First looks may not be the newest trend in wedding photography, but they’re still a hot topic. The time-honored practice of not seeing the bride until she walks down the aisle is more of a good-luck superstition, and many couples are still sticking to it, while others are opting for a first look for reasons that range from easing nerves to making sure they can actually get to cocktail hour. As your wedding day approaches, you’re probably wondering whether a first look is right for you, so we’ve asked some of the pros (i.e. fantastic wedding photographers!) to fill us in on what they think, how it works, and whether it’s something you should consider.
“Couples should consider the first look for more than just the practicality of timing,” says Caroline Lima. “It’s a great decision for couples who want to spend some quiet time together before the ceremony. If you’re nervous, having a first look and seeing your partner is a great way to ease that feeling.”
“Personally, I loved having a first look at my own wedding,” remembers Ashley Sawtelle. “It gave us a moment before the day officially started to connect with one another and take a deep breath.”
Of course, practicality can’t be ignored. “A first look enables you to take a lot of your photos before the ceremony so you can get to cocktail hour and your reception sooner,” Lima says.
“A first look definitely does not spoil the ceremony,” says Carrie Patterson. “You’ll be overwhelmed with emotion no matter what, so if you want to see your partner, don’t skip it.”
You’ll get some privacy. “It’s a whirlwind once guests arrive, and having a first look gives you and your partner a few moments together before all of your family and friends surround you,” Sawtelle says.
It can be highly emotional, says Cat Mayer. “A wedding is an intimate, emotional experience, and a first look means I can capture a couple together in that moment. Yes, walking down the aisle is emotional too, but you’re not together in those photographs.”
“If you’re having a winter wedding, a first look is critical if you want portraits taken with natural light,” Patterson says. “The sun will be down between 4:30 and 5:30, so this is your chance for pictures in the sun.”
If you’re traditional, it’s okay to skip it. “Remember that you can always change your mind—even on the day of your wedding!—and opt for a first look if you decide you need to see your partner. A skilled photographer will be able to adapt and help you make that moment happen,” says Mayer.
“There’s nothing like the groom seeing his bride for the first time when she walks down the aisle. It’s the most magical moment!” Lima says. You may have to adjust your timeline. “If you’re having a ceremony earlier in the day, a first look will mean you have to be ready even earlier than you’d planned—which means you have to start getting ready earlier, too,” says Sawtelle.
First looks can build up the pressure. “Some grooms are very private with their emotions, which can disappoint a bride if she expects him to have a big reaction the first time he sees her,” says Lima.
“If there isn’t time in your timeline to transport you and your partner to the first look location, don’t force it. The rushing will take away from the opportunity to photograph meaningful moments, and could cause stress instead of relieving it,” Mayer explains. “Your first look should be at least an hour before the ceremony so you can be tucked away before early guests arrive, and if that doesn’t fit into your timeline, skip it!”
Timing works the other way, too. “If you have the ability to host a longer cocktail hour and are getting married on a day when there will be plenty of sunshine until later in the evening, there will be plenty of time to take photos together after you’ve tied the knot,” says Patterson.
It’s not as private as you think. Says Lima, “Yes, your photographer and videographer will try to be discrete and as far away as possible, but we will still be around!”
“Lighting during a first look isn’t ideal,” Lima explains. “They usually happen during the day, when lighting is harsh. So you’ll probably need to take more photos after the ceremony, anyway.”
Want to know what real brides and grooms chose? We asked newlyweds on Instagram to fill us in on what they decided!
"We did a first look and it was awesome! While I am a fan of tradition and the groom seeing the bride for the first time at the ceremony, this made more sense as we did photos beforehand (would have been too dark after) and I'm really happy we did. We got to spend time together afterwards, and the photos are super cute and emotional." —@allyhuish
"No I did not. My photographer tried to talk us into a ‘first look,’ but my groom and I decided to stick with tradition and meet for the first time at the altar. We felt that seeing each other for the first time as I walked down the aisle would make that moment so much more special, and it sure did" —@elle_erica
"We did a first look because we were too excited to see each other, and it was great! Plus, we got the couple photos done before the ceremony so we didn't spend hours after the ceremony taking photos when we could be with everyone who attended our wedding." —@candylewis13
"Yes, we did, and it was kind of awkward! My groom didn't really know what to do, and he felt weird having all that attention and expectation on him. People expected him to cry or something, but he didn't. He just said, ‘Oh you look beautiful!’ and we moved on with our lives." —@ivyjacobshair
"I started off firm with no first look, as I felt there's something so magical about the opening of the church doors and seeing each other for the first time. However, we did decide on doing the first look, and it was the best choice ever! It allowed us to enjoy more of the day together and with our bridal party. Plus, it allowed for our amazing wedding photographer to spend more time and take even more amazing images of the day!" —@amichels105
"No first look! We wanted the first time we saw each other to be when I walked down the aisle in church. It was exciting and emotional, and I'm glad that we were able to share that moment with our guests. We did photos after the ceremony which I love because they capture us wearing our rings!" —@elizabethacandido
"Yes! It was my husband and my favorite part of our special day. It was such an honest and raw moment between us. There wasn't the pressure and anxiety of hundreds of eyes watching us. Still brings tears to my eyes." —@bonniedraper
"We didn't. My husband and I wanted to see each other when I was walking down the aisle. And it was such a special moment. We will always remember seeing each other for the first time on the aisle." —@ms.carol_ramirez
"We did! It was important to both of us to read our own vows, but I was so nervous that I wouldn't be able to get the words out. The first look helped to get some of the jitters out of the way. Plus, it was a perfect, intimate moment that gave us lots of great pictures!" —@bridgetkm
"We didn't! My dad and I, however, did a ‘first look,’ which I loved! Super awesome idea for girls that are close with their dad and want to wait for the aisle for their husband-to-be to see them." —@colleenjones815