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What is a First Look?

What is a First Look?  Should I do a First Look?  Will I regret doing a First Look?

These are very important questions that are spinning around my couples’ heads.  It’s one of the many decisions you are faced with when planning a wedding!  And you know what, everyone has their own opinion!  What’s tough is that, with all wedding plans, you don’t get to go back and try again.  So let’s pause for a moment.  Strip off everyone’s expectations and any preconceived notions about traditional and first look options.  While tradition tells you not to see your groom until your ceremony, I want to let you know a few reasons why more and more brides and grooms are choosing to see each other before the church bells ring.

What is a First Look?

A First Look is when a bride and groom get to spend private, intimate time together prior to the ceremony.  All wedding party, bride and groom, and most family photographs are completed after the First Look.  Then, when the festivities begin the bride and groom are ready to fully focus on the meaning of their ceremony and reception.

I was traveling home from Charleston the day after photographing Kim and Joshua’s wedding day.  I got a text from Kim that read “Thank you SO MUCH for making yesterday so special.  The first look was definitely my favorite part…”  These photos can explain why…

Our First Look Experience

I wouldn’t ask you to do something I hadn’t tried, so here’s our recollection from our first look when we got married on a hot Saturday afternoon in May 2011!

My dashing groom, Jeff says “I started my morning fishing with my groomsmen!  After cleaning up I was ready to race to the church to see my Jenny.  I don’t know how I would have waited until 5 o’clock to see her!  Waiting for 2:00pm was hard enough!  The photographers walked me into the peach orchard beside the church and I started feeling the anticipation build up.  I could hear my bride walking up behind me.  I had no idea what she’d look like or what dress she chose to wear.  When I turned to see her I was so overwhelmed!!  She was more beautiful than ever because she was mine.  All mine for these few moments.  She was just as excited to be with me!  We hugged, laughed, kissed and celebrated!  That private, intimate moment was one of my favorites of our day!  I still got chills as she walked down the aisle because our marriage was officially about the begin!

Wedding photos by Jana Candler!

I had FOUR major reasons why I wanted to do a first look for our wedding.  I’ll start with the less obvious.

  1.  My father passed away in 2007, so I hadn’t really looked forward to walking down the aisle without him.  I knew that would be an emotional moment anyways and I just didn’t want the mixture of emotions of missing Dad and walking to Jeff to all be tied up into one.  Instead, I spread those emotions out.  I pinned a locket with my Dad’s picture onto my bouquet earlier in the day.  Did our First Look at 2:00 with Jeff.  Then I was emotionally able to ENJOY walking down the aisle with my momma by my side.  I feel like with any wedding day, there are so many emotions that we encounter.  I was better off anticipating the stress and variety of emotions and was much more calm after spending time Jeff.
  2. We had 207 special friends and family attending our wedding day!  Many traveled long hours to attend so we wanted to get to them (and let them eat) as quickly as we could.  We also didn’t want them driving home so late.  While we can easily get caught up in the “it’s my day” mentality, these people had loved and supported us for years, I decided to be thoughtful in my timing to take care of them.
  3. Those last two were good reasons, but REALLY I’ve seen wedding days fly by and the bride and groom never get a chance just to be together!  Not only did I want to marry Jeff on May 14, 2011, I wanted to spend it with HIM!  I wanted my memories of the day to be of us, not the nerves, or waiting, or whatever else!  I remember the suspense of walking up behind him, his embrace after seeing me, our secret conversations during photos, and the big rain storm that rolled in but didn’t make a bit of difference because I was in his arms and pictures were already done!
  4. PICTURES!! MEMORIES!!!  I had been in the wedding industry long enough to know what to value while planning a wedding.  I valued what would last!  We have the most amazing photos of incredible moments!  These calm, tender moments would not have been possible if we tried to squeeze family, wedding party, bride and groom moments in between a ceremony and a 15 minute drive to our reception.  I would have been too caught up in the stress, people and the timing of it all to enjoy any of our day!

Here are other situations when it will be helpful to consider a First Look

–You want to maximize your time with your photographer = tons more photos!
– You don’t really give a hoot about superstition.
– You get very nervous during important occasions.
– You don’t like being the center of attention.
– Your venue does not have an attractive area for photos, you can drive somewhere close without worrying about leaving guests and family behind.
– Your wedding is in the winter when it gets dark by 5:30pm and your ceremony doesn’t start until later in the evening.  All of your images could still be done outside in daylight while it is warmer.
– You’d rather your guests not wait to celebrate with you.

Perspective of Brides and Grooms

Kelley & David

Kelley says, “I absolutely LOVED doing the First Look. Having that time with David before all the hustle and bustle began was so incredible. I felt like it was just David and I in that moment. I was able to see and feel his reaction immediately. The First Look gave David and I a chance to be ourselves, be laid back, and just be in love together. Walking down the aisle with my sweet daddy, seeing all of our family and friends, and walking down the same aisle that my mama walked down almost 40 years prior was an unbelievable feeling. I truly feel like the two moments, First Look and walking down the aisle, were two totally different moments and feelings.”

David says, “I don’t regret the First Look at all. It allowed us to have our moment without hundreds of people watching. I don’t like attention so I was able to focus on my wife and actually absorb that moment. I don’t think it took away from seeing her walk down the aisle either. If anything I think it actually helped. My nerves were calm and I could appreciate all that was taking place. The biggest thing for us was that we wanted to get to the reception quickly. I would love to say that it was to keep all the guests from waiting, but selfishly, I wanted to get to the party quickly.”

Megan & Eric

Megan says, “We chose to do a First Look at our wedding and it was the best decision we ever made! The First Look was such a special time between Eric and I. We got to see and spend quality time with each other before the wedding and we were able to experience that moment of seeing each other for the first time in a much more relaxed setting without everyone’s eyes on us. Being able to see each other and talk and interact during the First Look took some of the pressure off. Walking down the aisle was one of the most surreal moments.”

Ashley & Bryan

Ashley says, “Having been a wedding planner inspired my perspective on a First Look. I wanted to get all of our photos out of the way and have time to enjoy each other and our guests at the reception. It meant a lot to me to hear what Bryan was thinking as soon as he saw me and to have some time together before we walked into this new season of our lives. For us, it didn’t take away from how special our ceremony felt.”

Bryan says, “I thought the First Look was a great choice. It allowed me to have a meaningful moment with Ashley that made me feel even more calm and at ease. It also underscores the idea that our covenant is ours before we share it with the world.”

Millie & Evan

Millie says, “The First Look was my favorite part of the wedding day! When he turned around his expression was so sweet and affirming! We hugged, laughed, and cried together. When it came time to walk down the aisle, all the stress was gone which allowed us to experience all the positive emotions. We were able to focus on each other and our vows.”

Evan says, “It would have been hard to wait all day to see Millie. Instead of waiting for hours, we got to spend our day together, embracing, and talking. She was the most beautiful bride and I’m so thankful I got to see her before everyone else. It made our time together even more exclusive. The portraits of Millie and I and our wedding party were very important to us. With our winter wedding, it would have been too dark outside to have the pictures we imagined. Our arrival to the reception was very prompt which kept our celebration going.”

Millie and Evan’s wedding was in December with a 5:00 ceremony.  Their First Look allowed us to complete all portraits (bride and groom, wedding party, and family) before the sunset and before guests arrived.  Their venue didn’t have the prettiest of places for portraits so we scouted out this area for their bride and groom portraits. win win win!

McKenzie & Will

McKenzie says, Experiencing a First Look with my husband before we were married is something I will never regret nor forget. We decided early in our engagement that we wanted to spend as much time together on our wedding day as possible. It’s too special not to! For me, I didn’t go through all the planning, pick out the perfect dress, or get ready and feel beautiful in a way I have never felt before to wait all day to see Will.  Looking back, I’m even more grateful for our First Look because once the wedding begins, it’s a whirlwind that is over in a blink. At the reception, we were together a lot, but we were also on a schedule. (Okay, we need to cut the cake now. Pictures with college friends now.  Toasts! What’s next? Make sure we get to thank Aunt So-and- So for driving down from Pennsylvania. This list goes on. You get the idea.) Our wedding day was all just how we imagined, and it was perfect, but having a quiet time with my groom before all the fun began will be one of my most treasured memories of that day.  Looking at photos of our First Look takes me back to such a pure moment, and I’m so thankful that I have this time captured to revisit anytime I want. I look at a picture of Will hugging me, and his emotions say everything: there’s most certainly love across his face, eyes closed, with a mix of happiness, and then there’s something else. It’s peace. How wonderful it is to see this picture of Will holding me, his bride, right before we married and to just remember the moment.

The First Look did not take away from the excitement of walking down the aisle for me. If we had chosen to not do a First Look, Will would have seen me for the first time in my wedding dress along with everyone else at the ceremony. I cherish the moment we got to see one another for the first time on our wedding day without all eyes on us. Just our eyes – just us.  We had time to take in the moment and breathe together and giggle at how flustered we knew we both were. It’s just a completely different level of excitement that I’m so happy we got to experience together before I walked down the aisle.

The First Look worked for us because we knew that we had loads of guests coming from out of town, and the reception was the only time we would spend with them. We had our alone time during the First Look and most of our pictures taken before the ceremony so that we didn’t have to keep our guests waiting too long and because we were so excited to get to our loved ones to celebrate.

I hope this helps you make your traditional or first look decision!  As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions!


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