Should You Have a First Look on Your Wedding Day?

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When the bride walks down the aisle and all eyes are on her, it’s the groom’s face I want to see most – that beautiful, honest reaction to seeing his fiance in the moments before she becomes his wife is so raw and emotional.  It’s one of my favourite parts of a wedding – and such a special moment to be captured by the photographers too.

Recently, though, a new trend has emerged – the “first look”, often with an accompanying photo shoot.  A first look is where the bride and groom meet before the ceremony and have a “private moment” (though arguably not so, as the photographer is invariably there too).  Some couples may opt to have this moment captured privately, while others might want their close friends and family to bear witness.

If you’re considering having a first look, here’s a few ideas to mull over.

Emotions
I’m emotional, but I managed to keep my tears in check as I walked down the aisle towards my now-husband.  Armed with my favourite waterproof mascara (Estee Lauder’s Sumptuous Extreme Knockout), I knew I wouldn’t have black tears trickling down my face, but even in the absence of running mascara, make-up may be affected by tears and by wiping them.

Another thought on emotions: of course, you’ll still look beautiful, but are you going to walk down the aisle with an ugly crying face the whole way? I know I don’t look my best when I’m crying, so if you wear your heart on your sleeve, you might want to have a first look moment pre-ceremony, after which you can always touch up your make-up.

Nerves
It can be overwhelming and intimidating to face a crowd of 100 or so people, let alone also have the added pressure of it being the first time you see your fiance.  If it might calm your nerves, jitters (or even cold-feet), why not have a first look?

Time
The advice I hear time and time again is that your wedding day goes by in a blur.  In my experience, no time goes faster than that time between the ceremony and the reception.  It’s so exciting to greet guests, enjoy the champagne and spend time with your new husband, that you might not want to tear yourself away for a couple of hours for photos.  Comparatively, the time in the morning pre-ceremony is much less in demand.  An hour for hair, the same for make-up, and then you have all the time in the world to spend with your fiance, have your official photographs and leave  the entire afternoon to enjoy with your guests.

Light
Our wedding was at 2pm in the afternoon, so we had plenty of time following the ceremony for photos (and even a sunset shoot at 8pm).  However, if you’re short on post-ceremony time you’ll not only lose time with your guests, but also be losing light. This is especially so if you’re having a winter wedding.  Limiting the photographer’s amount of light or the time to work with, and photograph, the two of you may compromise the photos.  You may not get as many photos as you might like, and, if you’re having a later ceremony, there is a big possibility that your portraits won’t be naturally lit.

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Photographs
We had two photographers, so it was easy for Shannon to photograph me, while Aaron photographed Blair, during those crucial moments.  But it’s very hard for one photographer to capture both the bride and groom’s emotions, as well as the faces of the guests during the bride’s walk down the aisle.  When a bride and groom face each other for the first time, that’s a beautiful moment worth capturing, and the ease of which that is done so is increased with a first look.

Moving between venues
Where you’ve hired two venues for the day, one for the ceremony and another for the reception, there will be some transition time between them.  If you haven’t had a first look, this interim period requires a little more organisation: do your guests wait for you before moving onto the reception venue; do you all move together; or do they go onto the reception venue and wait for you to arrive after your photos?  Of course, it’s not all that hard to organise – but guests can become impatient during this in-between time, especially if they’re waiting for food and drinks.

Isn’t it less special?
If you’ve dreamed ever since you were a little girl about your groom seeing you for the very first time as you walk down the aisle, the idea of a first look may be really, really hard to get used to.  Well, why?

I want the first time he sees me to be special. or… I want him to get emotional seeing me come down the aisle.

Admittedly, I felt the same, but it doesn’t really make sense – your first look will still be your first look, whether or not its in view of your guests, and surely it’s you and he who are the most important consideration when making this decision.  When it’s just the two of you, it’s actually likely to be more special and more emotional!

It breaks tradition – for good reason!
Yes, it does, but I challenge you to follow only those traditions that have some relevance and significance to you, and not to blindly follow every custom your parents (or grand-parents) may have followed.  The tradition to wait until you are both at the altar to see each other for the first time on your wedding day stems from the tradition of arranged marriages.  Historically, a groom did not see his bride before their wedding ceremony for one simple reason.  He had never met her! The idea was not to let him see behind the veil until the deal was sealed.  Now, if your marriage has been arranged, by all means you haven’t even seen your bride-to-be ever and we wouldn’t want you to be able to back out of “the deal”.  Other than that, we assume you’ve seen each other before so you’ll be upholding only part of that tradition anyway.

The cons of a first look
I didn’t do a first look, and it’s not something I’d change about my wedding day personally, so here’s a few reasons why not:

  • You can sleep in! If you had a late night rehearsal dinner or night with the bridesmaids the night before, you might want every minute of the morning to sleep in, spend some time alone, and bond with your girlfriends in your last few ‘single’ moments – the groom can wait!
  • Your dress is perfect for the ceremony – did you see our wedding photos?  We ran around the beach, clambered up and down a cliff and onto rocks with our photographers (The Official Photographers).  I was incredibly careful with my dress, and it was fine, but I knew that I was putting it at risk by doing all of the above.  I wouldn’t have done that before the ceremony even began!
  • Sharing with your guests – as a guest, I love being part of that incredible moment!  If you wanted a private elopement, you wouldn’t have invited 100 or so of your closest friends, so why not share it all with them?
  • ‘Wedding Photos’ are of husband and wife… yet your bridal portraits will actually be taken when you’re still engaged… amiright? (N.B. Do you put the wedding ring on for the photos…?)
  • The excitement! I was dying to have my first moment with Blair on our wedding day, but it was so exciting to be at the same property with him and be unable to see each other.  At one point, I was so scared of him seeing me that I used a sequin tablecloth to hide behind as I ran around the venue making everything perfect.

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The professionals (and newlyweds) weigh in:

“A first look is an opportunity to take some time out of a busy day for the bride and groom to share an intimate and emotional moment together. It should be set up in a way that does not feel cheesy or contrived to the couple, and also gives them the space (emotional and physical) to enjoy seeing each other for the first time on their wedding day.” – Atelier Pictures

“It is such a precious time to have alone to actually talk before the guests begin arriving and the craziness of the day begins. It also allows us much more time to get many more pictures of just the two of you together. These images are the ones that you will treasure forever.” – Erika Brown Photography

“A first look can help the logistics of a wedding day. If portraits of all the important people (bridal party, family, etc.) are finished before the ceremony, it allows for the bride and groom to move directly from the ceremony to the reception or cocktail hour. This can remove the possibility of feeling torn away from guests after the ceremony and feeling rushed with the portraits.” – Atelier Pictures

“In our observation, it takes nothing away from the meaningfulness of a groom seeing his bride walk down the aisle. If anything, it heightens the emotions for the couple, and makes the ceremony even more special. Of course, from our perspective, it also provides loads of awesome imagery potential.”  Blume Photography

Doing first look photos was special because it gave my wife and I time away from everyone else, to not only take in how beautiful she looked, but also share that special moment with each other without having to continue the ceremony immediately. It’s different than sharing that moment with everyone else when she walks down the aisle and you can’t relish that moment as just a couple. It can also help calm any nerves before or the possibility of crying if that’s something you worry about.” – Brad Ledbetter

 “Having a first look moment alone with my husband is something I will always remember. It was an intimate moment that we could share with one another, just the two of us, to express how we felt before all the craziness happened. Having this moment calmed my nerves before the ceremony, and allowed my husband and I to share our emotions in private.” – Melissa Ledbetter

“We felt that having a ‘First Look’ served as a time to share a personal moment with each other, without an entire audience. We took our vows seriously, and this gave us a chance to be a little silly and express our love with pet names,  goofy language, and funny faces…all that we wanted to share with each other, and have documented, but not be seen by our friends and family. It was an uninterrupted and unrushed shared moment that is just as memorable as saying I do’.” – Nichole and Leroy Patterson

“Our first look was special for us, and I would strongly encourage couples to not only have one, but to have one like we did; in the ceremony room, being able to watch my bride walk toward me. When I turned around to see Kristin walking toward me, the weight and power of the day we’d been planning for suddenly hit me with full force. ‘This is my bride,’ I thought to myself. And I could see in her eyes the same grand and honest response: ‘I am yours.’ before she even reached me, we were crying our eyes out with happiness.

For Kristin and I, the first look was an intimate experience just as memorable as the ceremony itself. The ritual, the words, and the audience would come later… But in that moment, it was only us, our tears and our smiles. I’m happy we had the chance to cry all those tears of joy; before all our friends and family were watching us!”  – Matthew Farnum

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