First Look or Not? Some Points to Consider for Those Planning a Wedding

Should I have a First Look?

I just got a timeline from one of my brides and saw that she planned a First Look. 

If you do not already know, a First Look (sometimes called a “reveal”) is when before the ceremony, the couple retreat to a private spot and have a chance to see each other in their wedding finery.  I have seen everything from happy crying to couples laughing over seeing each other “dressed up” and marveling how “this is it!”

But a lot of brides choose not to do this, instead wanting to “surprise” their groom “at the back of the church when he first sees me” (or surprising her bride, or him surprising his groom, but let me use the traditional pairing just for clarity’s sake).

Let me offer some points to consider to help you (and using the First Look from the wedding of Katelyn and Zachary, a hip and chill couple whom I had the pleasure to photograph in April 2018).

Why the surprise at the ceremony?

For centuries, people operated under the superstition that somehow it was bad luck to see a bride before her wedding day.  This originates from back in the day when families would arrange marriages, making it more a business transaction than a great romance.  The hapless groom got a surprise, alright, and sometimes a not-so-happy one when he finally got to see his wife seconds before they were pronounced man and wife.  Along with this, a bride was usually veiled.  While it was a symbol of virginity and modesty, it also prevented a groom from seeing her until it was too late to make a run for it.

Was she pretty?  Was she too young/too old?  That did not matter – the deal had been struck.

Given that origin, why keep it at all?

The Cons of a First Look

 Okay, you would be bucking the tradition described above.  Maybe some great-aunt would “tsk, tsk” at the notion of the groom seeing you beforehand.  Whose wedding is it, anyway?

The Pros of a First Look

Let’s start with the romance.

The groom is still getting a “surprise” – and it is done in an intimate setting.  What I like to do is keep my distance as best I can while photographing this moment.  It is, after all, a unique slice of time where the two of you get to see each other in a new light:  this will be my spouse.  It allows you both to realize that the day is finally here, and you are seeing each other as you never have before.

Now, I have had couples chare that moment with others, such as the wedding party.  But that is your choice.  What you are not sharing it with is a gathering of some 125 people, standing, many of whom are pointing cell phones in your direction.

“But he won’t have a reaction as I come down the aisle!”

Yes.  Yes, he will.  As will you.  Go ask a stage actor if they have opening night jitters or how they feel when the curtain starts to rise at the first showing.  Why would they be nervous?  After all, haven’t they gone through several dress rehearsals?

It will be the same with you.  You might have had a First Look, but as the special music that you picked swells, as your guests stand to face you, as your Dad takes your arm, both of you will feel like you have never felt before.  And both of you will react.

And guess what?  If your groom is the type of person who is uncomfortable with public displays of emotion – or if you are – the reaction may well be akin to a deer caught in headlights.  Whereas at a First Look, the moment is as private as you want, allowing for more genuine reactions.  And it being as private as you want means you can still make a grand wow entrance for your guests.

So, less stress there.  You know what will also make your wedding day less stressful with a First Look?  The gift of time.

No Rushing, no Fussing

Quite often, the timeline for a wedding day has BIG blocks of time leading up to the ceremony and a smaller, but still big block of time after the cocktail hour for the reception.

Sandwiched in between them are two things:  the ceremony and picture taking.

The ceremony will take the time that it takes, be it a quick ten minutes or an hour long nuptial Mass.

But the picture taking . . . ah.  The idea is to use the cocktail hour to do the following:

  1. Take pictures of the blended wedding party.  Obviously, pictures of the bride with her bridesmaids and the groom with his groomsmen can take place before the ceremony, but if there is no First Look, getting everyone together means waiting until after the ceremony.

  2. Take family pictures.  Following the same vein as the wedding party, while you might have had a picture with Mom and Dad, now is the time for the couple and your Mom and Dad.  And his Mom and Dad.  And Grandma and Grandpa who arrived just before the ceremony, along with your fifteen cousins.  And now add his family.  And the time ticks away . . .

  3. Take bridal portraits.  Just you and he.  Often in the last ten minutes before you make your entrance into the reception because, after all, your guests have been waiting!

Get More Out of Your Venue

Do you love your venue?  Did you fall in love with its setting?  Did you pay a lot of money to rent it?

If you answered yes to those questions, why wouldn’t you want to see more of it in your bridal pictures?

A First Look can be arrange to use that BIG block of time before the ceremony to take care of the traditional cocktail hour picture taking (while still using the cocktail hour to fill in on some). 

You are fresh, he is fresh, you are both looking your best before, say, the humidity of an outdoor wedding causes your hair to go flat.  So you do your First Look, then have the time to explore spots in your venue (God bless venue owners and their golf carts for hauling around couples and photographers)  for epic pictures.  If you also have a videographer, they have the time to “switch off” with the photographer, since video usually requires the videographer to get closer to you than your photographer with a long focal length lens on the camera.  That time allows both to be more creative since they are not racing against the clock.

And maybe your venue is not epic . . . but something nearby is.  Go elsewhere for bridal pictures?  Why not?  Let’s say your wedding is taking place in a luxury cabin in the Smokies.  Might be very nice but right now it is crowded with family members, and there are cars parked outside, and it is built atop a steep ravine with no good level ground for picture taking.  No problem – with my permit to shoot in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, let’s go find the open vistas of Cades Cove, the mountain streams of Greenbrier, or the water at Laurel Falls.  Or let’s say your budget only allowed you to use the church hall for your reception but nearby is downtown Chattanooga, Knoxville, Sweetwater, or Maryville – let’s use cool urban or quaint small town streets for your bridal pictures.

So, during that, your bridesmaids and groomsmen and family members have finished last minute tasks, perhaps (like, setting out the centerpieces), and have gotten dressed themselves.  You come back, maybe get a quick touchup on hair and makeup, and now you can take your wedding party and family pictures.

Your ceremony starts.  You are finally married!  And now . . .

Now you have time for all the hugs.  Now you can circulate at your cocktail hour (enjoying one yourself) to thank guests for coming, while your photographer is taking fun candid shots (pictures, not alcohol).  Now you can make your grand entrance into the reception and just have fun.  Sure, I may grab you and your spouse for some pictures (I may ask you to step away 10 minutes for a sunset shot or a cool nighttime shot that I have set up, depending on the time of year), but the schedule now is just to party at your reception and be with your guests.

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Tradition Is Important

My intent of this post was not to make you feel guilty if you do not have a First Look.  I love tradition and I will always work with you regardless of what you choose.  I also understand that sometimes you want people, such as your parents, to be happy and that may influence decisions on how the day goes.  After all, a wedding is about the couple but it is also about family as a new one begins.

I do want you to realize that time is limited and – if I may paraphrase the old saying – time, tide and sunset wait for no bride.  I hate to see a frazzled bride and I try to keep things calm for both of the couple. 

There has been a huge build up to this days, sometimes over a year of planning.  If there is something that can help, it is a First Look.  Given the importance of the day, always consider all of your options.