One of the very first concerns my couples come to me with is, “Michelle, we don’t want to do a first look, do we have to?” If you’ve been reading along here on my blog for a while you know that I’m NEVER a fan of “have to” and always encourage my clients to do what feels right! ALWAYS!
In this post I’m going to share my insights from dozens of weddings I’ve produced, some with the first look and some without. It honestly, comes down to what’s important to you. In 2017, 13,000 couples were surveyed about whether or not they did the first look and 43% decided to do the first look. By now it might be a 50/50 split since more people know about it. But first, what is the first look?
“Everybody gets married but no one can do it the way you do” - Michelle Castillo
What is the first look
The first look for the wedding world is a private moment between the bride and groom before the ceremony takes place. Between your photographers and your planners, a secret location is selected that is away from your guests and your wedding party. After you’re both dressed and ready, the groom will be directed to that secret location and positioned in a place where the photographer can clearly see his face but won’t be able to see the bride as she makes her way to the groom. The second shooter will have their camera pointed at the bride so she can clearly see her face. The bride is then escorted by the planner to the secret location in her wedding dress. The magic moment takes place whereby the bride walks up to her groom facing in the opposite direction and taps him on the shoulder and the groom sees her for the first time. Or it can also happen as the bride walks up to the groom and before arriving, he is asked to turn around to see his future bride for the first time. It’s a SUPER SWEET and romantic moment as I’ve witnessed very many and there is NEVER a dry eye. This tradition is now used as a private reveal for the bride and groom to see one another for the first time instead of at the other long standing tradition where the groom sees his bride for the first time as she walks down the aisle.
Why do couples choose to do the first look?
My couples aren’t typically fans of the first look. We normally decide on the first look if something is funky in the timeline where this would work best. If you’re not sure where you stand for your wedding, here are a few examples of why you would do the first look. As planners we specialize in working in logistically challenging spaces as well as are well versed in working with cross-cultural, mixed faith, interracial couples. With these two types of situations there have been some complications so we’ve had to resort to doing the first look out of convenience and not because my clients cared for it. But these particular clients were impartial to the whole first look in the first place so it wasn’t a big deal to have to go this route. Here are a few reasons for doing the first look.
In one situation, my clients wanted to make sure that they had time to join the cocktail hour to spend time with their guests due to a very short wedding reception window imposed by the venue (if you haven’t found your venue, check out, “how to find your perfect venue”). We decided that it would be best to do a first look so that they could get all the pictures out of the way earlier in the day. Normally cocktail hour is used for photos but we wanted to use that time for spending quality time with family and friends.
Another situation that arose was that I had a couple whose wedding was in the desert. They really wanted to take photos after their ceremony in a beautiful spot that meant a lot to them. However they both had a big family and a 30-person wedding party. There was no way that we would be able to fit their Mr. and Mrs. photos, wrangle their 30-person wedding party and take family photos under the 45-minute cocktail hour window. We opted for a first look and they took their time photographing their Mr. and Mrs. photos at their special location during their cocktail hour.
Another example where we incorporated the first look for convenience purposes is that we arranged for traditional Korean Ceremony to take place right after the cocktail hour so there was only a small window to take photos after the ceremony before the couple had to get dressed in their Hanboks so we opted for family photos and wedding party photos to happen after the first look instead of during the cocktail hour.
Should I do the first Look?
This is a personal preference. The first look ideas was born out of convenience for photographers and brides/grooms that weren’t fans of missing their cocktail hour.
I personally did not do the first look for my wedding and I wouldn’t change that even after seeing dozens of weddings. My husband and I are very traditional and I wanted him to see me for the first time as I entered the church and began walking down the aisle. That moment was spectacularly emotional for me and for Eric. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I’ll never forget his face or that moment when everyone rose as I was being escorted by my father. This was a long awaited moment as I hadn’t seen Eric in many hours. He slept with his groomsmen and I stayed at my parents' home, then the whole day we got ready. The anticipation had been building for hours, which made the moment that much sweeter.
There are two ways to approach the first look as you discern on whether or not you should do a first look. first and foremost, if you already have an overpowering feeling that you do not want to do the first look, then that is what you should do. You shouldn’t do anything because everyone else is doing it. Right now, I give you permission to STOP reading and decide that you will NOT do a first look.
Keep in Mind
When you’re planning a first look, keep in mind that you will need to get ready a little earlier in the day. This is usually 2 - 3 hours before the time you would normally need to get ready had you decided against a first look.
You family photos and wedding party photos will happen after the first look. Make sure your family is aware of the time they need to arrive as they’ll need to arrive a lot earlier than the expected 30 minutes before the ceremony. They also need clear instructions on where to meet and who all needs to arrive at that time and location.
Whatever your reasoning, just know that this is strictly your decision based on what is important to you and NOT your photographer or planner or whoever else may be weighing in here. If it’s important that you see your bride for the first time as she walks down the aisle, this is what you will do. If it doesn’t matter, then you can be flexible in what works best for you and your situation.
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