“Should We See Each Other Before the Ceremony?”

March 19, 2021

This is by far one of the most common questions I’m asked. Given the wedding industry buzz over “first looks,” I feel it always deserves a discussion! For most people in the wedding world (photographers especially), you’ll hear over and over again how everyone should do a first look.  How they’re so much easier on the wedding planner, how they’re so much better for portrait lighting, how it’s so much more comfortable for your guests. And oftentimes… those actually are true. But at the end of the day, as with all things wedding planning, you should feel like you’re making decisions that fill you with joy (thank you Marie Kondo). 

If you’ve dreamed about the ‘aisle moment’ since you were a kid, or if you know you want that first emotional moment to be with music and people and flowers at a ceremony, it is fully okay to not have a first look. Your story is your story, and it’s beautiful for that very reason.  

With social media and Pinterest boards being the forefront of many wedding concepts, there’s an enormous pressure to do things the way your friends did them, to follow some tips you found on the knot, to follow the trail of what the industry sets, or even to follow American traditions. It can end up feeling suffocating, especially if you’re wanting to let loose, and make something completely your own. That’s why I always joke that I’m rebellious, and I wouldn’t have it any other way 😎

If for you, the image in your head of the first time you see each other is in the aisle setting and grandeur of the moment with everyone around you, you should consider forgoing the first look. If instead, the important thing to you is simply looking into each other’s eyes from across the room, feeling a swell of pride, blushing as the tears start to build because you’re walking toward the spouse of your dreams, then by golly you should have that moment however you like.  

If you do fall into that latter category, I want to share a few reasons why I think first looks can be a wonderful opportunity:

1)  They get those nerves out 

Even for the most chill personalities, it can be hard not to feel at least a little anxious on a wedding day. Lots of stuff is happening, you feel the teensiest bit out of control, and amid the hustle it can be difficult to stop and just breathe. For many people, they don’t get that breath out and they carry those nerves all the way to the aisle moment. First looks allow you to hold each other, laugh together, and honestly shake away all those stressors, because you realize you’re in this together. Most people go into first looks or aisle moments saying, “I don’t know, my heart is just beating so fast.” And if they do a first look, they then say, “I feel great now, let’s do this thing!” 

2)  They give you private time

For most wedding days, there is literally zero time for you two to actually relax and enjoy your company together with any sort of privacy. Usually, your time together is ‘public focused’: ceremony time, first dance, partying down, even dinner is mostly interrupted by people coming up to talk to you, or you’ll cut it short to visit other tables. 

With a first look, we set aside a solid 15-30 minutes at least for you to see each other, talk, walk around your venue property, have a drink, and just settle into the realization that this is your wedding day together. In a day of rush and countless mini-events, it’s the one time you can force yourself to slow down, breathe, and to soak in a memory. It’s a moment you will simply not have otherwise, aside from our private portraits after the ceremony (we always cherish any opportunity we get). 

3)  They provide several practical benefits

I put this last very intentionally, as I never want practical decisions to outweigh emotional ones if it means impacting future memories (or your day-of experience) in a negative way. These are the main reasons why photographers and planners recommend first looks, and why I think they’re helpful if you know that it’s something you want.

First, they allow you to split up your portrait times throughout the day. That means if you’re having an evening ceremony, you won’t have to miss out on beautiful sunlit portraits of the two of you.  

Second, it also means that you won’t have to squeeze all of your group portraits (bridal party, families, even you as newlyweds) into the cocktail hour after the ceremony. That can make the day feel much more rushed, which is obviously not fun for you and tends to result in more forced expressions in photos anyway.

The last main reason that people encourage them is that it adds overall flexibility to the day.  When you lift the requirement that all photos have to be done after the ceremony, and no longer have to worry about keeping the bridal party groups strictly separated, the whole day becomes much more relaxed and fluid.  

Protip:  I also want to add in here that a first look doesn’t have to start and stop with just your partner. You can have a first look with any person (or group of people) that is important to you. The moment when a father sees his daughter as a bride for the first time is so beautiful, and one that many families are grateful they captured. Seeing bridesmaids scream, cheer, and cry as they see their best friend and sister for the first time makes my cheeks hurt from smiling so hard, it’s an incredible opportunity to shake off some extra stress with friends. You can have a series of beautiful first look moments throughout the day if you so choose.

In short, you can shake the idea that it’s necessary for every couple to do a first look, and for some, it’s much more meaningful to go without one.  But for those that choose to, it can be an absolute godsend of relaxation on their day and provide beautiful moments that would otherwise never happen. I’ve never had a single couple regret it, but I have had many that were grateful they had theirs. If you’re unsure what to do with your day and want more direct advice, reach out to me on my contact page! 
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