Should you do a first look?

I’m going to be completely transparent with you right now- I have a love/hate relationship with first looks. When crafting the wedding day timeline with my clients, we often come to a screeching halt when it comes to the decision of whether or not to do a first look. While it is ultimately a decision that needs to be made by the bride & groom, there are several things that you must consider when planning your wedding day.

Pros of doing a first look:

1.       You spend more time with your fiancé.
If you don’t see each other before the ceremony, you only get to spend a few hours together (surrounded by other people) until you leave the wedding. A first look can add hours of quality time with your new spouse.

2.       You lose the crowd.
There is a lot of pressure on the moment when you see your bride/groom for the first time, and it may not be something you want to do in front of hundreds of people. Additionally, the amount of people staring at you in between you and your love can make it difficult to see or appreciate seeing them for the first time. When I walked down the aisle at my own wedding, I was so focused on smiling at my guests that I didn’t see my husband’s reaction to me.

3.       It may calm your nerves.
If you’re nervous about the wedding, spending some quiet time with your soon-to-be spouse can help you relax.

4.       There is more time for portraits.
Photographers can do a lot of seemingly magical things, but we can’t create time when there is none. It’s just not realistic to take wedding party portraits, 20 family formal groupings, and dynamic portraits of you and your new spouse in the 30 minutes between the ceremony and cake cutting. If you want these photos, you have to make time for these in the wedding timeline. By doing a first look, we can do most of these before the ceremony.

5.       You can go to different locations.
If you would like to take portraits somewhere other than the wedding venue, such as a local park, a scenic landmark, or your favorite hangout spot, you will likely have to travel there before the wedding starts.

6.       You can enjoy most or all of cocktail hour and the reception or have a receiving line.
This is a biggie. Without doing a first look, you have to do your family formals, wedding party portraits, and portraits with your new spouse while guests anxiously wait for you at cocktail hour or the reception. I’ve been a guest at weddings where we had to wait an hour to eat- it’s not fun! If you can take most of these photos before the ceremony, you will have much more time to spend with your guests.

7.       It creates dynamic photos.
Some of the most emotionally powerful wedding photos I’ve seen were taken during first looks. The expression on your fiancé’s face when they first see you on your wedding day is something you will always want to remember, and meeting before you walk down the aisle allows the photographer to capture both of you in the same shot.

8.       You can have alone time.
Most of your wedding day is spent with everyone but your fiancé/new spouse. Having a first look will give you more time to spend alone together.

9.       You have more flexibility in your schedule.
A traditional wedding day timeline has wedding party photos, family formals, and couple portraits in between the ceremony and cocktail hour/reception. The ceremony will undoubtedly run late, some family members will wander off to the reception, and you will be scrambling to get all your photos done before time to cut the cake. By taking most of these photos before the ceremony, you will have a more relaxed transition between those parts of the wedding day.

10.   You can take portraits while your hair, makeup, and dress are still fresh.

11.   You may need the daylight for portraits.
If you have an evening ceremony, the sun may have already set before time for portraits. While your photographer should be equipped to take photos after dark, you may prefer the traditional, naturally lit setting.

12.   You probably only need one photographer.
Photographers are amazing, but they generally can’t be in two places at once. If the photographer is taking your family formals after the ceremony, they can’t take photos of the reception décor or guests. A more relaxed schedule is necessary for one photographer to travel between these events/locations. 

Cons of doing a first look:

1.       Everyone has to get dressed sooner and stay dressed longer.
A first look means you, your wedding party, and your family have to be dressed hours before the wedding.

2.       You lose the crowd.
By doing a first look, your friends and family do not get to witness you see your fiancé for the first time. If that is a moment you want to share with your loved ones, you may want to wait until the ceremony.

3.       They can be awkward and staged.
Although this depends greatly on the photographers, videographers, and coordinators, first looks can become more of a staged photo/video shoot than an emotional event. Vendors may ask you to start and stop, wait, or repeat actions to get it all on camera.

4.       You need more time for photography coverage.
If you are paying your photographer and/or videographer by the hour, the expanded timeline for a first look will cost you more coverage time.

5.       The schedule depends on good time management.
It never fails that something will go wrong or run late on your wedding day. When you are getting dressed hours before the wedding, vendors, family, and friends may not understand the urgency of sticking to a schedule. If everyone does not stay on schedule, the first look and portraits can be delayed. This usually isn’t an issue for traditional wedding timelines, when everyone knows to be ready when the ceremony starts.

6.       Some family members can’t/won’t arrive early for portraits, and it’s going to make you mad.
Most extended family members expect to get to the venue 30 minutes before the ceremony starts, and they may not be happy about arriving an hour or two early just to sit around and wait for the wedding to start. If you have elderly or disabled family members, they may be physically unable to stay at the wedding that long.

7.       You may lose some of the magic of walking down the aisle.
Some couples look forward to seeing their fiancé for the first time as the doors open and the bride starts down the aisle. If you’ve already seen each other, it may not be as emotional for both of you.

8.       It’s non-traditional.
There’s definitely wrong with being non-traditional, but if you want your wedding to be like your parents’ and your grandparents’, you probably don’t want to see each other before the ceremony.

9.       You may not be able to use the ceremony venue.
Some venues I work at frequently double book their weddings, so that there’s a very limited time to actually be at the venue. You may want to do your first look in the church chapel or in a courtyard, but the venue may not be available until close to the ceremony time.

10.   It’s considered unlucky.
I’m not superstitious whatsoever, but tradition holds that seeing the bride before the ceremony is bad luck. Do with that what you will!

Although you must keep these things in mind, you should go with your heart when making this decision of whether or not to do a first look. If seeing your spouse for the first time walking down the aisle is the most important part of your wedding day, don’t let someone else talk you out of it. What you do need to avoid is giving your photographer an unreasonably short amount of time to take portraits that you want. Talking with your photographer months ahead of your wedding is crucial in creating a wedding day timeline that will be enjoyable for everyone.