Everything You've Ever Wondered About a First Look

Oh the first look. Arguably one of the biggest debates among weddings today is this question of: to do a first look? Or, to not do a first look?  And, you can probably make a sound argument for either side.  As a wedding planner (and former bride!), I have a strong stance on this topic.  But, I wanted to bring in a pro to also weigh in with her professional opinion and view points.  I've asked Charlotte wedding photographer, Crystal Stokes of Crystal Stokes Photography to help me answer common questions and clear up some misconceptions about the first look.

1. Let's start with the basics.  What is a first look? It is a private moment between the bride and groom prior to the wedding ceremony.  The photographer and videographer are the only other individuals around to capture this intimate meeting when you get to see your soon-to-be spouse for the very first time.  It's usually a bit staged so that the photographer and videographers can have the chance to capture your reactions as you see each other.  Basically, my clients will trust me to seek out a beautiful location for this moment to happen, and I do my absolute best to get them away from the crowd so they can be alone in this moment together.  Typically, I will place the groom somewhere with his back to the bride, and she will approach him and either tap him on the shoulder, or ask him to turn around to see her.

 2. Why do a first look? What are the pros?  A first look is advantageous for brides and grooms who want to get formal photos taken care of quickly.  The first look is helpful in a couple of ways.  Not only does it give the couple the opportunity to join the cocktail hour or reception more quickly, in order to enjoy the reception longer and to spend time with their guests who all travelled in to celebrate with them.  But, most importantly, it can also ensure that a couple doesn't run out of day light so that they can take all the photos they want out of their day.  A first look also will typically give a photographer more time to do what I like to call the "romantic shots".  You know, the ones that when you finally get your wedding photos back you immediately search for while skipping the others because at the end of the day, your wedding is about your marriage and the person you are committing to spend forever with - and having extra time to create those beautiful photos is really incredible and valuable! Another big pro is that the first look helps couples remain calm on the wedding day.  Nerves can often get the best of people on their wedding day, and I've seen those nerves settle on multiple occasions when the bride and groom were able to hold each other before one of the biggest moments of their life.  It really is a beautiful thing!

First Look - Crystal Stokes Photography
First Look - Crystal Stokes Photography

3. But, won't doing a first look ruin the big reveal? It won't feel as special when the ceremony time comes because we've already spoiled the surprise. I do not think that the first look ruins the big reveal.  There is something so beautiful and fresh and life altering that happens the moment a groom sees his bride walking down the aisle during the ceremony, among loved ones, for the first time. Perhaps he just saw her moments before the wedding, but that doesn't change the magical moment that happens when their eyes met moments before becoming man and wife.

 4. Any other advice you have to share with brides on the topic of a first look? Or anything you want to share with brides to help demystify the first look debate? A first look is a wonderful thing, and I believe that it really depends on what you want from your wedding day and the timeline you want to keep.  I know some couples want to remain very traditional - and I've noticed that the groom more often than the bride wants to wait until the walk down the aisle!  And, if tradition is a top priority, then I never push to change that. However, if a bride is on the fence about which direction to go, I absolutely let them know the benefits of a first look.

I wanted to add a little something, too!  Brides, I echo and want to further explain my personal and professional preference for the first look.  I have never met a photographer that did not prefer a couple to do first look. That is a fact!  I can tell you from experience being a bride that it does not in any way ruin that special moment at the church when you're walking towards your groom.  For me, I got to experience those butterflies and have a whole new rush of emotion all over again once the church doors opened!  I've seen brides visibly become calmer and more natural once they got to see and touch their groom.  The first look is meant to be an intimate time where you can take a deep breath together, and really take a moment to pause for just one little minute on one of the biggest days of your life to take the chance to soak it all in with your guy by your side.  Oh, it's such a special time - I really can't sing it's praises enough!  Brides always want to see their grooms reaction when they finally see them in their beautiful gown for the first time.  A lot of times you get a more genuine and natural reaction from grooms during the first look vs. waiting until the ceremony because they can let their guard down within that private moment and not feel like their whole family (and yours!) are staring at him waiting for him to react to his beautiful bride. Talk about pressure!  First look photos continue to be some of my favorite from the wedding day.  As a planner, I advocate for a first look because it helps with the timeline SO much! Like Crystal said, the photos you want to frame and hang on your wall, to send out as Christmas cards, to show your children one day, etc. are the photos of you and your groom! So, why not make that a priority by getting those coveted photos taken first so that you can be sure that you do not lose any time.  Things happen on a wedding day, and although we do our best as planners to control the schedule, I can't control family members that walk away before photos are complete, or unforeseen distractions that push the timeline back.  All of that being said, it's your day and no one will (or should!) ever force you to do something. However, your vendors are professionals that have done this a time or two, so they are giving you advice based on experience.

Thanks so much for bringing your viewpoint as a photographer to this fun debate, Crystal!  For more information about a first look, check out this helpful video explanation from Every Last Detail, this rather humorous explanation from The Knotty Bride, and this article about wedding day photography from The Knot - check out number 9, y'all.

But, I really want to hear from you! Brides - are you considering a first look? What's your hesitation and/or concerns? And, former brides - let's hear your experience! Did you do it? Did you skip it?

XO,
A.