Natalie Gibbs – Christiansburg VA Wedding Photographer » Modern documentary-style wedding and family photography for Roanoke, Charlottesville, Blacksburg, and the New River Valley

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If you’ve met me in person, you know I love to talk.  I come from a long line of talkers, and let’s just say the gene is a strong one.

But as a business owner, I’m often reluctant to talk about myself and my personal life too much here.  I see other photographers posting frequently about their wardrobe, their breakfast, their vacations, what movie they saw last weekend… and while I love reading it, I tend to like to keep my professional and my personal lives separate.  I have a separate blog for my family and a third for my teaching.  I don’t even really like keeping up with three blogs, but it doesn’t always feel right to mix the content.

Anyway, I just had some new headshots done by the great Christina Wolfe, but since every photo needs a few (or 1000) words to go with it, I figured I’d debut them here with a little extra info about me. I don’t get to meet a lot of my clients prior to their wedding days or portrait sessions, so consider this a virtual introduction, complete with awkward “hello, is that you?” glances across a crowded coffee shop. (I’m the one with the multiple heavy bags. Always.)

first look wedding photos

Ten Things You Might Not Know About Me

1. I love to write.  This is probably because I love to talk, and also because writing has always been easy for me.  Ever noticed how long my blog posts get, especially when I’m explaining something?  You should’ve seen my master’s thesis.

2. I’m on a real diet for the first time in my life.  I’m on day 3 and it’s definitely not fun.

3. I have two children, James and Caroline.  You already knew that, right?  But you want to see another photo, right?  Here they are!
first look wedding photos

4. I’ve been hooked on the show “Parenthood” all summer.  I’ve tried to take my time with it, but I’m now finally on the last season, and I do not want it to end.  Also, I am so excited to see what’s next for Claire Underwood on “House of Cards.”

5. I’m trying to simplify my closet into sort of a capsule wardrobe.  My friend Becca told me to get rid of anything that doesn’t “bring me joy,” with the idea that I would love whatever is left.  And you know what?  It worked this summer.  After I post this, I’m running out to add a few specific items to my back-to-school wardrobe, and I’m hoping I can keep this going… forever.  I don’t need 30 outfits that I sort of love.  I need 7 that I LOVE.

6. I love to sing, but I get embarrassed singing in casual settings.  On stage or in front of my classroom: no problem.  In a living room surrounding by friends and family, or even just my husband: no way.
first look wedding photos

7. My favorite books growing up were “Matilda” and “Anne of Green Gables” (I still kind of want a green dress with puffy sleeves).  In high school I loved “Jane Eyre” and “Fair and Tender Ladies.”  In college my favorites were “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “The Little Prince,” “Wide Sargasso Sea” (my husband’s first gift to me was a hardback copy), and “The Bone People.”  I don’t read too much anymore, mostly because I get too exhausted editing photos late into the evening and can’t get through the books quickly enough to stay interested.  But I did really enjoy “The Night Circus” last year, and although it’s weird, I got totally into this book called “The Shining Girls” about a time-traveling serial killer.  (I know, I know.  It’s better than it sounds.)

8. I love, love, love, love, love playing the ukulele.  I even have a 4th and 5th grade ukulele club at my school.  It’s a big deal and we’re going to be performing as an opening act for the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain this fall.

9. I didn’t have a professional wedding photographer.  When I got married, I didn’t even think about hiring a photographer.  It never occurred to me.  My grandfather is talented with a camera and we asked him to take the photos.  He did a beautiful job.  We’ve been married 11 years this month and I’m really hoping I can take some time to pull out those photos and make us a new album.

10. I’m constantly on the lookout for an older 4-square style home with a sidewalk and a big tree and a fenced-in yard near downtown Christiansburg.  So, if you see one for under $200K, let me know.  Keep in mind we’re staying put until daycare is over (4 years).  Children are the most expensive, most wonderful things, aren’t they?
first look wedding photos


What is a first look?

If you’re planning your wedding and have gotten to the timeline portion of the task, chances are you’ve heard the term “first look” tossed around. A “first look” is when you and your partner arrange to see each other before the actual wedding ceremony. It’s like a big reveal of your wedding day look, and it’s HUGELY popular with photographers because it allows people to get a lot of their full group photos done earlier in the day, leaving you more time for the reception and leaving us more time for romantic couple’s portraits later on.  And of course, we photograph the whole thing.

But the biggest advantage of doing a first look? It calms your nerves. Couples always relax once they’re together, and on a day with this much hype, you may really want to feel your partner’s presence before the ceremony. Pictures and scheduling aside, they just make couples feel good.

Should you do a first look?

Actually, I’m neutral on whether or not you should do one. I’m seen them work beautifully, and then I’ve seen them actually add stress to the day because it’s one more thing to worry about on the schedule. They work better for some timelines, some locations, and some couples than others.   About half my couples choose to do first look photos, which means about half do not.  Unless you’re getting married very late in the evening and run the risk of losing daylight for your after-ceremony pictures, it’s not usually a make-or-break situation.

Whether you want to do a first look or not is entirely your choice, and I don’t want to pressure my clients either way. But if you DO decide to do one, you need to have a plan for it to work. Here are my top tips for planning a first look you will remember fondly, and that will help your day run smoothly.

Tips for planning your first look photos

homestead resort wedding meredith blake

1. Stay on schedule.

You and your partner are going to need to meet at a designated time or place.  If either of you is running behind, it will stress the other one out, which will in turn stress the first one out.  So pad the timeline, start your prep early, and make sure you’re ready when it’s time.

2. Choose a private location.

If you truly want to create a special moment between the two of you, pick a spot for your first look that is unlikely to have a lot of onlookers.  I can help you with this.  Your friends and family may want to participate and observe the moment, but after doing a lot of these, I can tell you it’s better when it’s just the two of you.  I’m there too of course, but I try to step back during this time and shoot with my longest lens, so you won’t feel like there’s a camera in your face.

3. Have your flowers ready early.

If you’re going to do wedding party and family photos before the ceremony, then that means you need your flowers on!  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve shot these photos and then someone comes to pin on the boutonnieres or bring the girls their bouquets.  It’s not a big deal, but it’s nice to have them early.

4. Use two photographers.

It’s really nice to use two photographers for this moment, so that one of us can focus on getting a close-up of the reactions while the other gets a broader view.  You can also get some cool entrance/waiting shots this way.  We’ll stand back and promise not to be too much like the paparazzi.

homestead resort wedding meredith blake

5. Plan downtime afterward.

You’ve seen each other.  Now relax.  Separate yourselves right before the ceremony for a little bit of downtime apart, then relive the moment again when you come down the aisle.  You may even enjoy it more the second time.

If you like the idea of a first look but aren’t sure it’s quite right for you, you might consider one of these alternatives instead.

Other ideas:

1. A first touch.

If you really don’t want to see each other before your ceremony but think your nerves will need some comfort from your partner, consider a “first touch” instead.  This is kind of a new idea, and it’s when the couple holds hands or maybe even hugs, but without looking.  It takes trust, and it really, really builds the anticipation of actually seeing one another.  Caroline and Alex went this route, and I can still feel their excitement, years later.

homestead resort wedding meredith blakehomestead resort wedding meredith blake
2. A moment alone together.

Like, really alone.

You absolutely do NOT have to have your first look photographed.  Actually, one of my favorite first looks took place with no photos at all.  At Catherine and Graham’s beautiful Montfair wedding, they simply took a few minutes completely alone, and then I came out to do their portraits when they were ready.  Did I get the reaction photo?  No.  But do they remember the moment?  Probably.  Some of our most memorable moments in life are not necessarily photographed.  It’s okay to do it without documentation, if that’s more your style.

homestead resort wedding meredith blake

3. A couple’s prayer.

Alex and Katie were pros.  They did a first touch leading to a big reveal… but while their hands were still clasped, I heard them begin to pray together.  It surprised me. I appreciate the solemnity and deep, deep emotion that went into that prayer.  It was special.

homestead resort wedding meredith blake




The August edition of my wedding and family newsletters has just been sent out, and there’s tons of stuff included… music, links, Etsy finds, recent work, and more.  If you aren’t signed up quite yet, don’t worry.  You can follow the links below and get on board for the next issue.

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I was so pleased to begin my wedding season with Meredith and Blake at the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, VA.   The Homestead is one of my favorite places to shoot because it’s gorgeous inside and out, which means you never have to worry about the weather there.  (Also, I love being able to stop by the lobby coffee shop and pick up a caramel frappuccino for my drive home.)

Special thanks to Lindsay Swain, who second shot this wedding with me. If you look closely, you might even spot her in one of these photos.

Enjoy, and Meredith and Blake, thank you for trusting me with your wedding images.  It was a pleasure.


Meet Theo and his family in their Blacksburg in-home documentary session. I am totally charmed by this kid and his mop of red curls. He’s got a sweet, happy little baby brother, too.

If you loved this video and are interested in having one of your own family, contact me here. This is my favorite way to photograph families with young children. And no, you do NOT have to clean your house!