The pros and cons of doing a first look

I kinda write this article with a bit of fear and trembling. I know how much this choice of whether or not to see each other before the ceremony is an emotional one! Ultimately, I want to be respectful of your thoughts and desires! My main reason of writing this is to educate and bring a perspective that comes from experience that you may not have thought about before!

I’m going to say from the outset that First Looks don’t work for every couple. Not all guys are overly emotional. Sometimes, it’s a mutual decision between the couple and neither one wants to see each other before the ceremony. Ultimately, that’s fine and we can make it work! I just don’t clients to make decisions without knowing hearing the benefits of doing a First Look. You never know, I may give you some insight you never thought about before! I have had several clients, after hearing my points, change their mind and decide to do a first look. Others, still decide not to do it. That’s great!

Ultimately, I’m there to document a wedding but also to be a consultant from my experience of documenting hundreds of weddings!

So please read this article with an open mind before you make your decision!

And maybe, if we plan it right, you’ll get MORE of what you want… not less! And I can help you completely rock your wedding day with incredible moments and images! Believe me, you and I want the same thing… to maximize the amount of emotion (fun, laughing, crying, joy, craziness) during your wedding!

So whether you’re on the fence about doing a first look or even dead set against it, you’ll want to read this article. Why? Because I believe this is one of the biggest decisions you can make for the timeline of your wedding. It’s huge.

From my experience, I know the eb and flow of weddings. I know where to be in order to capture the money shots. For the most part, I know generally how people will be feeling at any particular part of your day! I know what works and doesn’t work based on the couples personalities.

So, let’s first talk about the myths of this topic and then we’ll get to the pros and cons!

The Myths!

Myth 1: “It’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the ceremony!”

To understand this myth, we need to go WAY back to figure out where this saying originally got started. Many people don’t know this, but it comes from arranged marriages! This is where the groom literally has not seen what his bride looks like. She wore a thick veil over her face, they exchanged vows and only after they were pronounced husband and wife did he lift her veil to see her face for the first time. Can you see how this came about now? If he saw her before the ceremony, he may not dig what he saw and run away.

As you know, in our culture, we don’t have arranged marriages anymore! You’ve seen each other! You like what you see! You’ve committed to each other! So you’re safe! Your groom isn’t going to get cold feet if he sees you before the ceremony! It’s not going to be bad luck! And if he does, he’s afraid of commitment and we have a bigger problem on our hands. 🙂

Myth 2: “The groom will show more emotion if he sees me for the first time on our wedding day while I’m walking down the aisle.”

It’s not usually put that way when presented to me. It’s more like “I want him to see me for the first time walking down the aisle.” But why? Normally, it’s because she’s been dreaming of seeing her grooms eyes as they well up with tears and emotion as she walks slowly toward him. And although I’m not discounting that he’ll well up with emotion when he sees you coming down the aisle, but which scenario do you think you’ll get more emotion: 1) a private interaction between the two of you or 2) a place where 200 people are looking at him and the ceremony has officially started?

It’s been my experience that I’ve seen way more emotion during a private first look! And bonus, a first look does NOT decrease the emotion he feels as he watches his bride come down the aisle toward him about to commit your lives together. It’s a completely different emotion! With the music playing, everyone stands and this beautiful bride is walking down the aisle about to make this unbelievable vow with him, he’s going to show some emotion… first look or not! Believe me! I’ve got photographic proof. 🙂

So now that we’ve busted through the myths, let’s actually look at one and then let’s talk about the pros and cons!

The Pros!

Pro #1: You get more emotional photos.

Guys, in general, will show more emotion in private. It’s just a fact. It’s not like we won’t show any emotion when 200 people are present, us but you’ll have better luck when it’s just two people, in private, who love each other.

Pro #2: You get more photos of you two!

This is a big one for me! When I finish editing a wedding, I categorize all of the images. I break them down into “Getting Ready, Details, Group Photos, Bride and Groom, Ceremony, and Reception”. On average, that “Bride and Groom” category will get about 25-50 more images in it when the couple does a first look.

Why? If my couple has decided not to see each other before the ceremony, I have to do all of the formal group photos and wedding party photos (the ones with both of you in them) after the ceremony, and tacked at the end, while all of your guests are waiting on you, I take the photos of the bride and groom. It feels rushed. Sometimes I get the wedding planner looking at us and then looking at her watch. We all feel pressured to do them as quickly as we can so you can be introduced into the reception. More on this in the next section!

Pro #3: More control over your timeline

This plays off the previous point! With a first look, everything is reversed. I START with the bride and groom, then do the wedding party photos and then the family formals. If you want more photos of you two… just add a first look into the timeline without compromising your guests time!

Pro #4: You get more time with your guests

You may have guests coming from all over the nation (sometimes world) to celebrate and spend time with you! So wouldn’t it be awesome to be walking into your reception around the time they’ve gotten settled into their seats? Party time!

Pro #5: You get to celebrate and let your emotions play out!

I’ve seen this at more than one wedding; the pastor officially announces your marriage, you kiss, you go back up the aisle giving high fives and waving at your friends and family. Your wedding ceremony is complete and when they catch up, it’s a frenzy of hugs, laughter, welcoming you to the family, looking at your ring, replaying the highlights of the ceremony. It’s celebratory time! Every emotion in you wants to celebrate and party! But oh no! The photographer has to come in and put a stop to the good times because you have work to do for the formal group photos!

“Where’s Aunt Judy? I told her to stay after the ceremony for the formals. Someone run and go get her! Everyone is talking too loud and not listening to the photographer. We need everyone to listen to the photographer. Oh, there’s Judy! But now someone needs to go find Ben. We can’t start photos without him. Did Grandma Louise already leave for the reception? Someone stop her!”

I’ve had brides get so stressed out after the ceremony that we skipped over half of the photos, her smile was fake and I had to get her away from the family just so she could breathe and calm down.

It just makes me so sad when a time of celebration turns into a thing of stress.

But with a First Look, all of the photos are done! Stress free! It’s party time; or I can take you two out for a few minutes to get more photos while the sun is lower in the horizon, the guests are making their way to the reception and the excitement of being newly married is still so fresh!

Pro #6: It’s more relaxing and less stressful.

This is a scenario I’ve gotten to witness a lot as well! Both the bride and groom tend to  become a lot less stressed after seeing each other during a first look! After they hug, kiss, pray, exchange letters/gifts and have some quiet moments together, they’re ready to take on the rest of the day… together! So if you’re the nervous type or a type-a personality, you may want to consider spending some quality alone time with your fiancé!  You’ll get to the “enjoying your wedding day” part a lot sooner!

The Cons!

Con #1: If you don’t have enough time…

The only con I can think of is if you’re having a morning wedding. You’d need to do your first look about 2 to 2.5 hours before the ceremony. Doing the schedule means that you’ll have to start doing your hair and makeup super early in the morning… and you’re not a morning person.

Con #2: There’s no private place to do a first look…

If you’re getting married in a small place and you can’t find a place to have a beautifully photographed first look. This can be a con but I haven’t run into this problem before. We always find a place. And if it’s not the most ideal place (or time), the pro’s highly outweigh this con.

The Conclusion!

As you can see, from a photographers non-emotional viewpoint, there’s a lot more pros than cons! BUT know that I’ve told all of this info to my clients before and some still decide to not do a first look. This is completely fine! My job is to inform my clients what they to expect from their decisions. But then I shut my mouth and do as I’m told! I’m not only being paid to document a wedding but be a consultant as well!

Someone once asked me “Is there a scenario in which you’d almost insist on your clients doing a first look?” And although I can’t FORCE my clients into any decisions, I would highly encourage doing a first look particularly in the winter time… after daylight savings time when it gets dark at 5:30pm. Remember that a photographer needs light to take photos and even though I can use a flash to light up the group, I can’t light up an entire background. If you’re getting married in a beautiful location with beautiful mountain backdrops but you want to have a sunset wedding AND not do a first look, then all of the photos of the bride and groom will have a black background because I can’t light up that mountain behind you!

So is there a time when not doing a first look works? Yep! Two things help make this scenario work pretty well. 1) When it gets dark at 9:30pm during the summer months, you have more options! And 2) you have a smaller wedding party / formal family shot list. When a bride has a 20 person wedding party and huge family shot list, it may be less stressful to not do those shots after the ceremony because of how long it’ll take to properly document everyone! But if you have a small wedding party of 6 and only 6 formal family shots, go for it!

Cool ideas for First Looks:

Stand back to back and exchange letter you’ve written to each other!
This is amazing from a photographers standpoint! There’s a lot of great emotion of a couple holding hands and reading their letters silently, with the anticipation of seeing each other for the first time. Talk about revving up the emotions!

Exchange gifts!
If you’re not much of a writer, then exchange gifts back to back. Again, it gives the photographer time to walk around and get lots of great images of this moment! If there’s only one photographer there (the fewer people there the better), open the gifts one at a time!

The Hug and Pray method!
Hug from behind and pray with each other before he sees you for the first time.

This is a great way to approach your fiancé with him actually facing you. And you can play around with him before taking off his blindfold. Kiss him, take your time. Let the emotions build up!

Give him a boudoir album!
This is probably the exact opposite of “it’s bad luck to see the bride before the wedding” myth that I described above! It’s so fun to capture the reaction of the groom as his eyes bugs out of his head as he looks through the album right before he sees her for the first time. Talk about emotional buildup! I don’t shoot boudoir but contact me if you need recommendations!

Have an audience!
I’ve only seen this at one wedding but they had their entire wedding party in the balcony, watching the first look and cheering them on! It was pretty fun!

As you can see, each of these methods give the photographer a lot more time to walk around and capture several different angles! More photos! More emotion! I’d love to add to this list! Have you heard of some really cool idea when it comes to a first look? The the contact below and tell me about it!


Okay…  so you read this entire article and you’re not convinced. You still don’t want to do a first look. Fair enough! Did you know there are compromises? Take the above ideas 1-4. You could literally do any of those without seeing each other. Just do your thing and… leave till the ceremony. Or find a blind corner to stand besides. Or stand behind with a door between you. We still would have to do most of the photos after the ceremony but you still get a few more emotional photos of you two and still not see each other!

So what do you think? Did I convince you? Did I miss something? I’d absolutely love to get your thoughts! Just write me using the form right below here! Can’t wait to hear from you!

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What other’s are saying

Something subtle, yet powerful, happens when I look at Bo. There’s an energy present that is very real and felt only between the two of us. It is the connection we have with each other, embodying all that brought us together and the love we share. I imagine that most people assume it’s there, but no one actually looks for it. Except you. Instead of taking pictures of the two of us, you capture what is between us. It is a profound gift that you have, Rich, to catch meaning in a glance or love in a touch. Thank you so much for sharing your gift with us. - Rebekah Hughes

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