Everything You Need to Know About The Decision to Have a First Look

February 14th, 2024

A stolen glance, a shared smile, an intimate connection - a canvas painted with raw emotions, a moment unseen by the audience but felt with unrivaled intensity by the couple. Known as the “First Look” and has taken the wedding industry by storm. Traditionally, the bride and groom have seen each other for the first time as the bride walks down the aisle. Whether or not you should have a first look depends on your preference and the vision you have for your wedding day. In this blog post I will elaborate more on the differences between having a first look or going traditional to help you make the right decision, as well as give tips if you want to do one or go the traditional route.

First I want to give a brief history of the idea of a first look vs the traditional day. The tradition of the bride and groom seeing each other at the ceremony for the first time came from back when arranged marriages were much more common. They were afraid that the groom would back out and they thought that it would be harder for the groom to back out last minute after the bride is already walking down the aisle rather than if he saw her before. All that to say that it doesn't really matter if you want to or don't want to do a first look because nowadays we choose our partners and you shouldn’t just do a traditional day just because of the word “Tradition”. For the sake of simplicity I will be calling the tradition of the bride and the groom not seeing each other before the ceremony the “traditional day”.

So, why should you have a first look? You have probably heard this before but the main benefit of a first look is to enjoy more time at your cocktail hour with your guests. Because you will be seeing each other before the ceremony you'll have more time to take photos with your wedding party, family and even each other. This is how I like to structure my first look days, let's also assume this is a single location wedding taking place during the summer.

2:00 Getting ready groom

2:30 Getting ready bride

3:00 First Look

3:15 Wedding Party

3:45 Couple Portraits

5:00 Ceremony

5:30 Family then go to cocktail hour

7:00 Reception

7:45 Sunset Session


2:00 Getting Ready with groom and groomsmen photos

3:00 Getting Ready with bride and bridesmaid photos

5:00 Ceremony

5:30 Family Photos

6:00 Wedding Party Photos

6:30 Couple Portraits

7:00 Reception

7:45 Sunset session

You also get to be more flexible with your timeline. For example let's assume your first look is 1.5 or 2 hours before the ceremony. You can do wedding party photos right after the first look, then go straight into couples photos and get more variety and locations. You could exchange private vows with each other or end the couple session early and spend more private time with each other. I like to do 15 to 30 minutes with my couples after their first look then 15 minutes again later during sunset.

Now, how do you go about setting up a first look? First we need a location. As a photographer I prefer to choose the location to get the best photos with the best lighting. However I always ask my couples if they have a location that they prefer. Secondly I always suggest doing the first look privately, just the couple and photo/video. This allows you guys to have your moment together without it being ruined by family or friends (I’ve had my fair share of that happen).

If you want to relieve the pressure or if you don't like being emotional in front of your family and friends and know that you will be, a first look is a great place to do that without the pressure of the audience and you may even get more genuine reactions from each other. Plus it may help you calm your nerves and alleviate anxiety before the ceremony. Most of the time you get very little alone time on your wedding day and if you would like more time together then consider a first look.

Now let's talk about why you shouldn't do a first look. The first being it doesn't fit into your schedule, most weddings you can fit a first look into the schedule I find that  if your ceremony is in the morning it can be a little bit more tricky.  Another reason you may not want to do a first look is because you have to get ready earlier, and due to that your makeup and bouquet won't be as fresh during the ceremony and family photos as well as the sunset session. 

If you guys want to save the special moment of seeing each other for the first time when you walk down the aisle but you like the idea of exchanging private balance with your partner before the ceremony. You could also consider a first touch which won't ruin the surprise before the ceremony. You also don’t just have to limit it to a first look with you and your partner, it is equally as common to have a first look with parents, siblings or with your wedding party.

If you do want to go with a traditional day timeline and you still want to enjoy some of your cocktail hour I recommend 1 hour and 30 minutes to give you enough buffer, but this means that your cocktail hour will be extra long for your guests. Also remember the time of year, during most of the winter and late fall the sun sets before 5:00 and having a first look will extend time with the Sun. I find in the winter ceremonies start between 2-3 rather than 4-6 throughout the rest of the year.

Ultimately, the decision to have a first look is a personal one, and I am just here to provide the information with both sides. Communicate with your partner and make a choice that aligns with your vision for your special day.