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The Pros and Cons of The “First Look”

A “first look” is the moment when an engaged cou­ple sees each oth­er on the wed­ding day for, you guessed it, the first time. This typ­i­cal­ly hap­pens at a loca­tion where every­one is get­ting ready, or nearby/on the grounds of where the cer­e­mo­ny will take place. Wher­ev­er it hap­pens, though, it hap­pens before the cer­e­mo­ny begins.

The first look has grown in pop­u­lar­i­ty since the trend first start­ed only a few short years ago. Of course, the tra­di­tion­al first look is the moment the bride walks down the aisle and the groom sees her for the first time. How­ev­er, as much as hav­ing a first look has become a strong trend, there are plen­ty of cou­ples (includ­ing many of my own) that have nev­er heard of it before.

In this blog, I’ll talk more about the details of the first look, and give you all the infor­ma­tion you need to decide if this trend is right for you!

first look between bride and groom in blue suit


The main rea­son the first look was estab­lished has to do with all of the pho­tos that are tak­en pri­or to the cer­e­mo­ny. With­out a first look, the pho­tog­ra­ph­er is restrict­ed to tak­ing pho­tos with the groom and his grooms­men, and then the bride and her brides­maids. Since the bride and groom can­not see each oth­er, they have to wait until lat­er in the day to take group pho­tos with every­one togeth­er.

A first look will take place after every­one is dressed and ready. The pho­tog­ra­ph­er will wait with the groom, who like­ly has his back turned and is fac­ing away from where the bride will enter. With her wed­ding plan­ner or even the sec­ond pho­tog­ra­ph­er, the bride will be walked out to where the groom is stand­ing. At that point, the pho­tos are all about the bride approach­ing her groom, tap­ping him on the shoul­der, and see­ing each oth­er for the first time.

Once those bride and groom pho­tos are com­plet­ed, then the group pho­tos can hap­pen before the cer­e­mo­ny begins. This will include the bride and groom with their entire wed­ding par­ty, their par­ents, and any oth­er com­bi­na­tions that include the cou­ple being togeth­er. If these pho­tos can­not be tak­en before the cer­e­mo­ny, the cou­ple (and every­one else that needs to be pho­tographed) would have to take them after­ward. This will cre­ate either a long break between the end of the cer­e­mo­ny and the recep­tion or cut into the cock­tail hour.

For cou­ples that want to attend their cock­tail hour and either can­not have or pre­fer not to have a break between the cer­e­mo­ny and the recep­tion, doing a first look is a great choice!

bride and groom in gray suit


I men­tioned ear­li­er that the orig­i­nal “first look” is the moment the groom sees his bride walk down the aisle at the wed­ding cer­e­mo­ny. For tra­di­tion­al cou­ples, it might be dif­fi­cult to let go of hav­ing this very spe­cial moment.

When you have already seen each oth­er pri­or to the cer­e­mo­ny, you like­ly won’t feel those same but­ter­flies when you see each oth­er for the sec­ond time. When­ev­er the real first look hap­pens, that is the time filled with the most emo­tion. If you’ve always envi­sioned lock­ing eyes at oppo­site ends of the aisle and dreamt about get­ting swept up in that moment, a first look ses­sion will put a damper on that.

Most tra­di­tion­al cou­ples also spend the night before their wed­ding day in sep­a­rate loca­tions. Even if they wind up get­ting ready with their respec­tive wed­ding par­ty mem­bers in the same hotel as one anoth­er, they will do every­thing pos­si­ble to make sure not to see each oth­er. Between orga­niz­ing those logis­tics and the build­ing antic­i­pa­tion from hav­ing slept away from each oth­er, tra­di­tion­al cou­ples could feel a let-down of sorts if that first look isn’t the one they always imagined…at the actu­al cer­e­mo­ny.

bride and groom in blue suit


It should come as no sur­prise that most cou­ples are ner­vous on the day of their wed­ding. I have seen some of my brides get so ner­vous they lit­er­al­ly could not breathe. A big part of the wed­ding day jit­ters actu­al­ly has to do with see­ing each oth­er for the first time. The excite­ment of know­ing you two will be mar­ried soon, the months or years of plan­ning you just got through and every­thing else can be a lot to han­dle.

Many brides and grooms have con­fid­ed in me on their wed­ding days exact­ly how ner­vous they were to come face to face for the first time. These are peo­ple that had been togeth­er for years, and many were already liv­ing togeth­er. Even though the nerves can’t always be explained log­i­cal­ly, that doesn’t take away from the fact that they are very present.

A first look is a great way to get rid of those wed­ding day nerves. Almost all of my cou­ples that did a first look told me that they felt so much bet­ter once it was done. They were ready to get mar­ried, the ener­gy was high, and they felt like they got the wed­ding day scaries out of their sys­tems. If you know your nerves will affect how you look in your pho­tographs, you might con­sid­er a first look to help you calm down.

bride and  groom in blue suit


Tim­ing on a wed­ding day is com­pli­cat­ed, to say the least. When I design a time­line, I am incor­po­rat­ing the needs of the venue and the ven­dors. This includes pho­to, video, hair and make­up styl­ists, the venue, and your trans­porta­tion.

If you are plan­ning on a first look, odds are, your day is going to start off ear­li­er than if you went with­out one. Since you are lit­er­al­ly tak­ing the pho­tos that you would have oth­er­wise tak­en after the cer­e­mo­ny, you will need that much time to take them before­hand. This could mean need­ing an extra 90 min­utes to 2 hours for pho­tos alone.

Depend­ing on your shot list, the pho­tog­ra­ph­er will deter­mine exact­ly how much time he or she will need to get every­thing done. When I have that infor­ma­tion for my cou­ples, I then am able to dis­cuss with the styl­ists how much time they will need and when they will need to start. Adding that extra time could be the dif­fer­ence between a 9am call time for hair and make-up and a 7am call time.

Oth­er tim­ing fac­tors include any trav­el that needs to hap­pen if you’re not all togeth­er at the same site for the first look or if you have anoth­er loca­tion in mind. For instance, let’s say you want to take your first look pho­tos, fol­lowed by the group pho­tos at an out­door spot on the way to the cer­e­mo­ny. In order to keep the bride and groom apart, we would sched­ule their trans­porta­tion to leave at dif­fer­ent times as well as arrive at dif­fer­ent times while the pho­tog­ra­ph­er would set up the shot.

Basi­cal­ly, while doing a first look allows every­one to attend the cock­tail hour, that time has to go some­where. Once you find out exact­ly how much time you will need, you might think twice if you have to start get­ting ready at day­break.

bride and groom in blue suit


In terms of tim­ing, some­thing most cou­ples don’t think about is the avail­able nat­ur­al light. The loca­tion of the sun will have an impact on your wed­ding pho­tos. If you’re plan­ning on tak­ing out­door pho­tos, then it will be nec­es­sary to con­sid­er the posi­tion of the sun at the time of those pho­to ses­sions.

Depend­ing on the time of the year, sun­set might hap­pen imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing your wed­ding cer­e­mo­ny. This would mean not hav­ing enough light to get those group wed­ding pho­tos out­side. The last thing you want to do is be “chas­ing the sun” and rush­ing through pho­tos before the sky goes dark.

Hav­ing your first look pri­or to the cer­e­mo­ny, almost always guar­an­tees you will have plen­ty of avail­able light to work with. You’ll also have more flex­i­bil­i­ty in terms of the loca­tion, as con­cerns like the trees block­ing out an already set­ting sun won’t be an issue. There have been many times where I have scout­ed loca­tions a full year pri­or to the wed­ding date, just to see where the sun would be at the time of every­thing includ­ing pre-cer­e­mo­ny pho­tos and where the light fil­ters in. It’s that impor­tant.

bride and groom in navy suit


The whole idea behind the first look, which is to avoid a long gap between the cer­e­mo­ny and the recep­tion, as well as to make sure every­one gets to go to cock­tail hour, is some­what flawed. When the bride and groom see each oth­er for the first look, this enables the remain­ing pic­tures on the shot list to be tak­en.

This might seem crazy obvi­ous, but that also means that every­one need­ed for those pho­tos will have to be present for them. Aside from the stan­dard group pho­tos that include the wed­ding par­ty and par­ents, often times oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers or friends will be involved. These are peo­ple that will now have to come to the loca­tion where these pho­tos are tak­ing place, ear­li­er than they antic­i­pat­ed hav­ing to come to your wed­ding.

Some­times, this can be a big favor to ask of those you want in these pho­tos. Let’s hypo­thet­i­cal­ly say that you want to include your aunt and uncle in some of the group pho­tos pri­or to the cer­e­mo­ny. How will these peo­ple get to the loca­tion? What if they weren’t plan­ning on dri­ving to your wed­ding, but planned on tak­ing the shut­tle? Will they have to dri­ve to take pho­tos, dri­ve back to the hotel to drop off their car, and then get on the shut­tle?

There isn’t enough time and that’s incred­i­bly inconvenient.…and that’s just if I add two peo­ple to the mix. Plus, if any­one is run­ning late (as most peo­ple do) you’ll have a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent set of prob­lems on your hands.

If you know you’ll need to get those extend­ed fam­i­ly pho­tos on your wed­ding day, dis­cuss the entire list with your pho­tog­ra­ph­er. Odds are, with the amount of time that will be need­ed and the logis­tics of trav­el and more, you’d be bet­ter off grab­bing those pho­tos once the cer­e­mo­ny ends.

bride and groom in gray suit

First Look: Not For Everyone

Per­son­al­ly, I have nev­er been a fan of the first look and I didn’t have one at my own wed­ding. Every pho­tog­ra­ph­er I work with always begs me not to tell my cou­ples that, and I total­ly under­stand why.

Decid­ing whether or not you want to have a first look isn’t the quick deci­sion that it seems to be. It’s real­ly impor­tant to dis­cuss how you feel with each oth­er and go over the logis­tics of the day to fig­ure out what’s best. It’s more than just tra­di­tion ver­sus mak­ing it to your entire cock­tail hour, and a first look can set the tone for the rest of your wed­ding day. Do every­thing you can to make sure that tone is a pos­i­tive one!

Guest Blogger: Danielle Rothweiler

Danielle Roth­weil­er is the own­er of Roth­weil­er Event Design, a full-ser­vice wed­ding and event plan­ning com­pa­ny. Spe­cial­iz­ing in social events, Danielle’s work has appeared in media out­lets includ­ing Peo­ple Mag­a­zine, The Knot, E! News, and New Jer­sey Bride. Along with her own blog, she gives a fresh per­spec­tive on wed­dings through her YouTube chan­nel Vlogs, and reg­u­lar­ly con­tributes to Huff­in­g­ton Post, Martha Stew­art Wed­dings, Sig­na­ture Bride, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions.

Danielle grew up heav­i­ly involved in the per­form­ing arts and is a mem­ber of both AEA and SAG/AFTRA. She grad­u­at­ed from The Penn­syl­va­nia State Uni­ver­si­ty where she stud­ied Mete­o­rol­o­gy and Polit­i­cal Sci­ence, and upon grad­u­a­tion had a pro­fes­sion­al mod­el­ing career while work­ing as a mat­ri­mo­ni­al para­le­gal. Danielle took the next obvi­ous life step into the event plan­ning world almost 10 years ago. She also loves to make peo­ple laugh.

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