Considering a First Look? A Photographer’s Perspective.

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Ah, the big wedding timeline debate: to first look or not to first look.

When it comes to planning your wedding day, the decision to go with a first look or ditch it altogether can actually have quite an impact on your wedding day timeline and the flow of the day’s events. If you’re unsure about incorporating a first look into your timeline, or simply want to know what the hype is all about, I’m here to give you a photographer’s perspective.

Spoiler: this photog is Team First Look all the way.

For those who don’t know, a first look is simply when a bride and groom choose to see each other before the ceremony. Bad luck? I don’t believe it. Untraditional? Actually, first looks are a growing trend in the wedding industry, and they add a special intimacy to your wedding day.

In most cases, the first look takes place somewhere at or near the ceremony site, where the bride and groom have a private moment away from the hustle and bustle of their guests arriving or their vendor team assembling the reception area, etc. While some couples wish to honor tradition by saving their first sighting until the moment the bride walks down the aisle, incorporating a first look into the wedding timeline has a number of benefits for the bride and groom to-be.

First off, having a first look makes way for a short and sweet cocktail hour (and lets you, the couple, enjoy that cocktail hour). 

Let me explain. By building in the time for a first look, I (your photographer) am able to take a few bride and groom portraits immediately following the first look – and for most couples, that block of time also includes enough cushion to take care of their family portraits and bridal party portraits. Getting these groupings checked off the shot list before the ceremony even begins means that we don’t have to do them after the ceremony – and that allows for a shorter cocktail hour between ceremony and reception. Not to mention the fact that now, the bride and groom can enjoy their cocktail hour and mingle with the guests who have come to support and celebrate with them, rather than be swept away for family formals and bridal party portraits. 

Speaking of getting those formals ‘out of the way’ earlier in the day, the hair and makeup of all those important people (I’m speaking mostly to the ladies here) will be fresher for photos. Weddings often take place in the summer heat, when makeup can start to slide with sweat and hair begins to react to the humidity. This certainly isn’t a deal breaker, but everyone wants to look their best in photos – and their best, freshest self will always be earlier in the day. (The women in your lives will thank you here.)

Finally (and most importantly, in my eyes), a first look gives the bride and groom permission to slow things down on their wedding day and enjoy a quiet moment together. Weddings have the habit of speeding up time, and it’s easy to get swept up in the celebrations with all those guests who make it so special. But remember, a wedding day is for you, the two people who are committing themselves to each other for life – and that kind of commitment deserves a breather to reflect upon.  

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When a bride and groom choose to do a first look, I as the photographer will always give them a bit more distance to hold each other, marvel at the union they are about to embark upon, and get out any last-minute jitters before becoming husband and wife. Your conversation can be as simple as telling each other about your morning apart, or what you’re most looking forward to in the day ahead. I have also seen couples read letters to each other during the first look - not their vows, but a little note expressing their hearts for each other and their excitement to become husband and wife. 

Moments like these allow for a natural intimacy to surface between the two of you in a time reserved just for you - and that honest, emotional interaction will shine through in your photographs. Photographs that feel authentically like you.

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“But we want that magical moment when I walk down the aisle and he sees me for the first time.”

Totally get it. But many married couples who decided to go first look (and the photographers who captured their wedding) agree that having a first look doesn’t actually take away any of the magic from the moment a bride walks down the aisle to her groom. In fact, it can make for a smoother, less nerve-filled moment. You’ll be able to relax knowing you already talked to your partner in private before the ceremony – without the pressure of your officiant inches away or rows of guests looking on.

Oh, and for brides wanting to see their groom get a bit emotional: don’t worry, I have seen grooms tear up during both the first look and the aisle walk ;)

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As your wedding photographer, I highly recommend doing a first look! From freeing up time following the ceremony and enjoying the downtime of cocktail hour, to soaking in a quiet moment together in an intimate setting, first looks offer many benefits to the flow of a wedding day and its overall level of intimacy.

That being said, some of my clients still choose to honor tradition and don’t see the value of a first look – and that’s okay too! As pro Team First Look as I may be, the decision is 100% yours and I will always respect the choice you make. Because at the end of the day, it’s your wedding. 

Remember, I’m here to encourage you to make your day your own. And I’ll be there to capture your most authentic selves along the way - to witness you in your truest forms, and to share your love’s legacy in the best way I know how.

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*SparkNotes Version: Building in a First Look allows for a less rushed Cocktail Hour, giving you more time to mingle with your guests and enjoy a bit of downtime, rather than being swept away for portraits the entire time. It’s also a great way to space out the day’s events! On the flip side, if you choose not to do a First Look, I might recommend extending Cocktail Hour by 30 minutes or so for portraits, and I might also suggest bumping your ceremony up an hour to allow more time for those photos post-ceremony. Whether you’ve hired a wedding planner or not, I am always happy to help you build your wedding day timeline to allow for optimal photo time and a stress-free day!

Images shot with Haley O’Callaghan.