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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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.