One topic that comes up the most during the initial wedding consultation with me is the timeline of the day (I can’t help myself, I’m a Virgo and I like to talk about details and organization!). For couples holding their ceremony at the venue – the elephant in the room is sometimes the question of “Are we doing a first look or not?”
The first look is when the bride and groom arrange to privately see each other before the ceremony. It has become very popular in recent years since many couples are opting to hold their ceremony at the venue instead of at a church (thus not having a larger gap of time for portraits). Having a first look allows us the time before the ceremony to capture tons of beautiful images around the venue of the bride and groom, the bridal party and the immediate family.
I like to have this discussion early on because the decision to have the first look (or not) will greatly impact the flow of the wedding day and determine what kinds of photos we’ll realistically be able to get. It breaks my heart to hear of couples who have tirelessly searched for a gorgeous venue only to not get the photos they envisioned of it because not enough time was allotted.
I’ll admit it, it’s during the time of the initial consultation that brides (and often grooms as well) tell me they don’t want to have a first look. They want to see each other for the first time when she walks down the aisle. When I dig a little deeper to discover why they feel this way, these are the concerns I most often hear and my typical thoughts about each one.
- “It’s bad luck” – There are many superstitions surrounding weddings. It’s also said to be “bad luck” for the bride to see herself in a mirror before the groom sees her (ladies, are you really not going to do a hair and makeup check?!). Meanwhile, the English believe a spider found in a wedding dress means good luck. Decide what is truly important to you.
- “Walking down the aisle won’t be meaningful” – Having all your family and friends at your side will offer a completely new experience, sure to merit a few tears!
- “My dress will get dirty” – We will be sure to select a location where you dress is not in danger of any mud, red wine or spaghetti sauce. Plus the bridesmaids will be on dress duty so we’ll put them to work (this is the “maid” part of bridesmaid!). I’ve found most of my brides realize once we’re out during portraits that it’s a “one-day” dress. The dress was crafted to live for today only.
But really beneath it all, what it almost always comes down to is:
- “I’ve always envisioned my wedding this way” – Our culture has largely shaped us to place great emphasis on the moment a bride walks down an aisle. We can thank Disney and Hollywood for painting this picture of how weddings “should” play out. Can you think of a movie or show that features a first look at a wedding? We simply didn’t grow up envisioning first looks but with most couples not getting married at a church these days I have to wonder if the trend on TV and in the movies might change.
On the flip side, some couples tell me about how when their friends got married, the bride and groom missed the entire cocktail hour because they were taking photos and they do not want that for their day. They want to enjoy their cocktail hour and not be rushed for photos or be forced to slim down their photo list. These are the couples who are usually all about the first look. It loosens up the timeline of the wedding day and allows the newlyweds to enjoy more of their day that already goes by so quick. And let’s be honest, the food during cocktail hour is always the really good stuff. Plus, you’ll have 5 hours to enjoy the company of about 125 people – I don’t want to have to take you away from one minute of that!
While the most obvious reason in favor of a first look is the timeline, figuring out the logistics of the day that gives you the opportunity for the most photos. If I’m being entirely honest, the other benefits are perhaps even more appealing.
- It opens up the opportunity to create a really beautiful and authentic moment – in private. If you identify as someone who doesn’t love being the center of attention, I promise you’ll be a whole heck of a lot less nervous seeing each other for the first time if it’s just the two of you.
- You can share more intimate vows with each other that you might not want to say during your ceremony in front of everyone you know.
- It takes some pressure off walking down the aisle (ladies, the guys are JUST as nervous about this one!).
- Your hair and makeup is fresher for photos – I may be biased, but I’d rather have you looking your best for those close-up photos before the humidity of a New Jersey summer gets you.
- The photos are packed with real excitement and emotion – I can’t help but feel the happy jitters from the groom as he anxiously awaits his bride.
- The guys are usually much more emotional when they have an audience of one (the bride!) instead of having the entire guest list waiting to see their reaction as the bride walks down the aisle. Many guys don’t want to cry in front of a crowd but when he’s with the one person in the world he’s most at home with, he’s much more likely to be emotionally present.
- It helps calm the nerves. Once the bride sees the groom, her mood immediately goes from nervous butterflies to excitement for the day they’ve spent so long planning. I remember my bride, Megan, who initially was hesitant about the first look. The day of the wedding, just after she saw her groom, she said to me, “Thank god we had the first look, I can’t imagine feeling this nervous anxiousness any longer!”
I prefer the first look to be a moment shared only by the bride and groom but that’s entirely your call. It’s likely to be the only moment you’ll have ‘alone time’ and it allows me to get some really beautiful, intimate shots of genuine emotion (can you tell I’m all about that?!). I’ll set up the bride & groom up in a location with flattering lighting and a beautiful background but other than that, I’m not orchestrating the moment, posing or directing during this time.
Now having said all this…the first look is not for everyone. I just ask couples to weigh the pros and cons before nixing the idea all together. If it’s been your dream since you were 5 to see your husband for the first time waiting for you at the end of the aisle I’d never ask you to throw that away.