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The First Look: Everything You Need to Know If It’s Right For You

The First Look isn’t exactly the newest trend in the wedding world, but it’s one of the topics I’m most commonly asked about from newly engaged couples. The decision to do or not do a first look is a big determining factor on how the rest of your wedding day will be structured — but don’t worry, no matter what you choose to do, there’s a way to do that and still have a stress-free wedding day!

Today I’m breaking down all of the reasons to do (or not to do) a First Look, and how that decision can help the overall flow of your wedding day.

The First Look - Everything You Need to Know If It’s Right For You.jpg

The Tradition of Not Seeing Each Other Until the Ceremony

Do you know where the tradition of not seeing your partner until the ceremony comes from? Hint: think back to arranged marriages. Imagine that you’re marrying someone you have no relationship with and probably have never met. Maybe they’re hideous (hence, the tradition of a veil over a woman’s face) — but until they’re all the way down the aisle, neither of you are close enough to be able to make any full judgments (or run for it!). All joking aside, this is the supposed reasoning behind one of the most known and admired wedding traditions.

For many (myself included), we grow up imagining that the wedding ceremony will be the first place we’ll see our future spouse on our wedding day. From my experience with Boston and New England weddings though, 80% of my couples have decided to do a First Look instead.

First Look Pros and Cons - Bedford Village Inn Wedding in NHFirst Look Pros and Cons - Wentworth by the Sea Wedding in Rye, NH

Pros of Doing a First Look

There are many pros of doing a First Look, hence so many couples opting to do one in recent years. Below are some of the most common reasons to include one at your wedding (and bonus tips for how to adjust your day if the below applies to you, but you really don’t want to do one!)

You want to enjoy as much time as you can with guests

Wanting to go to cocktail hour is one of the top reasons I hear from couples (even traditional ones) that they’re considering doing a first look. It’s less-so about cocktail hour specifically, and more-so related to wanting to enjoy the portion of the day where guests are present, well . . . with guests! We all know that wedding days go by quickly, so making the most of time with guests is a priority for many couples. With everyone there to celebrate with you — many from out of town or in groups that aren’t commonly together — the first look can be a big help for allowing you to have all of your photos taken care of so that you can enjoy and mingle with guests during this time.

Pro-tip for enjoying some of cocktail hour with no first look: Consider extending cocktail hour or talk to your photographer about pre-ceremony photo options that don’t involve seeing each other. Without a first look, you’ll always have some photos to do post-ceremony, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do photos with each half of the wedding party and your families (separately) beforehand!

First Look Pros and Cons - Charles River Museum Industrial Wedding

You want your first look at each other to be private

Most couples don’t realize that when you come down the aisle and completely stun each other with how you’re looking . . . you can’t even tell each other those feelings. You can’t touch, embrace, or even speak to each other. You have to wait until 30+ minutes later when the ceremony is over to tell each other how incredible you both look. And after 30+ minutes of the ceremony, the reaction isn’t the same as the initial first glance. With a first look, you’re able to experience those initial feelings together.

You know you’ll be nervous or very emotional

For some, the thought of having an audience makes them instantly clam up. Grooms know that many watchful eyes will be on them, waiting for “the” reaction or even some tears. And for some, the pressure of that isn’t worth the added anxiety around what can already be a stressful day — particularly if you’re a very private person even outside of wedding planning. Choosing to do a first look can be very helpful for couples that are nervous about being in the spotlight, or who suspect they’ll be an emotional mess.

Pro-tip: If you know that you’re going to get emotional at your first look or during the ceremony, consider extending your makeup artists’ time. You’ll get to express the moment freely, knowing that you’ll be polished for formal photos! If you do this, just be sure to account for the extra time this will take away from your timeline.

First Look Pros and Cons - Tupper Manor Wedding in MA

You want to extend the day as much as possible

A first look allows you to extend your wedding day together by HOURS. Traditionally, your time together on your wedding day begins when you go down the aisle. When the ceremony ends, you rush through portraits so that you’re not late for the introductions and then it’s reception time! With a first look, your time together is extended by almost 3 hours! Instead of being rushed for your wedding party portraits, you actually get to enjoy them and have fun hanging out with your best friends on your wedding day. Likewise, your parents are able to relax and enjoy the evening without stressing under the rush. The whole first half of my couple’s wedding albums are FILLED with images just from this time together before the ceremony.

Pro-tip for extending the day without a first look: Sometimes a gap between the ceremony and reception is perfect! Despite the common belief that it’s annoying for guests, it can actually be the perfect time for them to check into their hotel. This gap in time is often the result of a set church ceremony time, followed by a later reception start at your venue. When that’s the case, your day is naturally extended and we don’t need to be forced into a first look for the sake of getting photos done.

You want as many photos as possible

You’re investing a lot in your wedding photography and I want to help you make the most of that investment. Naturally, including a first look in your timeline will allow for more photos to be taken. That’s why my couples that decide to do a first look receive about 40% MORE portraits of the two of them . . . and those are the images they’ll decorate their home with. Additionally, a first look could also mean more photos of your guests — when we’re not finishing portraits during cocktail hour, that means we’re pulling together groups of family and friends for photos together.

You’re having a winter wedding

If you love the look of natural light images, a first look may be essential for a winter wedding date with an early sunset time. Sunset in Boston can sometimes as early as 4:00 pm in the middle of winter. This also means that you may need additional photo coverage, depending on what time your ceremony is.

Pro-tip for those not wanting a first look: talk to your photographer early about lighting! They can help you determine a ceremony time that allows for natural light portraits following your ceremony. Be aware though, this tactic can be a little bit of a balancing act with your venue . . . ane earlier ceremony time could mean an early end to your reception or a gap in time between the ceremony and reception for guests.

The Exchange Boston New Year's Eve Wedding - Pros and Cons of a First Look Winter Wedding

You want to read vows to each other privately

Some things you’d like to keep to yourself! Sharing your own wedding vows can sometimes be one of those things. If this is you, a first look can be a great opportunity to share these vows with one another. Then you’ll be free to exchange more traditional vows at your ceremony, or re-read the ones you wrote (without the nerves you had the first time!).

Pro-tip for those not wanting to do a first look: this is something we can do later int he day as well, just be aware that it is one more element that will take time away from your guests or other photos you’re hoping to do.

You want double the reactions

Some fear that a first look will take away from that big moment coming down the aisle, but I actually haven’t found that to be the case. Just because they’ve seen you, doesn’t mean they’ll have a lackluster response to seeing you come down the aisle — you’re about to get married and that’s incredibly exciting! I think of it like this — a first look officially starts your wedding day together, and seeing each other across the aisle is the start of your marriage to each other! They can be two different parts of your wedding day that each get their own reaction.

Cons of Doing a First Look

Believe it or not, there are certain circumstances when a first look may not be necessary. It’s something that can always be done, but below are some of the supporting reasons to not do one on your wedding day.

You want to stick to tradition

Plain and simple, some couples want to be traditional on their wedding day — and that’s okay! If tradition is most important to you and you’re okay trading that few fewer images and less time at cocktail hour, I fully support it!

Pro-tip: Talk with your photographer about structuring the day to do photos with each half of the wedding party and your families (separately) beforehand! This is a great solution I use 99% of the time when couples don’t do a first look on their wedding day. It puts us in a position where we have a few group photos (full wedding party and some combined family portraits) to capture, and then portraits of just the couple. Biggest stress saver if you’re set on not doing a first look!

Pros and Cons of a First Look - Cape Club of Sharon Wedding with church ceremony

You have an early ceremony time

In cases where your church has set ceremony times and they’re early . . . it may make sense to forego the first look. Or to do the first look, but save your photos for later in the day. When this happens, I generally see one of two other things. 1. Either there is a large gap in the timeline between the ceremony and reception because of this set timing. In that case, we’ll be able to do most of your photos in between the ceremony and reception. Or 2. A First Look would need to happen in harsh mid-day lighting, which is sometimes not the prettiest — particularly if your venue has limited shaded areas. This can sometimes be the case in mid-summer, in towns with strict noise ordinances . . . the ceremony times get pushed way up so that you can enjoy your full reception time and quiet down in time for the ordinance to take effect. This is rarer, but does happen. In those cases, I recommend extending your cocktail hour a little and planning for sunset portraits later in the evening, so that the majority of your portraits can happen in better lighting conditions. Depending on your venue, we can also scout out different locations for some nice mid-day shaded lighting.

Pros and Cons of a First Look - Harsh lighting, Wentworth by the Sea Country Club Wedding

You have a large gap of time between your ceremony and reception times

Similar to the above, if there is a gap in time between your ceremony and the start of cocktail hour, we should be able to do a majority of your portraits during this time. You can opt to do a first look for many of the reasons above, but it won’t be logistically necessary.

You have to get ready earlier

Depending on your ceremony time and the size of your wedding party (ladies, think hair and makeup!), this can sometimes be a factor. Though, rarely is it big enough of a factor to warrant changing your wedding timeline completely. It’s not entirely uncommon for hair and makeup to need to begin early in the morning in order to have everyone completed by the time of the first look. Ideally, everyone’s hair and makeup will be done by the time you need to get dressed (who doesn’t want fun photos of the group together getting ready?), so having a first look can push your start time up a bit for larger wedding parties.

Pro-tip: Talk with your hair and makeup artists about timing and include an assistant to help speed things along.

Pros and Cons of a First Look - Getting Ready for wedding at Bedford Village Inn Wedding

You may need to extend the prep time at your venue

Every venue is different, but some will require you to pay an additional fee to use the property more than an hour before your ceremony start time. Additionally, most venue coordinators will ask that your photographer is done with pre-ceremony photos about 30 minutes before the ceremony, as guests begin to arrive. You can see how this can make having a first look a little more complicated. If you’re set on doing a first look, the additional investment at your venue will be worth it! Alternatively, you and your photographer could explore nearby areas that could make sense for your first look and some portraits. Don’t be discouraged if your venue fits into this category — we’ll just have to be strategic about timing and how to structure portraits!

You have an extended cocktail hour

If you have an extended cocktail hour already and are unsure of whether or not you’d like to do a first look, you may be able to get away without. Every wedding party, family groupings, and venue setup (i.e. time to get from one location to another for photos) is very different, but when all people are in one primary location, it’s typical for all photos to be done within 90 minutes. As a general rule of thumb, up to 30 minutes for your wedding party and 30 minutes for family portraits (both sides). Once those group photos are done, we’ll spend a little more time on portraits of the two of you and then send you off to cocktail hour!

Pro-tip: Don’t forget that even without an extended cocktail hour, it’s possible to do photos with each half of the wedding party and your families (separately) before your wedding ceremony!

Pros and Cons of a First Look - cocktail hour at Scituate MA Wedding, kennedy's garden

Your Wedding Day Timeline and the First Look Decision

Lastly, please trust the judgment of your photo team. You’ve hired professionals to capture your day and they understand the timing required for their caliber of work. Deciding not to do a first look can sometimes mean fewer photos, but work with your team to understand what’s realistic. They’ll want to capture as much as possible for you, but having unrealistic expectations and adding pressure to do more in less time isn’t going to help that.

When it comes to deciding if the first look is right for you, know that there’s no right or wrong way to do it! Every couple and wedding is different, and I don’t expect for my couples to all do it one way or the other. Know that no matter what your opinion is on the topic, there is a way to approach this decision and structure your day so that you still get everything you want out of it. This decision is largely rooted in priorities and deciding what is most important to you. Work with your photographer and planner to talk through the options and decide what makes the most sense for what you’re planning.

For a sample wedding day timeline (both with and without a first look!), click here!

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  1. […] Nicole and George wanted to save their “first look” for the ceremony, they did want to do some pre-ceremony portraits separately in order to […]

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