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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.