Introducing Guest Blogger
(and Bride-to-Be) Jennifer Castoro

What do real brides have to say about the wedding planning experience? Well, it's not all happy tears at the bridal boutique and indulgent cake tastings. Guest blogger Jennifer Castoro shares the pros and cons of "the first look," the ins and outs of throwing a winter wedding, and more.

I'll admit it: Before I got engaged, I spent far, far too much time looking at wedding blogs, oohing and aahing at all the gorgeous details of the classic soirées, rustic fêtes, and modern parties these creative brides pulled off. But that's about all the idea I had of how much planning (and planning, and more planning, and did I mention planning?) goes into the whole let's-get-hitched she-bang. I may have thought a little about the wedding dress (strapless or sleeves?), the venue (modern or traditional?), and the party (all dancing, all the time), but that's about the extent of my pre-engagement research.

So when I started dipping a toe into the great wide world of wedding planning, I was completely shocked, and a little terrified, at all the details I'd have to consider. I am most definitely not a details person. You might call me disorganized, with a side of forgetful. With most things in life, I'm extremely laid-back, to the point of not really caring too much at all as long as a fun time awaits me. But now, I'm being forced to make decisions—big decisions. Ones that will affect the entire course of my wedding day, which I'd really rather leave to someone with more of an opinion. Seriously, who put me in charge?

One of those small details that will have a huge impact on the day, which I hadn't considered at all until I got into the thick of planning, is the timing of our photos. It seems like in recent years, "first look" photos, where the bride and groom see each other for a private moment before the wedding, then take their formal portraits as well as pics with their bridal party, have been growing in popularity. The touching end results are often some of my favorite photos of couples I've known, since they really seem to capture a spontaneous, intimate moment, a true emotional reaction—and the grooms' expressions are priceless.

But when it came to our own photos, I was totally torn. On the one hand, I love the idea of my fiancé, Greg, and I having a private moment, so that he can express his shock and awe at my gorgeousness freely (ha!). Plus, both of our reactions can be caught on camera, together, which may not happen at our church ceremony, since we'll be having just one photographer. And taking a minute to breathe and appreciate each other and what we're about to do would be a nice thing to have before we make it official. His presence alone calms my nerves. (I have been known to injure him during particularly rocky plane turbulence.)

On the other hand, I'm afraid that seeing me beforehand, beyond spooking the superstitious part of me, will take away from when he sees me walk down the aisle. I want him to be wowed (I didn't stress over finding the perfect dress for nothing!), and I'm afraid it won't pack the same punch if he's already seen me. For his part, Greg is convinced that first look photos are a great idea, and that he'll be just as moved during my walk down the aisle as he'd be if he didn't see me beforehand.

So I decided to enlist the help of our talented, accommodating, and chill (thank goodness!) photographer, David Starke, to help me work it all out, which I highly recommend you do if you're as stumped as I was. There's a reason he's the pro, after all. His advice was spot on: Taking first-look pictures will help our day progress at a more relaxed pace (no hurrying out of the church for photos); we'll have beautiful candid shots of just the two of us; and my hair and makeup will be fresh (much better than smudged and cried off!). And with the photos out of the way beforehand, we can start our ceremony later so our guests have less downtime before the reception, and we'll get to spend more time with them at cocktail hour since we won't be off shooting photos. Plus, with our winter wedding date, the quickly fading light won't be an issue (more on the pros and cons of winter weddings later!). As far as the superstition aspect, most of the grooms I spoke with said they were so concentrated on not fainting, crying, or messing up their vows that they couldn't take in the gorgeousness of their brides until after the ceremony anyway.

After all the waffling, I've decided to throw caution to the old-wives'-tale wind and take our photos before our ceremony. Enjoying every moment of the day is really important to me, so anything that will help ease the stress (and time crunch) is something I'm on board with. Plus, I have a feeling that I'll really appreciate Greg's calming presence before I walk down the aisle. And a compliment on my amazing dress wouldn't hurt either!

—Jennifer Castoro

Check back throughout the week to read more about Jennifer's wedding planning process, and get caught up with our other bride guests blogger, Linley Taber.

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