other for the first time, walking down the aisle, all eyes on them, saying their personally written vows to each other in front of hundreds of people, it can be a little nerve racking and we totally get it. Throw in the chance that one or both of you may cry, and it takes it up to another level. Now some people are completely fine with this, and don’t mind all eyes on them. But if that isn’t you, then consider a first look. This allows you to see each other and experience that rush of emotions beforehand without the added pressure of all of those eyes on you. It’s also an opportunity to read your vows to each other beforehand which from what we have seen is always moving. We usually capture a beautifully genuine reaction during this time, and again, if you’re that couple that prefers less attention, this is one of the few times during the entire day that you two will have a moment alone (plus a photographer/videographer).

groom reacting to seeing the bride for the first time

In every wedding that we’ve had a couple do a first look for one of the above reasons, we’ve never had either of them regret it. Usually the reaction is something along the lines of “Oh my God I’m so glad we did this!” or “Wow, I feel so much better now!”

bride and groom hugging during their first look

More reasons to consider a first look

Efficiency for your timeline

Since there is no longer a worry about the bride and groom not being able to cross paths and see each other, it allows you the opportunity to squeeze in all of your family photos and bridal party photos (or at least some) before the ceremony. This allows you more time to be present during cocktail hour and your reception without having to get pulled away from family and friends to get those done. You can certainly do the bridal parties (groom and groomsmen; bride and bridesmaids) and family photos (bride with her family; groom with his family) separately beforehand, but this allows you to get them all completed together, something a lot of couples value in our experience.

Just in case

It’s a rarity but we have seen it happen twice in the past 3 years where a wedding day ended up getting completely rained out. We always tell our couples that if the forecast is looking rough later in the day (i.e. it’s an 80% chance of rain that day but it’s 10% on the hour by hour until 3pm, you have all morning to get in some couples photos, family, and bridal party before the rain kicks in. So just in case it does rain all evening, at least you will have had the opportunity to get a few photos outside for your wedding day.

Double the fun

Of course this is something a photographer would think about, but we find that for people who would rather keep photos to a minimum because hey, it’s just not their thing, it’s easier to split up the amount of photos by doing a few earlier in the day for the first look, and then a few later in the day around sunset. This is opposed to trying to squeeze in everything all at once and taking more time all at once which can wear some people out or just not jive with a tight timeline. On top of this, you can choose a few different spots, or have a few completely different looks due to the timing difference in location by using a first look to split up couples photos. In our examples below, after their first look, we were able to to do a few different spots close by for Aubrey and Evan's wedding all while navigating the crazy rain fall that day. Then later on in the day we were able to sneak out for some shots in the canoe, all of which we would not have been likely to capture if we didn't do a first look and tried to squeeze it in all at once.

groom holding the bride closely
groom covering his face once he sees the bride
groom kissing the bride on the shoulder
bride and groom holding each other close on a symmetrical bridge
bride and groom laughing in a canoe
bride and groom paddling in a canoe

Overall we believe first looks allow our couples the opportunity have something special captured that can create lasting memories as well as the previously mentioned benefits. The two things that usually pop up for those that are opposed to first looks are the following:

The question - “Don’t you want to get their reaction when you walk down the aisle?” and the other one is minor really but just having to account for adding it into the timeline beforehand. In truth, just based off of our experience. We usually see much more genuine reactions out of first looks vs the first time they “see you walk down the aisle”. It’s not that people don’t react when they see their about to be wife or husband walk down the aisle, it’s just sometimes for many of the aforementioned reasons, the reaction isn’t quite what some people would come to expect. However, in most cases when we do a first look, you do get an emotion reaction and moment between the couple. We’ve even seen grooms who’ve cried twice, once for the first look and once down the aisle.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making them wait until you walk down the aisle. This can be just as beautiful of a moment if not more so, but it is nice having the option of a first look if you think that weather could go awry, or you thinking it would benefit the overall flow of your wedding day. Thank you as always for following along and we hope this has helped you either solidify that you do or don’t want a first look!


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