I’m finally doing it! I’m officially weighing in on one of the most controversial wedding day topics: the ‘first look’. I’m excited to share my wedding photographer, behind the scenes perspective on first look benefits.
For those who may not know, a ‘first look’ is when the couple sees each other before the walk down the aisle. This usually happens in a private moment between just the two of them, and is photographed and videoed to share with friends and family later (if the couple chooses to do so).
Let me start by saying up front – I am very passionate about this topic! I have a lot to say and my opinions are pretty strong. That’s not to say I won’t work with you if you decide not to do a first look; it’s just that I know that there are SO many first look benefits. That might be surprising to some of you, but I bet if you ask anyone in the wedding industry, they would agree. We’ve all seen the many first look benefits experienced by our couples, and that’s why a lot of us are strong advocates for this non-traditional tradition.
The tradition of a couple not seeing each other before the ceremony dates back to the time of arranged marriages. In most arranged marriages (which were done for financial or political reasons), a couple never met before they got married. It was believed that they shouldn’t see each other before the ceremony, because it was thought that seeing each other may increase the chances of changing their minds. Changed minds were a HUGE deal back then because that jeopardized financial well being, as well as physical security.
Clearly, that is no longer the case. This tradition is no longer relevant for current-day marriages. The majority of the couples I talk to desire to spend their wedding day soaking in the love, living in the moment, and enjoying the investments they’ve made (venue, catering, bar, etc.) with their guests alongside their new spouse. In order for that to be your experience, you need to do a first look.
If that hasn’t convinced you enough, let me paint the picture further – here are some of my favorite first look benefits:
That ‘Walk Down the Aisle’ Moment You’ve Always Dreamed Of Is Even Better
Everyone’s first objection to doing a first look is that they have always dreamed of that reaction when seeing their future spouse at the opposite end of the aisle. You want that moment that you will always remember. I feel ya – that is a big moment!
And when you do a first look – you still get to have that moment!
All the weddings I’ve photographed where the couples have done a first look – they still have emotional reactions during the walks down the aisle. The walk down the aisle moment is naturally emotionally moving. It’s iconic. It’s breathtaking. Nothing will take away from that.
After a first look, when you walk down the aisle, you are relaxed instead of anxious. You are at peace instead of about to pass out from overwhelm. You’re excited instead of panicking. Your mind is much calmer, so you can be more present to experience that moment. It’s a clearer moment instead of one dominated by a clouded, anxious mind, that’s worried about your loved ones watching you like a hawk experience one of the most intense, emotional moments of your life.
The last thing I’ll say about that is this – I have seen no trends in the walk down the aisle moment. That is, if a couple doesn’t do a first look, they haven’t been more likely to have a dramatic reaction at the walk down the aisle. If a couple has done a first look, they aren’t less likely to not have a dramatic reaction. Every couple is unique and that reaction doesn’t seem to have anything to do with whether or not they did a first look.
First Looks Take Away the Jitters
I have seen brides so anxious before a walk down the aisle. I’ll share one example because it happened while I was second shooting, so I’m not spilling any secrets of my couples: I was with a bride who was literally hyperventilating because she was so nervous about all eyes being on her. She was cranky, anxious, was being short with her parents – she seemed very stressed out and I felt so bad for her! She hadn’t done a first look, so the moment she stepped out, she would be seeing all her loved ones (100+ people), in addition to her new husband – all at the same time. Why put yourself through that stress?! This is supposed to be enjoyable and fun, not a time to cultivate social anxiety!
One of the first look benefits is that you get to have that extreme emotional reaction in private. That creates less anxiety from the start because you won’t have that extra fear of being extremely vulnerable in front of everyone you know. (There’s enough vulnerability between the vows and the kissing as it is!)
In addition, hanging out with your future hubby or wife during love bird portraits, wedding party photos, and before the ceremony will be fun and naturally ease your nerves.
You Get a More Honest Reaction
Seeing your soon-to-be spouse for the first time on your wedding day is naturally emotional. And I don’t know about you, but I like to have my super emotional moments in private! haha When seeing each other for the first time happens in front of crowd, the tendency is to try to keep yourself together – not cry too hard, not ruin your makeup, be somewhat composed for the duration of the ceremony. You’re holding back instead of allowing the natural expression of your emotions and reactions.
One of the first look benefits is that you have privacy. You can have more of an emotional, honest reaction because no one is watching you. (And we can touch up your makeup after!) It’s just between the two of you (and your photographers and videographers – but we do this all the time! We’re respectful and keep our distance.) and you can really let loose! Cry, scream, hug and kiss a bunch, tell each other how great you look. Ya can’t do that during a ceremony!
You Get More Time Together and More Time with Your Guests On Your Wedding Day
I touched on this already, but this might be my favorite of all the first look benefits, so it’s worth mentioning again. I’ve created more of a visual aid to show instead of explaining this one.
Here is a wedding day timeline with no first look compared to one with a first look, with a special note to show how much time you’re spending with your new spouse and with your family/guests:
It’s a Built In Contingency Plan
You can refer to the timelines above to see this very clearly. When you do a first look you have more freedom. If something goes wrong, you’ve already seen each other and can more easily mitigate whatever situation arises.
The most prominent example of this is weather. If rain is in the forecast for your wedding day, doing a first look is a lifesaver! That’s a bit of a dramatic way to say you have so much more freedom to get the photos you want. For example, if it rains during or after the ceremony, and you’ve waited to see each other until the ceremony – the only chance for outdoor portraits is now gone. If you see each other earlier in the day, you have more freedom to squeeze in outdoor portraits whenever you can.
Another thing that often happens is that the timeline will get tight due to the ceremony starting late, or not being able to find everyone for family portraits, or guests are stopping you to congratulate you after the ceremony. If you’ve waited until after the ceremony to do your newlywed portraits, all of those things cut short your portrait time and you start feeling rushed. If you’ve already seen each other earlier in the day and gotten your portraits done, delays in the schedule don’t have as much of an impact on your ability to enjoy the day.
This may be the longest post I’ve ever written, and I could honestly keep going!! More first look benefits include allowing your wedding party and family to enjoy more of the day and the investments they’ve all made, getting photos while everyone is looking nice and fresh, using your photography investment more wisely, and so much more! At this point, I’ll leave it at this: I personally want you to enjoy this momentous day that only happens once. Doing a first look is the best way to do that <3
Did this post get you excited to book your own wedding, elopement, or engagement session?! If yes, send me a note and we can chat about what you have in mind: contact me
Hi – I’m Rachel! A wedding, engagements, and headshots photographer in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and northern Virginia. I love taking photos of elegant people who love to laugh, as well as of much in-love couples. If you’re a dog owner, that’s a plus! I’m currently booking 2020 portrait sessions, as well as 2020 and 2021 weddings.